Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

What does SAT stand for? Plus, Top Tips for SAT Planning During COVID-19!

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Ask the admission office | 0 comments

Hey, hey, are you staying healthy? I sure hope so. 

I’ve been trying to do my part by slowing the spread and doubling down at home (hence all the rapid-fire posts covering COVID-19-related tips!)

I know there’s one thing you may be thinking about if you’re the parent of a sophomore or junior: the SAT. COVID-19 may have wreaked havoc on your SAT plans. 

I worked for 12 years in a college admission office in the Midwest, so most students took the ACT, not the SAT. I even administered the ACT test every few months (those poor students were soo nervous!) so I was always a bit curious about the SAT.

Parents, it may be a few years since you’ve taken the SAT yourself (if you took it at all!) and want to know more about it. I’ll also cover some top tips on how to handle it during COVID-19.

What is the SAT?

What does SAT stand for, anyway? Let’s do a multiple-choice question, just like in the real SAT: 

  1. Scholastic Aptitude Test
  2. Scholar Assessment Test 
  3. Slippery, Atrocious Trial 
  4. It’s not an acronym for anything. It’s just S-A-T.

Got a good guess? It’s D! (Did you notice that I tried tricking you? The SAT did stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test when it was created.) 

You know that the SAT is a multiple-choice entrance exam administered by the College Board. You may even know that over 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2019, according to the 2019 SAT Suite of Assessments Program Results. But do you know the finer points of the SAT? 

The SAT does one major thing: It assesses your child’s readiness for college. Most colleges and universities use the SAT to make admission decisions. Your child’s SAT score, in addition to high school GPA, transcripts, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, personal essays and interviews, may also be taken into consideration for admission decisions. Some schools don’t weigh SAT scores as heavily, while others do.

Of course, it’s to your student’s advantage to do well on the SAT or the ACT. Your child is more likely to be able to attend and possibly receive more financial aid from a particular school with a higher score.

The SAT is divided up into three major sections: Reading, Math, and Writing and Language. The Essay portion is optional. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find on each test.

Reading Test

The Reading Test is 65 minutes long and features reading passages. Each reading passage requires you to answer 52 multiple-choice questions using tables, graphs, and charts. The SAT always includes: 

  • One literature passage
  • A U.S. history passage or pair of passages
  • A passage from economics, sociology or psychology
  • Two science-related passages

Your child may need to find evidence, interpret data and consider implications to answer the questions on this test.

Check out the College Board’s sample Reading Test questions.

Language and Writing Test

What’s on the Language and Writing Test? Easy — this is your child’s chance to be an editor for 35 minutes. He or she will take a look at sentence structure, usage and punctuation in portions of an underlined part of a passage. 

There are four passages and 44-passage based questions. Your child must be able to know how to manipulate words, use punctuation and sentence clauses, as well as understand verb tense, parallel construction, subject-verb agreement, comma use and more.  

Check out the College Board’s sample Language and Writing Test questions.

Math Test

The SAT Math Test covers basic algebra, problem solving, data analysis and complex equations. It’s divided up into two components — a calculator section and a no-calculator section:

  • The calculator section is 55 minutes and contains 38 questions. 
  • The no-calculator section is 25 minutes and contains 20 questions. Your child isn’t permitted to use a calculator. (These portions are conceptual and your child won’t need a calculator to complete them.)

Most of the questions on the Math Test are multiple choice but 22 percent are student-produced response questions, known as grid-ins.  

See the College Board’s official SAT Math Test sample questions

SAT Essay Test

The SAT Essay portion is optional but some colleges require it. (It’s a good idea to do some checking around to find out whether your kiddo should take the essay portion.)

The Essay Test is 50 minutes and measures your child’s ability to read, write and analyze. The two people who score your child’s essay each award between one and four points for a maximum score of eight.

Here’s how it’s done: Your student must read a passage and explain how the writer builds an argument and how that writer persuades using evidence from the passage.

How long is the SAT? 

To sum up, the SAT is 180 minutes, not including breaks. The SAT Essay Test is 50 minutes.

Reading Test65 minutes52 questions
Writing and Language Test35 minutes44 questions
Math: No calculator
Math: Calculator
25 minutes
55 minutes
20 questions
38 questions
Essay50 minutes1 essay

History of the SAT 

Okay, buckle in for a history lesson. The history of the SAT goes back all the way to the first World War, believe it or not. Robert Yerkes, a guy who knew a heck of a lot about I.Q. testing, asked the U.S. Army to let him test all recruits for intelligence using the Army Alpha.

One of Yerkes’ brilliant assistants, Carl Brigham, taught at Princeton and adapted Army Alpha as a college admissions test. It was first administered to a few thousand college applicants in 1926, just for fun. (Yeah, it was one big experiment!)

James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard in 1933, decided to start a new scholarship program and asked an assistant dean, Henry Chauncey, to find a test to evaluate candidates for these scholarships. (Poor guy!) Chauncey met Brigham and recommended… dum da dum dum dum… The SAT! 

Chauncey talked the members of the College Board into using the SAT as a uniform exam in 1938 for scholarship applicants. The second World War changed everything in 1942. All College Board admissions tests were abolished, so the SAT became the test for everyone. 

When’s the SAT Offered?

This is kind of a trick question because the SAT’s schedule has changed due to COVID-19. The SAT’s normally offered during the following months each year: 

  • August
  • October
  • November 
  • December
  • March
  • May 
  • June

For example, the dates for 2020-2021 are the following:

  • August 29, 2020
  • October 3, 2020
  • November 7, 2020
  • December 5, 2020
  • March 13, 2021
  • May 8, 2021
  • June 5, 2021

What to Do About the SAT During COVID-19

The College Board canceled the May 2, 2020, SAT and SAT Subject Test administration due to COVID-19. 

Check out a comprehensive list of future SAT dates and registration deadlines on the College Board’s website.

Right now, the next SAT is scheduled for the first weekend of June (June 6), but that depends on how the public health situation evolves. The registration deadline for the June 6 test is May 8.

Your student’s school may have originally scheduled a School Day SAT Test, which was cancelled. The College Board is seeking multiple solutions with states and districts about School Day administrations. Learn more about the College Board’s COVID-19 response

Normally, the SAT should be taken by at least the spring of your child’s junior year. Taking it junior year gives your student the opportunity to take the SAT a second time in the fall of senior year before college application deadlines (if necessary).

This is a great time to prepare for the SAT. Your child can take practice exams and spend time preparing during quarantine. 

Should My Kiddo Take the SAT and the ACT?

I stuck this question in here because I heard it every so often as an admission counselor.

You may be tempted to encourage your child to take both the SAT and the ACT — but it’s actually not a great idea. Why?

Think about it this way. Your student will only have so much preparation time for both tests and taking both will slash that time in half. Not only that, but if you pay for tutoring, you’ll have to pay for a tutor class for both tests. 

Colleges have no preference for the ACT over the SAT or vice versa, so focus on one.   

Talk to Colleges

Now you know the answer to “What does SAT stand for?” and more. 

You might be wondering what you’ll do if COVID-19 is still a public health concern in June. Remember, there are still several dates around the corner: August 29, October 3, November 7 and December 5. 

There’s still plenty of time to test (and retest!) so don’t get stressed out about having your child take the test before college application deadlines.

Sure, it might be a bit of a squeeze to get everything done, so it’s a good idea to reach out to all of your child’s prospective colleges. Explain your concerns and hear their recommendations. (They may change their college deadlines in light of this situation, anyway. Call and find out!)

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