Your Top 5 Questions About the SAT®: Answered!

3 kids and an instructor huddled around a computer

A rigorous test and a staple of the college application process: the SAT® is a major undertaking! We want all teens to be prepared to do their best, and that means becoming familiar with the key aspects of the SAT®

So, in addition to answering whether or not the SAT is optional, we’ve put together this guide to the most common SAT® FAQs. 

In order to let their academic strengths shine, teens should know the ins and outs of what to expect prior to test day. As many parents can relate from their own high school days, the SAT® presents unique challenges (and opportunities!). 

As of 2021, the SAT® will take place in an online format, and there have been several other key updates to the format and subject matter on the exam. These changes, on top of all the recent upheaval in schooling, are a lot to keep track of. Never fear, we’ve got you covered!

Let’s dive into five “must know '' pieces of info every test taker must be familiar with. 

How hard is the SAT®?

The SAT® is challenging, and It’s designed to be that way. From the academic content, to the unique question formatting, to time management, there’s a lot involved. We won’t sugarcoat it!

But before you or your teen gets overwhelmed, take a deep breath. It’s a lot, but it can be manageable if you work with your teen to plan ahead and, of course, practice.

With the right preparation, even the most nervous test taker can walk into the exam with confidence. Prior to taking the SAT®, students should develop some specific goals with plenty of time before test day and utilize a range of preparation strategies to maximize their chances of success.  

Each of the three required sections: math, reading, and writing and language, consist of academic questions that range in difficulty. There’s no denying that the test covers a lot of ground, so it’s best to break it down one section at a time.

Think about your student’s strengths. Do they shine in math, but vocabulary can be challenging? Is writing a breeze, but geometry is like pulling teeth? The hardest part of the test will vary per student: answers to these questions will help identify the area in most need of extra prep.

Encourage your teen to try some practice questions and a diagnostic test: the results from these will provide a useful foundation. With those results in hand, their preparation can be much more specific and productive. By sharing the initial data with an awesome SAT® tutor, teens will get even more support in their areas of academic need. 

So is the SAT® hard? Yes. However, challenging doesn’t mean insurmountable, and with the right preparation and support, teens will be ready to tackle the test.  

What does the SAT® cost?

Here’s a breakdown of the costs associated with the SAT®:

  • Standard registration: $55 per SAT®
  • Late registration: Additional $30 per SAT®
  • Registration cancellation: $25 for standard registration, $35 for late registration

Each registration includes four score reports. That means that the fees for sending SAT® scores are covered for four colleges. Additional score reports cost $12 each, and rush reporting is available for an extra $31.

How many times can you take the SAT®?

The short answer is students can take the SAT® as many times as they’d like. And there are definite advantages to taking the test more than once—primarily, students have the option to submit their highest scores. 

That means that if your student scores higher in the math section in their second test, but their first reading score is still their best, they can submit the highest score from both tests with their college applications. 

Plus, as I previously mentioned, becoming familiar with the unique format of the SAT® can seem like its own test. Especially if your student is nervous, or perhaps needs extra practice in managing their time, taking the SAT® more than once can be a good idea. 

That said, factors like cost and juggling busy schedules are worth weighing in here. Unless your student is eligible for a fee waiver, the SAT® costs $55 per registration - as mentioned above - plus a $30 late registration fee if signing up at the last minute. 

Add in the fact that the SAT® clocks in at three hours from start to finish, and taking the test more than two or three times might (rightfully) seem unrealistic. 

The bottom line: there are benefits to taking the SAT® multiple times, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of deciding what’s best, and most doable, for your student. 

How long are SAT® scores valid?

SAT® scores never expire! Standard score reporting applies for tests taken within five years of students’ college applications. 

So, if your teen is planning to take a gap year or defer their college application process to work, travel, or pursue another project, they can still take the SAT® their senior year. 

Which SAT subjects should my student take? 

As of 2021, SAT subject tests and the optional essay have been discontinued. So unfortunately, students no longer have the choice to submit scores to show off their science, history, or writing skills.

The SAT® has returned to a 3-section format: math, reading, and writing and language. Every section is mandatory. 

Here’s what students can expect when they sit down for the exam, according to the College Board:

  • Math: 80 minutes, 58 questions
  • Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions
  • Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions

While there isn’t much flexibility, in this standardized test, don’t despair! SAT® scores are just one component of teens’ college applications. Recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and plenty of other more personalized elements will let their unique strengths shine!

What’s next for my SAT test taker?

Our best advice? Practice, practice, practice! Plus, the help of a great SAT® tutor can go a long way on teens’ road to success and confidence on test day. 

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains.