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USA Studies: Tips and Advice 1

Fri 08 Apr 2016

What is the SAT?

Many people ask me:  So what is this SAT anyway?  Simply put, the SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT 1, is a 3 hour long examination that many colleges and universities in the United States require for admission.  It is not an English test.  The IELTS and TOEFL tests are for English.  The SAT tests mathematics, reading and writing.  The test is offered six times per year outside of the United States in most countries around the world.  Test dates and locations can be found on the website of CollegeBoard ( who runs the test. 

The majority of top American universities will require the SAT (or ACT – which is another less common but similar test favored by schools in the Midwestern part of America) for all students to enter the school.  Why?  Well, one reason is that it levels the playing field – since some schools and curriculum programs are easier or harder than others, the SAT puts everyone on the same scale.  This is then a useful tool for schools to evaluate students.  Is the SAT score as important as a student’s grades in school?  No.  But it is an important item that schools look at in the acceptance decision.

Each school publishes a median or an average SAT score.  Naturally, higher ranked schools will typically have a higher average score.  So once the student has their result they can have an idea of what types of schools they may apply for. 


New Changes to the SAT

Starting this month, there are some changes to the SAT that you may want to know about for your students. 

They include:

  • The maximum test score is now 1600 instead of 2400.

  • Instead of three sections of critical reading, writing and math plus a written essay required, there are now two sections -- one called evidence based reading and writing, and one math section.The essay is now optional.

  • There used to be a ¼ point guessing penalty which now has been eliminated.So students should make educated guesses!

The test is now available in print or on the computer.


Here is a visual structure of the new SAT test format:

New SAT Structure


Evidence-Based Reading and Writing



65-minute Reading section

35-minute Writing and Language section

25-minute No Calculator section

55-minute Calculator section


52 Questions (Reading)

44 Questions (Writing and Language)

20 Questions (No Calculator)

38 Questions (Calculator)

Score Range




But must students have the SAT in order to study in America?

The answer to this question is no.

Unlike applying directly to universities, Pathway programs such as ONCAMPUS in Boston, California, New York and Texas do not require SAT scores.  This is a major benefit to most international students who may not have ever heard of the SAT before.  Community colleges also do not require the SAT. 

What interests me most are those students who have good results, a higher level of English, yet lack the SAT score.  These are situations when the options of studying in a university pathway program that has (1) transfer flexibility to strong universities in Year 2 or (2) is a strong program already for the student’s major is a critical need.  This is because the student has all the tools necessary to attend a well regarded university – they just need the strongest program possible to prepare and advance them into a good university in the shortest amount of time (1 year). 

This is where pathway programs really stand out in their academic environment and strength and preparation for the students.  Often, I come across terrific students who lack the SAT and that think the only option for them is a community college.  The academic environment should match the strength of the student.  While pathways are the right match for students like these (and also students with lower results who may need English help and support), community colleges may not be the right academic environment for stronger students.  It depends on the student and family finances. 

We’ll talk more about school rankings next week.


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