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Ask the Experts: SAT

By Peterson's Staff updated on Friday, March 21, 2014

Question Are admissions officers going to actually be able to see your essay that you enter on the SAT or just the score? - cait

AnswerYes. The Writing section will ask you to write for 25 minutes, in your own handwriting of course, on a topic prompt. College admission officers will be able to view your essay online and print it to review in their offices. They may do this for research purposes, or to compare a timed, monitored writing sample to your application essays, which are expected to be more polished and well considered, but clearly should be representative of your own voice and work. This review opportunity should help students who write naturally well under timed conditions and off the computer, but could be difficult for those who need more time to rewrite their essays, who have trouble writing with a pencil, or who have become overly reliant on spell- and grammar-check programs.

Advice? Write neatly, practice writing short, well-composed and well-reasoned essays, and make sure you write your application essays with the knowledge that they could be compared to another sample of your work.

 

Question I currently go to First Coast Academy, which isn't a regular public high school. I guess you could say I'm home-schooled. So how would I take the SATs? Where exactly do I go? - Chassis

AnswerAll you need to do is to go on to the CollegeBoard.com Web site to find out what dates the SAT is offered and where it is given in your home area. You can register online if you have a social security number and a credit card. You can also go to your local high school and pick up a SAT booklet with the registration form included. You can follow the same process for the ACT (ACT.org) if you want to consider this other widely accepted admissions testing format.

 

Question how can i prepare for SAT most effectively? what is the marks required to get a scholarship? - lasya

AnswerRead. That's the first step. Read a lot, and with an English language dictionary to develop your vocabulary in context. Second, get one or more good SAT prep books and spend twenty to thirty minutes every day or two, beginning at the end of the summer prior to junior year (11th grade) in advance of the PSAT in October and then the SAT in April, May, or June. You can also consider, depending on how your preparation is going, working with a class, an online program, or a one-on-one tutor.

Scholarships? Those will vary based on the college or the sponsoring organization. You can find information about merit-scholarships on most college Web sites, though you will also find that many non-need-based awards are given out based on SAT, grades, and other factors, crunched up in a very unpredictable formula that a college will vary each year. Do your best and it is likely good things will happen.

 

Question My daughter is in 11th grade now and she is going to take sats in april and how much she should get in sats to get in a good college - zareena

AnswerThat's a pretty broad question. There is a huge range of colleges and possible SAT scores that they will be looking for. One could say that at least average to above-average scores will help with most colleges that are at least moderately selective. So, scores in the mid-500s to low-600s will be in the range of many "good" schools. The most competitive colleges are seeing individual section scores more in the 700s. Less selective colleges will consider scores below 500 on the sections, and some even highly selective schools will not require SATs or other standardized tests for admission.

Your daughter should do something to prepare for the SAT, and consider retaking them later in the spring or, more likely, in the fall, in order to have her best chance at producing her strongest scores. At a minimum, working with a test prep book and doing practice tests will help her to understand the SAT, what each section is looking for, and how to answer (and when not to answer) the variety of questions she will face.

 

Question What is the best way to study for the SAT and improve your score? - Amanda

AnswerThere are several successful ways to study for the SAT to improve your scores. Some students do best by group or individually tutoring with an experienced person. Others are self directed and motivated enough to study on their own. There are a number of excellent inexpenseive review books that you can purchase at your local bookstore or online. Some students have had great results by taking an interactive online course at Peterson's. This is a nice combination of directed practice and tutorial and self study. In all cases, students only improve their scores significantly if they practice regularly with review materials and read as much good level writing as possible to increase their vocabulary and reading skills. For some good free review material, check out this free practice SAT test here on Peterson's.

 

Question I just recieved my son's SAT reasoning test. I don't know how to interpret his scores. He scored a 460 in critical reading, 450 in Math, 420 in writing and the writing subscores are - multiple choice is 45 and essay is 05. Is his score avg. ? for the first time around. He's an african american junior in high. This is his first SAT test. - cinthia

AnswerThank you for sharing the results of your son's SAT scores with us. It is something of a challenge to understand what these sets of numbers actually mean in terms of college opportunities. The most meaningful numbers in the SAT report you have in hand is the % listed after each of the three scaled scores. You will note that your son's scores are somewhat below the national average for college-bound students. The lowest of his scores is in the essay section of the writing test.

Because this is the first time he has taken the SAT, your son should feel that he can take positive steps to increase his scores. As a junior he has the opportunity to retake the SAT this spring, either in April or May (leaving the June test date to take one or more SAT Subject Tests if he is performing well in specific courses in high school).

