Your Complete SAT Guide for 2021

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guide

Looking for an industry-leading SAT guide? You’ve come to the right place!

If you’re applying to college, you’re likely planning on taking either the SAT or the ACT.

Navigating either test can be challenging, especially for students who are unfamiliar with standardized tests! If you’re taking the SAT, you likely have a lot of questions.

What even is the SAT? How is it scored? How do you prepare for the SAT?

We spend a lot of time researching, creating, and publishing high-quality SAT content. Hundreds of people (like you!) consume and download our SAT guides and workbooks. Every day.

As a result, we’ve become a top resource for the SAT, and we consult with schools and families on a regular basis. 

This SAT Guide highlights some of our best research and addresses the most frequently asked questions about taking the SAT. Plus, we give readers access to our free SAT Guidebook, which is even more comprehensive. Grab it below now if you’d like!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guidebook

  • Details about SAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SAT strategies
  • Information about SAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!

Here’s what we cover in this SAT guide post:

  1. SAT Guide Part 1: The SAT in a Nutshell
    1. What’s on the SAT?
    2. SAT Scoring
    3. SAT vs. ACT
  2. SAT Guide Part 2: Preparing for the SAT
    1. Timeline
    2. Practice
    3. Strategy
  3. SAT Guide Part 3: Taking the SAT
    1. Registering for the SAT
    2. Standard SAT Test Dates
    3. SAT Testing Accommodations
  4. Next Steps: The Ultimate SAT Guide

SAT Guide Part 1: The SAT in a Nutshell

Your-Complete-SAT-Guide_PrepMaven

The SAT is a college entrance exam administered by a company called the College Board

It is a critical component of college admissions, which means that many U.S. colleges and universities require applicants to submit SAT test scores as part of their application.

According to the College Board, the SAT is “focused on the skills and knowledge at the heart of education” and measures what students learn in high school and what they need to succeed in college. 

Not all colleges require standardized test scores from applicants–an increasing number are test-optional or test-flexible. But some may still consider SAT scores for other purposes, including:

  • Advising and placement
  • Financial aid and scholarships
  • Athletic recruitment

What weight do U.S. colleges place on standardized test scores when reviewing applications?

This is a hard question to answer. Most institutions aren’t that forthcoming when it comes to discussing what they prioritize in making their admission decisions. There is some data available, however, for certain schools.

In a Common Data Set from 2019-2020, for example, the University of Notre Dame specifies the following:

  • Standardized test scores are “important” to the admissions decision (but not “very important”)
  • The university does make use of SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores in admission decisions 
  • The university uses the SAT essay or ACT essay for advising purposes only (but does not require it)

Such data sets are not available for all U.S. colleges and universities. However, it is safe to assume that, if required, SAT or ACT scores can range from slightly to very important in informing the college admissions decision.

Note: The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the emphasis that schools now place on standardized test scores. Many schools are modifying their testing policies as a result, either temporarily (i.e., for 2020-2021 admissions only or a pilot period) or permanently. Notre Dame, for example, is test-optional for the 2020-2021 admission cycle. You can find out more about how the pandemic has altered college admissions in our COVID and College Admissions post.

1) What’s on the SAT?

PrepMaven's SAT Guide_The SAT Format

There are five sections on the SAT:

  • SAT Evidence-Based Reading
  • SAT Writing & Language
  • SAT Math: No-Calculator
  • SAT Math: Calculator
  • SAT Essay (optional and to be discontinued mid-2021)

Here’s the timing and question breakdown for each of these section:

SAT SectionTime / Questions
Evidence-Based Reading65 minutes / 52 questions
Break10 minutes
Writing & Language35 minutes / 44 questions
Math: No Calculator25 minutes / 20 questions
Break5 minutes
Math: Calculator55 minutes / 38 questions
SAT Essay (Optional, to be discontinued after June 2021 administration)50 minutes / 1 question

SAT Section 1: Evidence-Based Reading 

On SAT Evidence-Based Reading, students have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions. Those 52 questions are associated with 5 passages of varying length. Each passage comes with 9-10 questions. 

In general, students can expect to see passages from the following genres:

  • Literary narrative (1)
  • Science (2)
  • History / Social Studies (2)

One of these five passages will be a dual passage. This means that students will actually have to read and compare two shorter passages.

SAT Evidence-Based Reading: Dual Passage
 Source: The College Board Official Practice Test 1

It’s important to note that the literary narrative passage will always come first. The other passages, however, can take any order.

SAT Evidence-Based Reading: Literary Narrative
Source: The College Board Official Practice Test 1

The Evidence-Based Reading section will ask students questions that zero in on the most important aspects of each passage. Of course, “most important” is a relative phrase! What does “important” mean in the eyes of the College Board?

