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The SAT: One of American’s college entrance examination

  • Every high school student’s ultimate goal is to go to college or university after graduation. This is because a college education is generally seen as a beacon of hope, where the foundation of so many career paths are being laid, and indeed, this is where life begins to take shape for most people. As a result, preparation for going to college is crucial for every student. Some students start their preparation at the beginning of high school, while some more ambitious and determined students begin as early as in the elementary levels or right at the beginning of their middle school. Hence, the question of what needs to be done and how to go about it becomes apparent. Of course, the decision of what exams or test to be taken is always at the forefront of this quest. In this article, therefore, I’m going to look at one of the world’s most popular college entrance exam – the SAT. I will look at its structure, how frequent it’s being conducted, its variations and how to prepare for it. I will also look at, at least, one of the popular platforms or programs available online, that offer the SAT test prep lessons; I will examine its depth and its usefulness to students’ preparations.

    What does the SAT stand for and what is its purpose?

    The SAT (pronounced as, ES – AY - TEE) is a standardized exam taken by high school students mostly in the spring of their junior year (11th grade) or in the fall of their senior year (12th grade) in the United States of America. The SAT is a paper-based college entrance examination, which every high school student takes (or its equivalent) before getting admitted into a college in the US and Canada. It is also taken by students in many countries around the world. It is designed to test the students’ readiness for college.

    Quite a lot has changed over the years about the SAT. From the way it’s been conducted, its structures and even its name has undergone some changes. For instance, the term (SAT) used to be an acronym for ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test’, then it was later changed to ‘Scholastic Assessment Test’. Today, it’s only known as ‘S.A.T’ plain and simple without any embedded meaning.

    SAT is owned and managed by the College Board and administered by the Education Testing Service (ETS)  on behalf of the College Board. The College Board is a private, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization in the United States with the sole purposes of connecting students to colleges irrespective of background, gender or colour. They also provide training and scholarship opportunities to ensure every student gets access to and succeed in college.

    What is the nature of the exam and how frequently it’s being conducted?

    The SAT is a multiple-choice pencil-and-paper exam. Although the exam format has changed over the years as mentioned before, I’ll only go ahead and talk about what is obtainable now going forward, for the benefit of current and future students. Here we go:

    Currently, the SAT test has two (2) main sections and an optional essay. The first section is Math, and the other is called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. In both sections, a candidate can obtain a scaled score starting from 200 to 800 from each, making a possible total scaled score of 400 to 1,600. On the other hand, the optional essay has a different scoring system. The optional essay’s score is from 2 to 8 point, and it’s reported separately in the Score Report (the official document given by the College Board which showcases a student’s SAT score).

    Interesting to know, the College Board has a unique formula for converting the students’ raw score (the number of questions a candidate answered correctly in a section) to the scaled score, which is the final score being presented to students in the Score Report. 

    The duration of the whole exam is 3 hours plus 50 minutes if a candidate is taking the optional essay. For easy comprehension of how the whole thing works, check out the summarized version in the table below.

    The exam is offered seven times every academic year for the US candidates. It’s being offered in the months of August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.

    What is the difference between the SAT and SAT subjects?

    A lot of people, most especially international students, don’t know the variation between the SAT and SAT subjects or are not even aware that there is a variation. Although both are taken by high school students for college preparation purposes, the two are not the same.

    The SAT, as mentioned earlier, is the entrance exam that every student writes, which has the two sections and an optional essay that we discussed. While on the other hand, SAT subjects are written, most times optionally, to either strengthen one’s chances of getting admission or based on the requirements of a particular course or college – and in reality, only a few colleges required that. Unlike the SAT that tests students’ general knowledge, critical thinking and reasoning, SAT subject is only concentrated on a particular subject, for example, Biology. Hence, all questions that are asked in SAT subjects’ exams are centred around the subject at hand.

    Mostly, colleges require only the SAT score (general SAT) during admission consideration, but some handful of colleges need SAT subjects, usually one or two in addition to the SAT score, to ascertain a candidate’s suitability for admission.

    There are 20 different SAT subjects that are being offered as it is now. Duration of the test is one hour for every subject and are offered six times a year. But not all subjects are provided at every test date. Students should check out the College Board website for further details ahead of time, should they intend to write the exam.

    Related article: WAEC, NECO and NABTEB: What you need to know about Nigerian Senior School Certificate Exams (SSCE)

    Check out a quick summary of the differences between SAT and SAT Subjects in the table below:

    How can international students register and sit for the SAT?