There is absolutely no doubt in our mind that a student can improve his scores over the course of the year by practicing for the SAT with inexpensive review books and/or an online interactive course such as Peterson's offers. If your son can move his scores into the 500 range and has solid grades in his school subjects, he will have many college opportunities. Another recommendation is to check out those colleges that make the submission of test scores optional. You can get a full list of these colleges by going to the Web site Fairtest.org.

 

Question Does the SAT scores only go to the colleges listed on the SAT Registration or can I still have them sent to other colleges after I receive my score? - Ginger

AnswerYou are allowed several free score submissions each time you take the SAT. The report sent will include the scores from that test as well as all previous high school SAT and SAT Subject Test scores. You can always request additional score reports anytime, and it is very easy to do so online. Generally we suggest that you don't submit your scores to colleges during early (junior year) administrations of the SAT. Better to wait to see how your scores are shaping up, and then determine whether and when to send them, and to whom, which you can do for minimal cost senior fall.

 

Question I am in grade 10. I am not doing well in SAT passages can you advise me? - Kelly

AnswerThe good news is that you have a lot of time to bring up your scores. You can take the SAT up to January of your senior year and still have the test count for admission to most colleges. So, give yourself time to focus on improving your basic reading, writing, vocabulary, and math skills. The number one factor that will help you bring up SAT scores is reading, and more reading. Read with an English language dictionary handy, and keep a list of words you have to look up and their definitions. This will help you expand your vocabulary by learning it in context. Get a good SAT prep book, and begin spending 20 to 30 minutes with it every few days starting this summer, in preparation for the 11th grade PSAT. Consider test prep courses, around home or online, to supplement your own work. You can bring up your scores with work.

 

Question If I am a transfer student who is currently a sophomore in college, will I need to retake the SAT's for admission into a new school?  Which will be of more weight?  My current college grades or tests that i took in high school? - Dana

AnswerThis is a great question because a very large segment of the college student population is transferring from one college to another these days. Whether you are in a two year or a four year college, the critical factor in gaining admissions as a transfer is your academic performance in solid courses. A grade point average of 2.8 and higher will open many doors to upgrade your educational experience. SAT or ACT testing is almost never required for a transfer candidate because grade performance will attest to the ability to succeed in college level studies. Many students who are not strong standardized test takers are able to transfer to higher level colleges by doing well in a first and second year of studies in a less competitive environment first. Go for it!

 

Question Is it advisable to take the SAT Reasoning Test more than twice? Do colleges look at best scores in each section? - Menaka

AnswerYes, colleges will typically use your highest test scores on each section, even from different test administrations, when evaluating you for admission. You will not "lose" a high score from a previous test.

Yes, we encourage most students to take the test two times, and possibly three times, depending on several factors. First, have you scored within your predicted or expected range, given your PSAT scores and your scores on practice exams? If you are well below what you reasonably think you are capable of, then you should keep preparing for the test and retake it when you have a fair expectation that you will bring up one or more sections of the test at least thirty points (a significant increase).

Second, you should consider the colleges in which you are most interested. If you have met or exceeded the average test scores for your major schools of interest, and scored within an expected range for yourself, then you might not want or need to re-take the SAT. However, if you have your sights set on one or more colleges or universities that require higher scores (or, perhaps you are hoping to get more scholarship aid that might be tied to test scores) then you should work hard during the summer to bring up your test scores on a fall administration of the SAT.

Three tries at the SAT should be enough. It is unlikely that your scores will change markedly if you have worked at the test and taken it three times. Sometimes, students will see an increase by trying the test just one more time as late as December or even January of senior year, but this is rare in our experience. If you begin to accumulate too many test scores, we believe that colleges will begin to lean toward averaging out your performance; wondering why you had focused so much energy on testing instead of coursework or your activities; and figuring that your "real" scores are somewhere between your highest and lowest results.

 

Question Are verbal scores and math scores equally weighted by most schools? - Mort

AnswerRegarding the weighting of scores, it depends on what kinds of colleges you're applying to, and what you are identifying as your strengths and areas of interest. If you apply to an engineering school, you will need to show more strengths in the math sections, and in math and science SAT Subject Tests. A creative writing major at a liberal arts college will be forgiven a lower math score if the Critical Reading and Writing section scores are high. Colleges also try to match their assessment of scores to their own curricular requirements. A college that requires students to complete math or quantitative courses will be more concerned that you show good math and Critical Reading and Writing scores, than a college that has few distribution requirements for graduation.

