SAT Prep Guide

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by Staff Writer

Updated August 15, 2022

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What is the SAT?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a standardized test created by the College Board that most colleges and universities use to evaluate incoming students. Schools use the test to evaluate college readiness in applicants, alongside their high school GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities.

The test is typically offered October through January, and in March, May, June, and August each year. It is comprised of a combined reading/writing section and a math section, each scored out of 800 points. The test format emphasizes context of vocabulary, scientific reasoning, and your ability to form logical arguments in the reading section. The test evaluates the logic of your ideas and punctuation skills on the writing section, while data analysis and real world problem solving are crucial in the math section.


The Details

When is the SAT?

The SAT is offered up to six times per year. The following table features key dates for the 2020 calendar year. Registration deadlines will be available beginning in May.

SAT Test Date SAT Registration Date Late Fee Required
August 29, 2020 TBA TBA
September 26, 2020 TBA TBA
October 3, 2020 TBA TBA
November 7, 2020 TBA TBA
December 5, 2020 TBA TBA

Where is the SAT taken?

The SAT is given at approved testing sites across the country and internationally.

How can I register?

Students can register for the SAT by creating a student account online at the College Board's website. You can also register by phone or by mail.

How much does the test cost?

The cost of the SAT exam is $49.50; if taken with the optional essay segment, it's $64.50.

Are fee waivers available?

Fee waivers are available for low-income 11th and 12th grade students who meet established criteria. The waiver covers up to two SAT test fees and two SAT subject test fees.

Are there accommodations for students with disabilities?

Certain accommodations are made to help students with disabilities, including extended testing time, extended breaks, and visual and reading aid. The College Board must approve all accommodations, which can take up to seven weeks.

Can I retake the test?

The test can be taken as many times as you want! You should try to take the test 2-3 times, repeating only if you still feel that you need to improve your first score.

What does the SAT cover?

The SAT covers basic core skills in reading, writing, and math, emphasizing logical reasoning and practical problem solving and analytical skills. It tests skills students should develop in high school.

What is a good SAT score?

The highest score you can earn on the SAT is 1600, with the lowest being 400. According to College Board, the average SAT score in 2019 was 1059. A "good" score depends on which colleges you’re considering. The Princeton Review offers a college search tool, which includes average SAT scores of enrolled students.

SAT Changes

In 2016, the SAT made a shift to a new two-part format with optional essay. The change came from the College Board's desire to make the test more fair and transparent, moving away from singular test-taking skills and instead giving students a chance to demonstrate higher-level logical reasoning and analytical skills.

Now, in light of students' and colleges' changing needs amid the coronavirus crisis, the College Board has made the decision to discontinue the essay altogether. Students who previously registered for the SAT with the optional essay can still take the test through June 2021.

In addition to removing the optional essay, the College Board also announced that, effective immediately, SAT Subject Tests will no longer be available to U.S. students. This policy goes into effect in June 2021 for international students.

Click here to learn more about the updates, as well as the reasoning behind them.

The SAT Going Online

In 2017, the College Board released a digital version of the SAT that students could take online. Three years later, after rolling the digital version out to a few thousand students, the College Board abandoned it amid challenges of developing a test that all students could access and take in an equitable manner.

On January 19, 2021, the College Board announced that a new, revamped digital version was in the works, but did not reveal any specific details, including when it would be released or what it would look like. For now, the College Board plans to consult education leaders, and intends to release more details later this spring.

Breaking Down the SAT

The SAT has two major sections: the evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section. The reading and writing portion of the test contains a 65-minute reading section that tests evidence-based logic and a 35-minute writing and language section that covers contextual word knowledge. The math section includes a 25-minute no-calculator section focusing on problem solving and data analysis and a 55-minute section where you will need a calculator for the problems.

With this general test structure in mind, students should note the specific changes in each section.

Writing and Language

The writing section is comprised of 44 multiple choice questions that should be completed in 35 minutes. The writing section tests grammatical knowledge and allows students to think like editors by fixing mistakes in sentences and identifying grammatical errors.

Strategy and Sample Questions

Eliminating obviously incorrect answers should be your first step; if you can identify a definite wrong answer, your chance of picking the correct one increases.

