The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and SAT subject tests are tools designed to assess your academic preparedness for admission to a US college. The paper-based SAT is held six to seven times a year and the next edition will be held on January 25. The SAT general test (SAT I) is of three hours and 45 minutes and includes three sections of multiple choice questions on writing, reading and mathematics.
What is SAT?
The SAT subject test (SAT II) is optional, through which universities and colleges get to assess a student’s knowledge of specific subjects. This test is important if a candidate is applying for a major in any specific subject.
The SAT II is an hour-long test that comprises multiple choice questions. Candidates need to select three subjects per sitting from the list of 20 subjects such as chemistry, physics, social studies, German reading, Spanish listening, world history, French, mathematics and literature.
The total score for SAT I and SAT II is 2400 each. All three sections in SAT I and each subject in SAT II are scored on a scale of 200-800. A score of 500 in each section is good enough for admission to a top college.
“It is useful to take the test more than once. Based on our analysis, we have seen that students who repeat SAT do better. It also helps in some cases as some US universities accept a best of three SAT scores,” says Renuka Raja Rao, country coordinator, EducationUSA Advising Services, United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).
Why it is important?
Submitting SAT scores as part of one’s college application for admission to an undergraduate programme is mandatory in most cases, except when one opts for alternatives. “For example, some colleges have been accepting the ACT as an alternative to the SAT, and some require neither the SAT nor the ACT (test-optional schools). International students are sometimes awarded scholarships based on their SAT scores or sometimes even due to the mere fact that they have a SAT or ACT score to submit at all,” says Nina Merchant, a Mumbai-based academic counsellor for students appearing for these tests.
Students who have successfully cracked the test say that while a good SAT score (2100+) is definitely important, it’s not enough to land you a spot at a top college.
“The SAT is not a passport to college success but a mere step towards it. To attain a spot at a top university, one needs to have done something exceptional. Strong extra-curriculars, excellent academic credentials, a certain amount of well-roundedness, a demonstrated overwhelming desire to succeed are musts and can affect your application,” says Udai Bothra, an Indian student studying at Harvard University.
Preparing for SAT
Students can practise from the Official College Board Guide or the Big Blue Book that comprises questions from the actual test. Candidates can also subscribe to the official SAT online course at the official website of College Board to familiarise themselves with all aspects of SAT. The course offers interactive lessons, official practice papers, immediate computer generated score and personalised score report.
“Aspirants must look at the big picture of what the writers of the exam are perhaps looking for and might have had in mind when they wrote the questions. Each SAT question, for example, can be categorised as easy, medium and difficult - each of these categories comprise one-third of the questions (except reading comprehension). Students should prepare with the aim of getting all the easy and medium questions correct, and then focus on improving their skills with the difficult questions. This will maximise their scores, since each question is worth the same points,” says Merchant.