The SAT: An Overview


What is the SAT?

The SAT is the most widely used exam for college admissions. Using a standardized format, it aims to measure and assess a student’s academic readiness for college. In combination with strong grades it is a critical component in the college admissions process.

How does Central Park Tutors prepare students for the SAT?

Having aced the SAT themselves, our SAT tutors know that mastery of the content, timing, and test-taking skills are what lead to success on exam day. Using official College Board questions, our tutors take students systematically through the material moving from the easiest to the most difficult questions as the student is prepared. To learn timing and develop test-taking stamina, students must take practice tests on their own. Students then review their work with their tutors.

How long does it take to study for the SAT?

Everyone wants to know, but without knowing a student’s strengths, weaknesses and goals, it’s impossible to answer this question. If you failed algebra and want to go to Harvard, you will have a very different schedule than someone who aced AP calculus and wants to attend their local state university. After a student has taken an SAT practice test and discussed their goals with us, we can then work on a realistic timetable for studying for the SAT. Remember the SAT is not an easy test and we are tutors, not miracle workers. Hoping to increase your score by a couple of hundred points in a couple of weeks is usually not realistic. Beware of people who promise you otherwise.

When do most students take the SAT?

Most commonly, students take the SAT in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year. Be sure to check on college application deadlines when planning to take the SAT. If a student wishes to apply Early Decision or Early Action to any college, the SAT Tests should be taken by October or November of senior year. For regular decision applications, some colleges will accept SAT Test scores through the January testing dates, depending on their application deadlines.

What is on the SAT?

There are 3 sections on the SAT:

  • The critical reading section which includes reading passages and completion of sentences
  • The writing, or essay section which includes multiple choice questions and a short essay portion
  • The mathematics section which includes algebra, geometry, probability and statistics, and arithmetic

How many times can the SAT be taken?

It can be taken as many times as you like, when offered. Many students take it 2 or 3 times.

How is the SAT scored?

Uggh.. thank goodness this is being revamped as of 2016.  As of now, the convoluted scoring is as follows:

The SAT is scored in several phases:

1. A raw SAT score is derived from the following: 

  • Correct Answers: +1 point for questions you get correct
  • Incorrect Answers: -1/4 point subtracted for incorrect multiple-choice, 0 points subtracted for incorrect student-produced response (math section)
  • Omitted Answers: 0 points subtracted for questions you don't answer

2. The raw score is then equated, meaning statistical analysis is used to adjust scores to compensate for slight differences in difficulty between test editions.

3. The essay is scored: Each essay is independently scored by two readers. Essays are scored on a scale from 1 to 6. The readers' scores are combined to produce the score. They score for:

  • language, vocabulary and usage skills
  • skillful and accurate sentence structure
  • clear communication of ideas, coherent focus
  • insight demonstrating ability to think critically and to substantiate ideas with supportive evidence
  • absence of errors in spelling, grammar, usage, vocabulary and mechanics

Final score: The raw score is then converted to a scaled score

What has changed about the SAT since many of us as parents first took the exam?

Since many parents took the exam, it has changed in significant ways:

  • it now includes a 25 minute writing section, distinct from the verbal section, which requires students to write an essay in five-paragraph form
  • in the 1990's the math section changed and is now not limited to multiple-choice format. Students must provide answers for some of the questions and are permitted to use a calculator
  • the analogy section has been eliminated
  • the SAT can be taken many times in an effort to achieve an increased score- the College Board now allows students to only send their best SAT scores to the schools to which they apply, instead of sending all the scores from every time they may have taken the SAT
  • takers can score up to 2400 points on the overall test, with a total of 800 potential points per section. This replaced the old 1600 point scale which was used until 2005, and which contained only 2 sections, verbal and mathematical

When will the new SAT be administered?

Spring 2016. For more information about the revamped SAT, please see our article on the new SAT.

When will the SAT be held during the 2018-2019 academic year? 

The SAT is held seven times a year.  Here are the upcoming SAT dates and registrations deadlines. For most students, we strongly encourage taking the test as many times as possible.


October 6th (September 7th registration deadline)

November 3rd (October 5th registration deadline)

December 1st (November 2nd registration deadline)


March 9th (February 8th registration deadline)

May 4th (April 5th registration deadline)

June 1st (May 3rd registration deadline)

Further Resources:


The College Board has many resources on their webstie:

College Confidential is a treasure trove for all things related to college. For example, there over 40,000 threads on the SAT alone.

Practice Tests

Below we have listed where to find official College Board practices tests. Central Park Tutors does not recommend practicing SAT questions with unofficial exams as they are often very different than the College Board’s.  The resources below will provide twenty-two official practice exams.

  • The College Board Online Prep Course: The College Board offers an online prep course that includes eighteen lessons and ten additional SAT exams. As a preparation program, the course is very limited but the $70 expense is well worth it for the additional official exams.
  • College Board Website: Official practice tests can be found for free at the College Board website.

To learn more about how we can help your family with tutoring in NYC, please click here!

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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