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What is the SAT Test?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2017
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The SAT® test is a college preparatory exam devised to give an idea of a student’s competency with basic skills in mathematics, reading and writing. Since the early 20th century, the SAT® test has been a major source of information for colleges and has served as a benchmark of public education. Some critics argue that the SAT&reg test is not a meaningful reflection of intelligence, leading to the development of more comprehensive alternative standardized exams such as the SAT&reg subject tests and the ACT®.

Since 1901, the SAT&reg test has existed in some form. The original test was offered as a means of removing social bias from the admissions process. Since the first sitting, the SAT® test has gone through several revisions to improve both the quality of the test and the scoring system. In 2005, the name was officially changed to the SAT® Reasoning Test, though it remains colloquially known as simply the SAT&reg.

The test consists of three sections and several different types of questions. Originally, the test featured multiple-choice questions almost exclusively, but this is not longer the case. In the mathematics section, some questions deviate from a multiple choice format by requiring students to supply answers using a fill-in bubble grid with numbers, decimal points, and fraction notations. The writing section was also expanded to include a short essay on a given topic.

Since most universities consider SAT® scores carefully when determining admission status, many students and parents take the test very seriously. Some choose to take a preparatory exam such as the PSAT®, which can be taken by underclassmen students to gauge performance on the SAT&reg, as well as qualify talented students for certain scholarships. Others choose to form study groups or work with tutors to improve their scores. There are many books and online websites that provide practice exam questions, strategies, and study guides to the test.

Critics of the SAT® test suggest that the standardized format values a type of knowledge that not all students possess. Critics claim that some sections of the test rely simply on memorization of rules or tricks to get the right answer, rather than analysis or truly embedded skills. Others suggest that the test can be detrimental to students that choose to focus educational efforts on the many subjects not covered, such as history, science, art, or music. To this end, the College Board, which administers the SAT&reg, also created the SAT® subject tests to supplement the main test.

In most areas of the United States, the SAT&reg test is offered every few months of the school year and requires a fee. Students must arrive promptly on time or risk losing their sitting fee and being prohibited from taking the exam. The test is usually taken during the 11th grade or early in the 12th grade, to allow students that did not perform as well as desired to retake the test before submitting scores to potential colleges.

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