In the past, it has been harder to get higher scores on the Critical Reading and Writing sections, so strong scores in those areas are viewed very favorably, especially by liberal arts colleges and universities, since so much of their curriculum is based on reading and writing.

 

Question I will be applying to college this fall, however, I have only taken the SAT's once (and do not plan to take the test again because after taking several practice tests, I feel that I haven't made a significant improvement since my last SAT's). The college I am planning to apply to has an average SAT about 90 points higher than I scored. My question is, will it be counted against me if college admissions see that I have only taken the SAT's once, and didn't bother to take it a second time? Or would it be beneficial to write my explanation under the 'Additional comments' section of the application? Thank you for your time. - Abby

AnswerDon't give up on your SATs so early. Low scores could hurt you, and could be a reason you might not be admitted to colleges where your scores are significantly below their average range. We encourage most students to take the SAT at least twice. You have a lot of time to keep working on the areas in which you need to put more focus. You can take the SAT as late as December of this year, or even in January! That's a lot of time. So, work away on your own, or with a class or tutor, twenty minutes every couple of days, all the way through the summer. Try the SAT again in October, and consider it again in December.

Colleges will not appreciate it if you try it only once and then try to convince them you're just not a good tester. If you try two or three times, and the pattern is clear, but your courses and grades are strong, then you might be able to make the argument that timed testing is just not your bag.

Other options: consider some colleges that make standardized testing optional or partially optional. See fairtest.org for a list. Consider the ACT. You might do better on it than the SAT. Consider SAT Subject Tests in areas in which you are well prepared.

 

Question I am planning to be a writer and am hoping to apply to a liberal arts college next fall. How important are my SAT Math scores? - jared

AnswerOur first response is that as an aspiring writer, you are very wise to plan on enrolling in a broad-based liberal arts college. Exposure to the humanities, social sciences, languages, cultural studies, and some science will provide you with the literary, social, historical, and behavioral concepts that will inform your writing in the future. For in-depth studies in these disciplines, your skills in writing, language usage, and reading are more critical than your mathematical skills, as important as the latter can be in your future. Therefore admissions committees will put greater weight on the verbal and writing sections of entrance exams than on math and science testing.

One of the most effective means to show evidence of your abilities and commitment to writing is to present a portfolio of your writing with your applications. You can put together a sampling of some stories, articles, poetry, or essays you have written in the last several years that you are proud of. You may want to share these with a trusted teacher or writer acquaintance for an objective evaluation of their quality beforehand.

 

Question are the sat's really, really hard to do?  because i don't have all that good of test scoring.  and i want to know what i should look forward into, so i at least know what to expect.  and hopefully after finding out i can find a tutor of some kind to help me out a bit. - JESSICA

AnswerThe SAT is a tough exam. It is long, and requires a good understanding of vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar and usage, writing mechanics, and math through Algebra 2. The best long-term preparation for the SAT is READING. Working through reliable test prep books and practicing timed sections can help you over the long term as well. A class or tutor would be the next step to make sure you are mastering the right material and to help you break down walls where you might not understand particular questions or subject matter.  

The ACT is another alternative to consider. Now accepted by all colleges, some students do find it easier, and it could fit your learning style better. Finally, if your courses and grades are good, and better than your test scores, then consider the growing number of colleges that have made the SAT/ACT optional in the admissions process. A list can be found at fairtest.org.

 

Question Are there any schools such as community colleges etc. who do not require the SAT for admission? - cait

AnswerFairtest.org has an extensive list, including public and private institutions. Most community colleges (two-year, non-residential programs typically) do not require standardized tests for admission. They are usually open-enrollment institutions, allowing almost anyone to take college level classes, which will help you progress toward an associate degree. If you really don't test well, and would have trouble entering a selective four-year college or university right away, a community college, or a less selective two-year residential junior college, could work well for you. Especially if you earn your associate degree, you will have preferential admission treatment at most in-state public universities, and many out-of-state public and private schools. By this time, the SAT/ACT usually won't be required for transfer admission, since you will have proven yourself at the college level and accumulated enough credits to transfer in as a junior.

 

Question For the SAT essay exam, can student write part of the essay outside the line areas of the provided two-page paper? The main concern is that the line areas of the provided paper may not have enough space for 5 paragraphs. But any contents of outside of the line areas may not be scanned. So what's your suggestion in case of short of space, write on the white area of the paper or make the essay short to fit into the lines areas? Thanks. - Weiping

AnswerAccording to the College Board: "Your essay must be written on the lines provided on your answer sheet — you will receive no other paper on which to write. You will have enough space if you write on every line, avoid wide margins, and keep your handwriting to a reasonable size. Remember that people who are not familiar with your handwriting will read what you write. Try to write or print so that what you are writing is legible to those readers." Our suggestion is to think and write clearly, and avoid going overly long with your response.

