How SATs Work

What Else Do I Need to Know About Test Day?

You should plan to arrive at the test center between 8 and 8:15 a.m. on test day. The actual test starts at about 8:30 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. You will be given a short break at the end of each hour of testing.

If you are taking the SAT I, you must work within each section of the test during the time allotted. You won't be allowed to go back to a section once its time has ended. Likewise, you won't be allowed to move ahead and finish a section early. If this sounds complicated, don't worry. The test supervisor will be your guide and will give you all the information you need to get through the test.


If you are taking SAT II tests, you may work only on one test during each testing hour. The order in which you take the tests is sometimes determined by which Subject Tests you are taking, so check this College Board advisory.

How Is the SAT Scored?

First of all, it's true that there is a 30-minute equating section in each SAT I that doesn't count towards the test-taker's final score. You can't tell which section it is and it can be either verbal or math. The equating section is used because it works well for trying out new questions for future versions of the SAT. And, according to the College Board, equating adjusts for minor differences in difficulty across different forms of the SAT and makes sure that a score of, say 560, represents the same level of ability no matter which form of the test you are taking. In other words, equating plays an important role in making the SAT a "standardized" test. Now, back to general scoring -- The SAT I is scored through a two-step process. Correctly answered questions receive one point. Omitted questions receive no points. For multiple-choice questions answered incorrectly, a fraction of a point is subtracted -- 1/4 point for five-choice questions and 1/3 point for four-choice questions. No points are subtracted for incorrect SAT I math questions requiring students to produce the answer without any choices, and, as we just explained, questions in the SAT I equating section do not count toward your score.

To get your raw score, a fraction of the multiple-choice questions answered incorrectly is subtracted from the number correctly answered. If that resulting score is a fraction, it's rounded to the nearest whole number. For example, 1/2 or more is rounded up, and less than 1/2 is rounded down. Then your raw score is changed into a scaled score by a statistical process called equating. Equating adjusts for slight differences in difficulty between test editions and ensures that a score on one edition of a test reflects the same ability as the same score on another edition. Equating also makes sure that your score does not depend on how well others did on the same edition you took.

Because the average score for both verbal and math is around 500, your scores will indicate where you're stronger. However, since no scaled score is completely accurate, you may score a little higher in one area but have equal skills in both. According to the College Board, for 1999 college-bound seniors, the average verbal score was 505 and the average math score was 511.

To mixed reviews, the College Board "recentered" the average scores on both the math and verbal sections of the SAT in 1995. The board recalculated the average scores to reflect the results of students who took the test in 1990, rather than by the standards of those who took the test in 1941. Critics charge that this grading on the new curve meant a student who scored 800 on the verbal test in 1996 did not necessarily achieve perfection, but rather the equivalent of about 730.

SAT II test scores and averages vary from one subject to the other. Since no numerical score can represent your complete knowledge of a specific subject, colleges ask that score ranges be included in SAT II score reports. You can check these average Subject Test scores for specifics.