Question 1

A Life in Traffic
Transportation planners perform critical work within the broader field of urban and regional planning. As of 2010, there were approximately 40,300 urban and regional planners employed in the United States. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts steady job growth in this field, projecting that 16 percent of new jobs in all occupations will be related to urban and regional planning. Population growth and concerns about environmental sustainability are expected to spur the need for transportation planning professionals.


Which choice completes the underlined sentence with accurate data based on the graph?

B. warning, however, that job growth in urban and regional planning will slow to 14 percent by 2020.
C. predicting that employment of urban and regional planners will increase 16 percent between 2010 and 2020.
D. indicating that 14 to 18 percent of urban and regional planning positions will remain unfilled.


Question 2

Language is a living document shows how people think and communicate.

B. document it shows
C. document that shows
D. document, which showing


Question 3

Dong Kingman: Painter of Cities
A 1954 documentary about renowned watercolor painter Dong Kingman shows the artist sitting on a stool on Mott Street in New York City's Chinatown. A crowd of admiring spectators 12 watched as Kingman squeezes dollops of paint from several tubes into a tin watercolor 13 box, from just a few primary colors, Kingman creates dozens of beautiful hues as he layers the translucent paint onto the paper on his easel.

B. had watched
C. would watch
D. watches


Click Here For the Answers

Question 1: C is the best answer.

Question 2: C is the best answer.

Question 3: D is the best answer.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Read carefully and identify easily eliminable answers.
  2. Remember that colloquial language and written language are often dissimilar. They way people speak is not necessarily grammatically correct. The test sometimes takes advantage of this and tries to trick you.
  3. Don't blindly guess. Try to eliminate at least one answer.
  4. Don't spend too much time on one question. Read it and move on. Return later if you can't answer quickly.
  5. Don't go for the obvious answer, especially later in the section, where questions are designed to trip students in a rush.


The reading section requires students to complete 52 passage-based questions in 65 minutes. The section may ask test-takers to determine the meaning of words in context, to identify the main idea of a passage, or to compare two passages. Reading questions include evidence support questions, which ask student to cite evidence from a passage, and data reasoning questions, where students analyze a reading passage.

Strategy and Sample Questions

It is important for students to learn how to analyze arguments. Read plenty of traditional publications, such as a newspaper, to identify the structure behind arguments. Understanding how to read graphs will also be important in this section.

Question 1

Mattie Silver had lived under Ethan's roof for a year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep time with his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm.

In the context of the passage, the author's use of the underlined phrase is primarily meant to convey the idea that:

A. Ethan and Mattie share a powerful enthusiasm.
B. Mattie strives to match the speed at which Ethan works.
C. Mattie and Ethan playfully compete with each other.
D. Ethan walks at a pace that frustrates Mattie.


Question 2


Which claim about traffic congestion is supported by the graph?

A. New York City commuters spend less time annually delayed by traffic congestion than the average for very large cities.
B. Los Angeles commuters are delayed more hours annually by traffic congestion than are commuters in Washington, D.C.
C. Commuters in Washington, D.C., face greater delays annually due to traffic congestion than do commuters in New York City.
D. Commuters in Detroit spend more time delayed annually by traffic congestion than do commuters in Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago.


Question 3

The nature of impeachment: a narrowly channeled exception to the separation of powers maxim. The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors, and discounted and opposed the term "maladministration." "It is to be used only for great misdemeanors," so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: "We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other."

As used in line 26, "channeled" most nearly means:

A. worn.
B. sent.
C. constrained.
D. siphoned.


Click Here For the Answers

Question 1: A is the best answer.

Question 2: C is the best answer.

Question 3: C is the best answer.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Read carefully and use the process of elimination to increase your chances of choosing the correct multiple choice answer.
  2. Be careful with multiple-part questions, as a wrong answer to one question might lead you astray on subsequent parts. Be sure there actually is evidence for your conclusion, and not just an "easy" or obvious answer. This may sometimes manifest itself as a personal bias.
  3. Do not let personal bias cloud your judgment. Answers do not take extreme stances on topics. If an answer seems too extreme, or seems to support a stance that the College Board would not approve, chances are it is not the correct answer.
  4. Beware of extremes and controversial statements. These are usually tricks to prey on personal biases.