 

Question How many times is too many to repeat a test? If I've taken the SAT 3 times, and my scores have gone up a little bit each time, should I take it again? - Henry

AnswerIt sounds like you're done with the SAT. If your scores are not significantly improving after three attempts, it's time to leave it alone. You could consider trying the ACT as an alternative, and some SAT Subject Tests as a supplement. If you haven't done much work on the SAT to prepare for it, then you might try doing so and then retaking it. You could also consider alternative test prep options. But if you have prepared and find your scores are flat, you should focus on courses and grades primarily.

 

Question Is it possible to score a "perfect score" on the SAT even if you don't answer all of the questions? What exceptions are there (or "secrets") to scoring a perfect score on the SAT? Although, I know very well that scoring a "perfect score" isn't ALL that, but if you could elaborate and clarify on these key issues, which are *IMPORTANT* (to me) pertaining to this topic of discussion, then I would be grateful. Thank you so much. - Michael

AnswerIt is unlikely you will score a perfect score if you don't answer all the questions. You will find detailed information about the SAT scoring system in one of the many SAT prep books available. A key point is not to random guess on the SAT, since you lose a portion of a point for wrong answers. Generally, if you can eliminate at least one, if not two potential answers, you should make what is an educated guess on the question. Very few students nationally will score a perfect score, and, while impressed with that, colleges are more concerned with strong courses and good grades than they are with high SATs. They would like to see SAT scores in their "ballpark," and that is enough.

 

Question I am a junior and have already taken the SAT's once.  I found that when in the middle of the test, I tensed up and drew a blank.  My score is nothing like the grades I get in class!  I'm going to take the test again, do you have any recommendations? Thanks - john

AnswerBreathe. Breathe. Seriously, though, you might consider some relaxation techniques and visualizations to help you relax and focus. Especially if you are getting higher scores in practice, you are capable of doing well on test day. You need to be confident going into the test, and assure yourself that you are ready and able to do your best. There are many good resources available to help you learn meditative, relaxation, and concentration skills. Remember that you have multiple opportunities to take these tests, and that they are not the most important part of the admissions process, or a reflection on who you are and what you can do with your life. Putting the tests into perspective can help you gain control of them.

 

Question I had heard that the SAT's were bias against minorities and women and that they have to keep them that way in order for the test to remain standardized. Is there any truth to this? - andrew

AnswerThere has been a good deal of publicity regarding the discrepancy in test results between students of color and Hispanic students, and Caucasian and Oriental students. This not a direct effect of the efforts of the College Board who designs and administers the SAT to keep any identified racial groups scores at a lower level. The simple, but sad explanation is that any student of any particular racial or socio-economic background who has not had the advantages of a strong foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics due to a poor school system is unlikely to score well on the SAT or any other standardized test that is centered for students who have, in fact, had a solid schooling experience. Quite understandably, students whose primary language is other than English are also at a major disadvantage in taking the SAT which is so heavily weighted towards verbal and writing skills.

 

Question what is the hardest part doing the SAT? - Brittany

AnswerIt depends on your learning strengths. Some folks find the math a breeze, while others are completely stumped by the middle level questions, let alone the tougher ones on Algebra II. That said, with the inclusion of reading and writing sections, the SAT is doubly weighted on verbal skills. There is a lot of reading, sentence completion, paragraph improvement, and so on. Plus, you need to write a short essay in response to a prompt. So, over the long term, strong reading and grammatical skills are the best preparation for the SAT, and the most likely to help you succeed in the largest portion of the test. Another point to make is that the test is LONG — three and a half hours. So, one of the hardest parts is maintaining your concentration and energy levels over the course of a high pressure test that moves quickly and jumps around from section to section.

 

Question My son took the SAT on Saturday. Unfortunately he made a marking mistake in the exam. He entered the answers for section 4 in the answer space for section 5 and the answers for section 5 in the answer space for section 4. He noticed the mistake and reported it to the test supervisor. The test supervisor contacted ETS, filled out an irregularity form mentioning what the student had done and told my son that the exam would be handscored and his mistake would be taken care of in the handscoring. The mistake was genuine and can easily be verified as one of the sections had 10 questions and the other 34 and the answers marked in the wrong sections can show (according to my son) the genuine marking mistake.

