Many colleges require students to submit scores from the SAT--a nationwide standardized test--as part of the application process. This test measures students' reading, writing and math skills and demonstrates their academic preparation for college. Students can prepare for the exam by studying and by watching for changes in their desired colleges' admission requirements.

History

The earliest forms of the SAT date to the 1920s, when a researcher began administering IQ tests to Army recruits. He was asked to redevelop the test for college scholarship applicants, and by the late 1940s, the test was used on a wider scale to test college admission applicants. The abbreviation originally stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but in 2004, the test officially was named simply the SAT.

Purposes

The SAT is designed to measure students' reading, writing and math skills, all of which are needed for college success. As a standardized test, the SAT is intended to provide an objective measure of students' abilities, regardless of their personal or academic background.
The SAT score requirement in the college admission process means students must take this exam and achieve relatively good scores to gain admission to their colleges of choice. Students often choose to prepare in-depth or obtain specialized tutoring for the exam.

Colleges and SAT Scores

According to the College Board, the average SAT scores of students taking the test in 2008 were 502 on the critical reading portion, 515 on the math portion and 494 on the writing portion. These scores are based on a scale of 200 to 800 possible points. The highest possible total score is 2,400.
For comparison, Harvard students' 2008 SAT scores averaged between 2,100 and 2,380; University of Florida students' scores ranged from 1,710 to 2,040; and San Diego State University students' scores were from 1,410 to 1,740. (These are actual students' scores, not the universities' requirements for admission.) Some universities have a rigid minimum score for admission; check your university's admission materials for more details.

Types

There are two types of SAT test. One is the primary SAT, which covers general reading, writing and math skills. The writing section includes an essay. The second type is an SAT Subject Test, which measures students' knowledge of specific subject areas, such as literature or Spanish.

Time Frame

If you're planning to apply to a college that requires an SAT score for admission, pay close attention to the timing of your test and the application deadline. You may wish to take the exam early enough so that if you're not happy with your score, you can retest before the application deadline. You may choose to take the exam in your junior year of high school for this reason. You can also use the new "Score Choice" option to select which scores are sent to colleges (see Resources section).

Considerations

Keep in mind that even at schools where the SAT is required for admission, many factors are considered during the admission process, including high school GPA and coursework, extracurricular activities. While the test is important, it is not the deciding factor of your entire academic future. Many colleges place much more weight on these other factors in making admission decisions.

Potential

An increasing number of schools are opting not to require any standardized testing for admission. Be sure to verify your desired college's admission requirements well in advance to avoid unnecessary costs and stress.