No-Calculator Math Section

The no-calculator math section is comprised of 20 questions (15 multiple choice and five grid-in) to be completed in 25 minutes. Math topics on this section include algebra, arithmetic, probability, and data analysis, along with some geometry and trigonometry.

Strategy and Sample Questions

Students will be provided with some basic formulas at the start of the section. It is worth memorizing these so that you don't waste time flipping back and forth to reference them.

Question 1

Line straight l is graphed in the xy-plane below.


If line straight l is translated up 5 units and right 7 units, then what is the slope of the new line?

A. -2/5
B. -3/2
C. -8/9
D. -11/14


Question 2

Which of the following is equal to (14-2i)(7+12i)=?
(Note: i = square root of -1)

A. 74
B. 122
C. 74 + 154i
D. 122 + 154i


Question 3

x2+y2-6x+8y = 144

The equation of a circle in the xy-plane is shown above. What is the diameter of the circle?


Click Here For the Answers

Question 1: B is the best answer.

Question 2: D is the best answer.

Question 3: The diameter is 26.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and focus on building a strong overall skill set. Focus on weak points.
  2. Read these questions carefully. The math format emphasizes long-format questions that require careful scrutiny, especially for multi-part questions.
  3. On equation-based questions, plug in answers to the formula, and test them. This can help you save precious time.
  4. Don't rely on your calculator excessively; sometimes the calculator can actually slow you down.
  5. Don't spend too much time on any one question. If you don't get it initially, return to it later.

Calculator Permitted Math Section

Many of the calculator permitted math questions are real-world style examples that use graphs and word problem formats. Calculators may or may not be required to complete these questions.

Strategy and Sample Questions

As always, read carefully. These questions are often asked in a complex word-problem format. Eliminate obviously wrong answer choices.

Question 1

The recommended daily calcium intake for a 20-year-old is 1,000 milligrams (mg). One cup of milk contains 299 mg of calcium and one cup of juice contains 261 mg of calcium. Which of the following inequalities represents the possible number of cups of milk m and cups of juice j a 20-year-old could drink in a day to meet or exceed the recommended daily calcium intake from these drinks alone?

A. 229m + 261j is greater than or equal to 1,000
B. 229m + 261j is greater than 1,000
C. 299/m + 261/j is greater than or equal to 1,000
D. 299/m + 261/j is greater than 1,000


Question 2


The scatterplot above shows counts of Florida manatees, a type of sea mammal, from 1991 to 2011. Based on the line of best fit to the data shown, which of the following values is closest to the average yearly increase in the number of manatees?

A. 0.75
B. 75
C. 150
D. 750


Question 3


The figure above shows a metal hex nut with two regular hexagonal faces and a thickness of 1 cm. The length of each side of a hexagonal face is 2 cm. A hole with a diameter of 2 cm is drilled through the nut. The density of the metal is 7.9 grams per cubic cm. What is the mass of this nut, to the nearest gram? (Density is mass divided by volume.)


Click Here For the Answers

Question 1: A is the best answer.

Question 2: C is the best answer.

Question 3: 57.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Learn common formulas ahead of time.
  2. Plug in answers on equation-based questions.
  3. Re-check answers if time allows.
  4. Don't rely too heavily on the calculator.
  5. Don't bring a non-approved calculator to the test site!


The SAT scoring system is simple. Each of the test's two halves are scored out of 800 points, for a total of 1600.



You earn points for correct answers and there is no advantage to leaving questions blank, as there was in previous years. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so it is to your advantage to answer every question, even if you are guessing. Raw test scores are converted into an overall scaled score using a sliding chart method that accounts for variations on different tests and test dates. This scoring method is designed so that there is no advantage to taking a particular test, or taking a test on a particular day.

Scores are available a few weeks after the test date. They are relayed by a paper report, by phone, or online. Students who want to double-check their answers after receiving their scores have access to College Board's Score Verification services.

