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Should I Take the SAT?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years around colleges and universities looking less at SAT scores when it comes to admissions. There are even some colleges that no longer require you to provide SAT or ACT scores at all, and if you’re planning to attend community college, you probably will not be required to report SAT scores.

However, before you cancel that test prep course or return that giant study guide to the library, it’s important to note that most colleges and universities in the U.S., do require SAT and/or ACT scores, and there are benefits to taking these tests that go way beyond admissions.

Here, let’s tackle the details regarding the most well-known standardized test, the SAT.

Why take the SAT?

  1. College admissions

    Most schools still require you to take one of the standardized tests. If you’re college bound, you should plan to take the SAT and the ACT.

  2. Scholarships for SAT scores can be pretty generous

    Many colleges award scholarships to students who have achieved at or above a certain score on the SAT, and the amounts of these awards typically outweigh the costs of taking the test. Some colleges offer this kind of scholarship in tiers (i.e., $2,000 for an SAT score of 1280, $4,000 for an SAT score of 1380, etc.), so even if you don’t have an exceptional GPA, you may still qualify for a hefty academic scholarship if you do well on the SAT.

    And some scholarships may not be awarded based on your scores, but they will still ask for them on the application.

  3. Avoid placement tests

    If you’re planning on attending community college, your scores may help you avoid taking placement tests. Many junior colleges require these tests for English, math and reading to make sure you enroll in the appropriate level courses. SAT scores may replace the need to take these additional tests.

  4. May be required if you transfer

    If you start off at a two or four-year school that doesn’t require SAT scores, that doesn’t mean you won’t need them in the future. If you change your mind about what college you want to attend, or plan to transfer to a different school, you may find that these test scores are now required. (There is no age limit for the SAT, but there are separate requirements for test takers who are over age 21.)

When do you take the SAT?

SAT scores are good for five years. So, if you’re goal is to attend a very competitive college, or earn academic awards for your scores, you can start taking the SAT as early as 8th grade. You’ll have plenty of time to take and retake the test to earn your highest score. It’s important to note, some colleges will look at every SAT score you’ve earned, some will let you report your score of choice, and some will only look at your “Superscore,” which, by default, is the highest SAT score you earned out of all your test attempts.

It’s pretty common for students to take the SAT twice starting their junior year, taking it for the first time in the winter or early spring and again at the end of spring or beginning of summer. This gives you a chance to retake the test to try to get the best score you can before completing college applications in the fall of senior year.

You can see where the SAT is offered in your area by visiting Collegeboard.org. College Board® offers the SAT seven times a year, with the registration deadline typically about a month before the test. You can register late for an additional fee.

You can register for the SAT with or without the essay the portion (the essay is not required). There is an additional fee if you take the SAT with the essay. If you opt not to take the essay portion of the SAT and decide you would like to later, you will need to retake the entire SAT and add in the essay portion. Unlike the subject tests, the essay portion of the SAT is not offered separately. With many colleges recommending (or requiring) the essay, it may be worth it.

SAT fees

There are some fees you need to consider when it comes to taking the SAT. Current fees are as follows:

  • SAT without the essay: $49.50
  • SAT with the essay: $64.50
  • SAT Subject Test basic registration fee: $26
  • SAT Subject Test individual tests $22 (or $26 for a Language Test with Listening)

SAT fee waiver

If you are worried about the cost of taking the SAT, you can ask about a fee waiver. The College Board may agree to waive the fee for the SAT for low-income students in 11th and 12th grade. You will need to submit your request along with the required documentation to the College Board. They will make the determination if you qualify for a fee waiver. If you qualify, you will need to work the fee waiver benefits into your SAT strategy, since you will be limited in the amount of times you can take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests for free.

There are other benefits if you qualify for a SAT fee waiver. You may also be able to waive the fees on certain college applications (like colleges who use the Coalition, Common, or Universal College Application). As well as waiving the fee to file the CSS Profile ™ —if you’re applying to a school that requires this additional application it for financial aid.

How long does the SAT take?

The SAT takes three hours to complete, not including breaks. If you decide to take the optional essay (it’s important to know if any of the schools on your preferred school list recommend or require the SAT with essay), the test will take three hours and 50 minutes, not including breaks. You can find out here, but it’s always best to confirm SAT requirements with your colleges of choice.

Should I take SAT subject tests?

It depends.

Many schools don’t require specific subject tests, but your preferred college or degree program may. So, start by checking with your top colleges. If you need to take one or more subject tests, there are a few things to note:

  • You can take up to three SAT subject tests on the same date (with some exceptions).
  • SAT subject tests are offered at the same date and time as the SAT, but subject tests are not offered on every SAT testing date.
  • You cannot take SAT subject tests and the SAT on the same date.

If you think you will need to take the subject tests more than once, look at the SAT schedule and plan ahead. You will have to stagger the dates you take the SAT with the dates of the SAT subject test(s). (This is what we are doing in my house. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to review the testing schedule if you need to do this level of planning. We almost missed our chance to schedule the subject tests and we ended up paying a late fee.) Poor planning results in additional fees, such as a late registration fee, a change fee, a waitlist fee, etc.

Here's a sample plan:

  1. SAT subject tests – December
  2. SAT – March
  3. Retake subject tests – May
  4. Retake SAT - June

You can see why it is important to know when subject tests are being offered if you plan to take them more than once. Proper planning puts you in a good position to both improve your results and have your scores ready on time for filing college applications.

How long does it take to get SAT scores?

It typically takes two to four weeks to get your multiple choice SAT scores. SAT essay scores are usually available a few days after the multiple choice scores are released. College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, has established score release dates for 2020, based on when you take the test. You can view SAT test score release dates here.

Preparing for the SAT

One nice thing about the SAT is there are numerous ways you can prepare: study guides, on-demand or live online courses, and in-person tutoring and test preparation, so there are a lot of options out there for different types of learners. While the content of the test should reflect what you’ve been learning in high school, there are tips for taking standardized tests you can learn from courses/guides.

Collegeboard.org has a lot of FREE preparation resources. This is a great place to start your test preparations.

The costs for paid SAT prep courses can vary widely (from under one-hundred dollars to thousands), but many of the companies and organizations that offer the courses also offer a limited number of free resources and practice tests on their sites. So even if you don’t sign up for their paid services, you can take advantage of the freebies.

Taking practice tests is a great way to assess how prepared you are overall as well as what areas you might need to work on. It also exposes you to the format of the SAT and how the questions are structured. If you have test anxiety, knowing what to expect may help you feel more relaxed.

Know the policies and requirements for test day

You don’t want to do all of that hard work preparing only to have your test scores disqualified because you unknowingly broke a rule (like wearing a digital watch, or using an unauthorized calculator), or be refused admittance to the testing center because you forgot your ID. If you’ve never been to the test location, give yourself a nice cushion. You will never know how far away from the building you will need to park (SAT day is probably going to be a busy day!), or how easy it will be to find your testing room. And even if you think you know, make sure to review the SAT test day checklist.

Best of luck!


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