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Frequently Asked Questions about the SAT

Here we answer some of the most common questions and concerns about the SAT*

What is a good score on the SAT I?
There is no such thing as a good score or a bad score on the SATŪ (or a passing or failing score). Every score needs to be judged versus how it compares to your GPA and to the median scores of students accepted by the colleges that you wish to attend.

What score do I need to get into School X?

To get an idea of how your score stacks up, take a look at the median scores of some popular colleges. Remember, however, that these aren't cut-offs or guarantees. Just because your score is higher than a school's median does not mean that you will get in, and it doesn't mean that you don't have a chance if your score is lower than the median.

How many times can/should I take the SAT I?

You can take the SATŪ as many times as you like, but you probably should plan on taking it no more than 2 or 3 times (let's face it, you have better things to do with your life). Many students and parents fear that colleges will frown on multiple scores, but almost all schools now take a student's highest score when evaluating them for admission. Some schools take the highest combined score (the sum of math and verbal) from a single sitting, while other schools take a student's highest math score from any test date and combine it with their highest verbal score from any test date. In neither case is a second attempt at the SATŪ detrimental.

When is the best time to take the SAT I?
Thinking of an overall testing schedule is more effective than thinking about a single "best" test date. Most students applying to competitive colleges now take the SATŪ more than once. A typical schedule involves taking the PSAT in October of the junior year (some schools also have their students take it as sophomores), and then taking the SATŪ I in March or May of the junior year. This allows a student to take SATŪ IIs in June of the junior year (perfect timing for subjects that you will not be studying over the summer), and still keeps the fall test dates open to repeat the SATŪ I. Take a look at the schedule of upcoming test dates.

Is the SAT I easier on some dates?
No. This is a popular misconception probably arising from the fact that the SATŪ I is a scaled test. Some students believe that it's better to take the SATŪ when lower scoring students take the exam so that the scaling is more favorable. This is completely false. The SATŪ I is scaled so that scores from any test date are comparable. Although there is inevitably some minor variation in the difficulty of questions from test to test, this is adjusted for by the scaling. It is true, however, that an individual student may find one test significantly harder than another. The words used or the math involved may simply have been harder for that particular student. This is one of the reasons why Sylvan recommends taking the SATŪ more than once.

How do I sign up for extended time on the SAT I?

If you have a documented physical or learning disability and normally receive extra time on your tests in school, then you are eligible to get extra time on the SATŪ as well. If you have a physical or learning disability and feel that you need extra time on the SATŪ but you do NOT normally receive extra time in school, then you must request an exception. In either case, there are a number of steps that you and/or your parents must take. It is a good idea to get started early by finding out who your school's Coordinator of Services for Students with Disabilities and consulting with him or her.

Should I cancel my scores if I think I bombed?

Probably not. If you got sick halfway through the exam and couldn't finish, then canceling your scores might make sense. Otherwise, Sylvan finds that students are notoriously bad at judging their performance on the exam. Students who are convinced they got everything right, for example, may have missed all of the traps on the hard problems and thought that things were easier than they really were. On the other hand, students that come away feeling like they missed "everything" may be focusing too much on a few problems that tripped them up. Since almost all colleges will evaluate your application based upon your highest SATŪ I scores, it almost never makes sense to void your scores.

How do I register for the SAT I?
Your school guidance or college counseling department should have current copies of the Registration Bulletin for the SATŪ Program. The bulletin has detailed information on registration fees and procedures as well as the current testing dates and deadlines. You can complete the registration application by mail, or you can do it online at http://www.collegeboard.org. If you have taken the SATŪ before, you can re-register by phone at 1-800-SAT-SCORE (1-800-728-7267).

When will I get my scores?
About 2 weeks after you take the test, scores will be available by phone for an additional fee (1-800-SAT-SCORE). About 3 weeks after your test, score reports will be mailed to you and the colleges that you have designated.

Do I get a copy of my test with my scores?
You may get a copy only if you request and pay for it. Then you can only get it on certain dates. The Question-and-Answer Service for the SATŪ I is available only on certain test dates. If you sign up for any of these test dates, Sylvan strongly recommends getting the Question-and-Answer Service. You'll receive a copy of your exam about 6 weeks after your test date, and it can be useful in helping you assess what you did right and wrong. For any other test date, or for the SATŪ IIs, there is no way to obtain a copy of your exam.

What are the SAT II: Subject Tests? Do I need to take them?
The SATŪ II: Subject Tests are an additional group of standardized tests that some of the most competitive colleges require of their students for admission. Unlike the more general SATŪ I, the SATŪ II tests your knowledge in a variety of subject areas.

What is the ACT? Should I take it instead of the SAT I?

The ACT is essentially an alternative to the SATŪ I. It is particularly popular in the Midwest, while the SATŪ is more common on the coasts. The ACT tests a broader range of material than the SATŪ I (in some ways it is more similar to the SATŪ II: Subject Tests) and some students perform better on it than they do on the SATŪ. Almost all colleges will accept either SATŪ I or ACT scores (although some states prefer one over the other), so taking the ACT in addition to the SATŪ can give you another shot at improving your odds. If you do poorly on the ACT you can simply choose not to report your score (make sure that you don't sign up to send your score to any college automatically). For more information on the ACT, visit the test makers at http://www.act.org. Online registration for the ACT is also available.

How does the PSAT differ from the SAT I?
The PSAT was designed to be a warm-up for the SATŪ I, but it has taken on an importance of its own because of its use by the National Merit program. Until October 1997, the PSAT was really just a shortened SATŪ I. Now, however, the PSAT contains a writing skills section that does not appear on the SATŪ I. Despite the name of the new section, there is no writing involved -- it is actually a multiple-choice grammar test. Although the writing skills section is not found on the SATŪ I, it is very similar to the SATŪ II: Writing Test. Eligibility for the National Merit program is determined by the Selection Index, which is the sum of a student's score on the math, verbal and writing skills sections.

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