Students who take multiple tests may use Score Choice to send their best scores to colleges. This allows them to conveniently choose their best test date scores to report to colleges. It's important to note, however, that some schools may require students to send in all of their test scores. Students are not allowed to pick and choose high-scoring sections from across multiple tests; scores from an entire SAT are sent.

In certain cases, a student may feel they did poorly on the test and want to officially cancel their scores. Scores can be canceled at the test center or by 11:59 p.m. on the Wednesday following the test date. Once the cancellation form is submitted and a score is cancelled, it cannot be reinstated.

Scores can be reported to colleges directly online and through Score Choice. Rush reporting is currently unavailable through the College Board website. Scores must be reported directly from the College Board. The fastest way to send scores to colleges is to register to send free score reports when you sign up for a test date (you can send up to four reports for free). This free service extends for nine days after the test date.

Preparing for the SAT

It's useful to know as much about the test format as possible. The reading section contains set topic sections including one US/world literature passage, two history/social science passages, and two science passages. All vocabulary will be tested in context. Because of this, studying just vocabulary is less important than doing advanced reading. Familiarizing yourself with diverse real world publications is a great starting place to start studying.

Old SAT test prep books can still be useful too. Just be sure to skip over problems that are no longer included, like sentence completion problems and isolated vocabulary questions. ACT science question are helpful as well, as the SAT is very similar to the ACT, and LSAT books can also be a source of useful information for data reasoning questions. The best overall advice is simply to read. Read widely, and read difficult, challenging articles from well-respected sources. You should also familiarize yourself with graphs and data charts, as these will be more prevalent on the new test, not only in the math section, but also in the reading sections.

Below we have compiled a list of test preparation resources:

Online Practice Tests

Online SAT prep practice tests are usually free and they allow you to view your score and a chart of answers immediately upon completion, or as you go. This is a great way to practice the test and to identify your weak spots, as the score may be broken down into subtopics. Online tests are often free, though more lengthy exams may be offered as part of a subscription or as an addendum to a published study guide book. Students who benefit from repetition and practice should consider taking free online practice tests frequently.

  • Free updated SAT practice test.
  • The College Board: Free online practice tests offered right from the source.
  • The Khan Academy: Newly partnered with the College Board, this online tutoring company offers SAT practice online.
  • Princeton Review: A staple of SAT test prep in print, and also online formats.
  • PrepScholar: Free online SAT practice tests with answer keys.

Study Apps

Many SAT prep apps are available for mobile devices that help students prepare with quick study formats, virtual flashcards, and games.

  • CollegeBoard App: Featuring a Question a Day format, this app comes from the creators of the SAT. It features instant practice test scoring and answers, free of charge.
  • Prep4 SAT: This app offers thousands of SAT questions and an intuitive study guide that enables you to track your progress and identify weaknesses in detail. Free for a limited time.
  • Varsity Tutors SAT Prep: This app enables users to study several different ways, create your own flashcards, and take practice tests.

SAT Prep Course

SAT prep courses are another great way to start studying. These are usually offered in a classroom format or through one-on-one tutorials in person or online. These courses are often several weeks long with multiple classes per week. Expensive services will sometimes offer a score improvement clause, refunding your money if your performance doesn't improve over your established baseline. Students who want to learn more in-depth SAT test prep strategies may find theses courses useful.

  • The Princeton Review: An established test prep guide publisher and tutoring agency. Comes with a 100 point guarantee with the Ultimate Program, starting at $599.
  • Kaplan: Long established test prep provider that offers, among other services, in-person and online classes. Live training starts at $499 and on-demand courses start at $99 for 6 months, or try it for one month free.
  • Sylvan Learning: Small class format SAT test prep available.


For self-paced study, there is often no better resource than a good arsenal of SAT prep study guides with real practice tests and a detailed answer key. These publications are often used to supplement class work, and many include online components. Students will usually find thorough explanations of each test section and subsection, along with a detailed analysis of test question types and strategies. A good SAT book is a must-have for any test-taker.

  • The College Board: This test prep book is published by the creators of the SAT. The 2020 edition provides eight real practice tests with offical answer explanations.
  • Kaplan: Excellent all-encompassing multi-media format test book with extras. Covers the new 2017 SAT.
  • Princeton Review: New comprehensive practice questions for the redesigned SAT.