My question is 1. What should I / can I do at this stage (I plan on contacting ETS ). 2. generally what happens in these cases - Will my sons answers be corrected as is (i.e. all of section 4 and section 5 are likely to be scored as incorrect) or will ETS handscore the exam as the test supervisor told my son considering the mistakes (which can be easily verified as one section had 10 questions and the other 34). Thanks in advance for any assistance.  - J

AnswerThis is not uncommon, as the response from ETS indicates. Hand scoring usually does solve the problem, though we have indeed seen cases where hand scoring just doesn't produce a result that seems consistent with what a student remembers having accomplished in an exam. In one instance, a student has been stuck with a low subject test score despite many attempts to figure out what went wrong with the test and his high grades and score on a related AP exam. So, it can turn out poorly, but in this case it sounds like your son handled the situation appropriately, they are handling it now, and that it will be scored properly.

You do have the opportunity to cancel the score within a certain timeframe after taking the test if your son feels it's not worth the risk, and that he didn't do as well as he expected that day overall. He can then retake the test in November. Yes, this can affect Early Decision/Action, in case you were wondering, but that shouldn't necessarily drive the process.

 

Question I am not interested in taking the entire SAT examination; rather, I wish to take only the English sections.  Can I do this? - Billy

AnswerYou could choose to only fill out the English sections, but it would be a mistake. Your scores will be awfully low on paper, and there is little reason to take this course of action. Plan to take the entire exam and work on those sections where you need improvement prior to retaking the test later in the spring or in the fall.

 

Question When you take the Sat's do they select the highest score or do they take the score of the last one taken? - Liarpa

AnswerColleges will see all your SAT and SAT Subject Test scores. They will usually use the highest scores, even from different administrations, in each section of the exams in evaluating your application.

 

Question I have been doing a lot of reading practice but my reading scores don't improve from 590 at all. I really have tried everything to improve but to no avail. could you please tell me how I can improve it? - Sweyta

AnswerThat's a tough one. We assume you are talking about the Critical Reading section on the SAT, which is scored out of 800. Your 590 is above average, but not in a range desired by the more selective colleges. Practice is the right way to go, and focusing on learning the specific intent and assessment of that SAT section. You need to learn to use your time wisely, and attack the questions with the intent of answering them correctly, not with a focus on remembering or truly understanding the meaning or wider implications of the topic. That is, this is a test that you must get through, and these reading passages are different than reading a book for English or History class.

Now, if working on your own, with a class, with an online program, or with a tutor doesn't help, you may just have to accept your score. Keep your focus on your grades and curriculum, which are more important than SATs. If they are strong, then you might apply to some colleges that do not require SATs at all. Oh, and don't forget about the ACT. That test could work for you as an alternative.

 

Question In my junior year, I took the SAT. I took the SAT again recently and received the same exact score. I am not sure, however, if I should take it again. If I take it again, I believe that my score will increase significantly, but I am not sure that taking it 3 times is a wise thing to do, or if it would look foolish to colleges. Please let me know!! - Isabella

AnswerIf you believe your scores will increase, then you should retake the test. Most colleges will look at your highest SAT scores, even on sections from different test administrations. Three tries won't look foolish if your scores increase. And, higher scores are always better than lower. Of course, you should confirm your believe that it is reasonable to expect higher scores by working diligently on practice tests.

 

Question i was wondering if a person who hasn't put much emphasis on the sat's till the summer of his junior could still do well enough to get in a four year university. grades are a's but im still nervous about the sat's bringing me down. - aaron

AnswerYes. Most students we see earn their highest SAT scores in the fall of senior year! Yes, that's right. Most students are not done in the spring of junior year. We do not advocate taking the SAT too early. Especially now that the test is longer, and includes more writing and grammar, more and tougher reading passages, and math through Algebra II, most students should not take the SAT until spring of junior year, and then most should  retake the test in October, November, or December of senior year. Some should consider a third try. Yes, some will be prepared to do their best earlier in junior year, but these students are in the minority in our experience.  

So, study the SAT through the summer. Take a lot of practice tests. Work on the areas in which you are weakest. Prepare for the October SAT if you think you can do reasonably well, or, delay until November. That still gives you another try in December, and even January if necessary. Also, if you have taken a strong academic program, you might be prepared for SAT Subject Tests (in math, literature, sciences, languages, or histories, for example). You can do up to three of these in place of the SAT on a given test date.

 

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