    Usually, SAT exams are offered in most countries for students that want to pursue a college degree in the US, Canada and other colleges around the world that accept SAT. Also, for international students that attend US-style high schools around the world.

    It is highly advisable for candidates outside the United States to make all the necessary inquiries regarding the SAT on time, so as costly mistakes would not be made.

    SAT for international students is offered in October, December, March, and May while the SAT Subject Tests are available internationally in October, November, December, May and June.

    For international students, it is essential to note that, specific additional requirements may be asked to be fulfilled before registration or taking the test. For example, the following other requirements/rules are only applicable to Nigerian candidates:

    1. Telephone reregistration and test centre changes are not permitted.
    2. Waitlist status requests are not permitted.
    3. Online registration is now permitted.
    4. The only acceptable form of identification is a valid passport with your name, photo, and signature.

    Source: The College Board website

    The international students’ registrations are done by authorized international representatives popularly known as international service providers. These representatives help students in their home countries with the following services:

    1. SAT registration
    2. in-language customer services
    3. fee collection

    For more information about the International Representatives, candidates should check out the College Board website for the list of authorized representatives and Test Centers around the world.

    Note also, College Board provides separate registration guidelines for Home-schooled candidates and younger students. Again, for details regarding this service, check out their website.

    How should a student prepare for the exam?

    Exams preparations vary from student to student. Generally, SAT questions are prepared based on the work students are doing in their entire high school years. Based on this fact, the assumption is that the candidates are familiar with the subject matter involved.

    That been said, in reality, almost no student is supposed to be ready enough for any exam simply because this is what he or she is being taught over the years in school. Most students, if not all, undergo rigorous preparation sessions before writing any serious exam, and the SAT is not an exception.

    Now that I cleared this out of the way, here are what I think students should do in order to be fully ready for the SAT examinations. First and foremost, students should familiarize themselves with the nature of the questions that are being asked, the timing during the actual test and indeed about every bit of detail regarding the test way before the actual day. This will give them a picture of what to expect during the test.

    Another vital yet obvious thing that the student should do is, trying on answering the previous questions from all the sections and the optional essay - if one intends to take it. This should be done a countless number of times until one is confident that he/she can answer most of the questions, if not all the questions, correctly and on time. There are several resources to help students with this online.

    You may want to read: Five amazing exam preparation tips

    Some platforms that offer SAT preparation

    In light of the above, should a student indents to start the preparation, there are tons of private organizations or bodies that are giving either free or paid SAT prep lessons both online and offline to students across the United States and beyond. Notably amongst these bodies is Khan Academy — the Official SAT Practice site.

    In collaboration with the College Board, Khan Academy offers  comprehensive video lessons covering all sections of the SATs – the SAT and some useful lessons, on subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Physics Math (Levels 1 and 2), US History and World History, which will help SAT subjects’ takers (note, these subjects lessons are not part of the Official SAT Practice).

    In addition to that, they also have written essays covering some useful information and tips regarding the SATs. And the most exciting part of it all, these services are all free of charge. Everyone from everywhere in the world can access all of Khan Academy’s materials! All one needs to do is to sign up on the platform and Boom you are good to go.

    Good news for parents also, they can open an account on Khan Academy, as a parent. Then, after the account is created, they will be able to add their kid's account, and a customized progress report will be sent to them regularly. That apparently, will, in turn, help them monitor their children’s practice and be able to guide them where they are lagging.

    For how long does SAT score remain valid?

    The validity of the SAT score is indefinite. However, depending on the college a candidate is applying for, some colleges set a validity period. For instance, some colleges will accept only an SAT score that is not more than five years old, while others may set more years or less.

    And again, based on a candidate’s other qualifications, a college may or may not decide that a report score is old.

    It is, therefore, important to note that, once a candidate attempted SAT, his or her Score Report will be archived with the College Board forever and can be reissued on a request, only that, some small amount of fee will be charged.

    Summary

    Here is a recap of what we have discussed. We started off by laying out a little background about the SAT; then we moved on to examine its structure. How many sections there are and the number of questions that are being asked in each section were all covered among other things.  Additionally, we looked at the variations that exist in the SAT and some information that is peculiar to international students. We equally went through preparation processes and what and where students need to for resources.

    In the end, remember, whether you are a high school student, a college student or just a student at any level of education, understanding, on time, every bit of details about any exams that you are about to take is of paramount importance to your success during the examination and subsequently to your college admission!

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