Flashcards are most often used for vocabulary study. Though the SAT does not test vocabulary in isolation any more, having a strong vocabulary is still important. Students looking to bolster their vocabulary quickly, and those who do well with rote memory and game-oriented learning, will benefit from using flashcards. Flashcards can be made at home, purchased, or found online and through mobile apps. Some of the best sources include:

  • Magoosh: Free SAT vocabulary flashcards for mobile devices.
  • Barron's: More than 500 vocabulary flashcards.
  • Varsity Tutors: Flashcards for all sections of the SAT.


Private tutoring can help struggling students efficiently work through their biggest deficiencies. Tutoring may be appropriate for struggling students who need extra guidance for the SAT, or for students who score highly and want an extra push to get the best score possible. Often, premium tutoring agencies will offer test-takers a minimum score point increase guarantee over their established baseline.

Tutors can often be found on community boards, college campus listings, and online. Be sure to investigate the effectiveness of any company, and research their history and customer satisfaction. Test books and websites like the College Board may also have resources for finding reputable tutors. Be sure to check any tutor's credentials and that they have the education and SAT scores to prove they are worth your time and money.

  • Varsity Tutors: Connects tutors and students who live in the same area. Tutors are available online or in person.
  • Inspirica: Elite, boutique test preparation tutoring agency located on the East Coast.
  • Prep Scholar Tutors: Pre-screened, reputable tutors for all subjects, with an SAT/ACT point guarantee.

4 Cheap Ways to Prep for the SAT

You got through high school. You've picked a college. And now you're ready to take on the world. But first, you just need to take this one little test that determines whether or not you'll even get into college.

No pressure, right?

Prepping for a college admissions test is stressful enough, but when you factor in the cost of study materials and actually taking the test, it can feel overwhelming. Rest assured, there are ways to prep for a college admissions test without breaking the bank.

1. Use free study apps

Test prep these days has gotten a little less expensive and a little more convenient, thanks to the magic of free apps.

Some of the best study apps for college admissions tests include:

  • ACT Prep: Offers full-length practice exams and flashcards made by professional tutors.
  • Prep4 SAT: Packed with “bite-sized” lessons and thousands of SAT questions, complete with a detailed score analysis.

2. Find free study materials and practice exams online

Study sites like Course Hero and PowerScore offer free materials to keep you engaged and motivated before your college admissions test.

  • Course Hero: Offers 24/7 tutors, flashcards, prep schedules, and free test materials for each section.
  • PowerScore: Offers free SAT and ACT practice exams, as well as tips on how to optimize your time for each section.
  • Khan Academy: Offers full-length SAT tests and other admissions practice test.

3. Find cheap books and online courses

ePrep offers reasonably priced courses for both the ACT and SAT, ranging from $129 to $299. Their courses offer video lessons and answers by subject, in addition to full-length practice tests.

You can also find cheap test prep books on Amazon. As of writing this article, you can buy a used copy of The Official SAT Study Guide for less than $6!

Now go out there and conquer your college admissions test! (And don't forget to use the extra cash you're saving on a well-deserved pizza break!)

Additional Resources

Prep Scholar: Offers insight into overcoming test anxiety and stress.

Veritas Prep: Offers test prep services and resources for overcoming test anxiety

Kahn Academy: College Board partner and fantastic site with a variety of tutoring and test prep services, including practice quizzes and interactive learning tools. Free online SAT exam prep and ACT tests. Free online SAT exam prep and ACT tests.

PWN Test Prep: Humorous and informative SAT exam prep website.

Perfect Score Project: SAT guide and resources for parents and students. Based on the work of Debbie Stier and her book The Perfect Score Project: One Mom's Journey to Uncover the Secrets of the SAT.

Erik The Red: Comprehensive SAT Math study guide and online practice question resource. A good place to build familiarity with the SAT, ACT, and test taking strategies.

The Critical Reader: Their catchphrase is "beyond tips and tricks" - aiming at in-depth analysis of standardized test trends and the SAT exam format. Offers books and tutoring services.

Method Test Prep: Crash course in SAT strategies. Online test prep help and tutoring service. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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