In general, the most important aspects of each SAT passage will include:

  • Main ideas
  • Author’s purpose
  • Inferences
  • Literal comprehension

Students can, accordingly, expect to see the following question types:

Question TypeNumber of Questions
Function / Purpose8-12 questions
Vocabulary in Context6-8 questions
Command of Evidence8-10 questions
Detail5-8 questions
Charts & Graphs2-4 questions
Main Idea4-6 questions
Character Analysis2-4 questions

This means that students should really work to find evidence for every answer they select. Remember that the Reading section of the SAT is called the Evidence-Based Reading section for a reason. The College Board has even incorporated a question type–Command of Evidence–that reinforces this process:

Command of Evidence Question (SAT)
Source: The College Board Official Practice Test 1

This also means that there is no outside content knowledge required for this section (unlike Math and Writing & Language). It is purely strategy-based. 

Pro-tip: For more insight into SAT Reading, check out these 16 easy SAT Reading tips or this SAT Reading passage walk-through.

SAT Section 2: SAT Writing & Language

The SAT Writing & Language section is the second section of the SAT.

On this section, students have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. This section consists of four passages of various topics. Unlike the Reading section, however, questions occur throughout each passage, rather than at the end.

Here’s what this looks like:

SAT Writing & Language: Format

The Writing & Language section does require content knowledge and understanding of effective writing principles. Students can thus expect half of those 44 questions to concern straight-up grammar and punctuation.

The other half will cover general writing strategies, such as writing effective introductions & conclusions, using appropriate transition words, and analyzing evidence.

Question TypeNumber of Questions
Standard English Conventions20-26 questions
Expression of Ideas20-26 questions

We’ve broken these categories into concepts in the following chart.

College Board Sub-scoreConcept
Standard English ConventionsApostrophes: Plural vs. Possessive
Colons and Dashes
Combining and Separating Sentences
Comma Uses and Misuses
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers
Essential & Non-Essential Clauses
Parallel Structure
Pronoun and Noun Agreement
Question Marks
Relative Pronouns
Verbs: Agreement and Tense
Word Pairs and Comparisons
Expression of IdeasAdd, Delete, Revise
Diction, Idioms, and Register
Infographics
Sentence and Paragraph Order
Sentence vs. Fragments
Shorter is Better
Transitions 

What’s the easiest way to tell the difference between an Expression of Ideas and English Conventions question on SAT Writing and Language? In general, most Expression of Ideas questions will have a question in front of them:

SAT Writing and Language: Example Question
Source: The College Board Official Practice Test 1

Most Conventions questions do not have a question in front of them:

Example Grammar Question: SAT Writing & Language
Source: The College Board Official Practice Test 1
Pro-tip: English Conventions questions on SAT Writing & Language boil down to 13 grammar rules. We’ve written a whole post about these that you don’t want to miss!

SAT Section 3: SAT Math (No Calculator)

There are two math sections on the SAT:

  • No Calculator Permitted
  • Calculator Permitted

SAT Math – No-Calculator is shorter, with only 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes. 

The first 15 questions are standard multiple-choice. The final 5 questions, however, are grid-in questions. For these questions, students must supply their own answers in the provided grid:

Grid-In questions on SAT Math

Questions on SAT Math always go in order of increasing difficulty. The savvy SAT test taker can use this structure to her advantage, prioritizing those easier (i.e., earlier) questions first!

Yes, you can complete all questions on the No-Calculator section without a calculator–as daunting as that sounds.

In general, students can expect to see questions from the following four content areas:

Content AreaNumber of Questions
Algebra8-10 questions
Trigonometry0-2 questions
Geometry2-4 questions
Advanced Math6-10 questions

Common algebra topics include:

  • Fractions
  • Single Equations
  • Simplification
  • Substitution
  • Percentages
  • Inequalities

Common geometry questions include:

  • Triangles
  • Circles
  • Volume / Area

“Advanced Math” on the SAT is not necessarily the same as “Advanced Math” in high school. In fact, the College Board calls these questions “Passport to Advanced Math” questions. Many of these can be classified as advanced algebra questions.

SAT Advanced Math topics include:

  • Factoring
  • Polynomials
  • Systems of Equations
  • Translating Words into Math
  • Fractions 
  • Ratios 
  • Functions
  • Substitution
  • Imaginary Numbers
  • Square Roots

SAT Section 4: SAT Math (Calculator)

The second math section of the SAT is longer. It permits students to use a calculator to complete its 38 questions in 55 minutes. Just like the No-Calculator Math section, the questions here are arranged in order of increasing difficulty.

The first 30 questions are multiple-choice. Questions 31-38 are grid-in questions.

Content on the Calculator section will be largely similar to what students see on the No-Calculator section. The primary difference lies in how frequently certain content areas are tested. Check out this chart as an example:

Content AreaNumber of Questions
Geometry3-6 questions
Data Analysis & Problem Solving 16-18 questions
Algebra10-13 questions
Advanced Math5-8 questions

Notice how the Calculator section is particularly heavy with respect to data analysis, often in the form of Charts and Graphs questions. It also still contains quite a lot of algebra.

Students rarely encounter extensive geometry or trigonometry questions here. Indeed, many students realize that SAT Math can be pretty wordy, requiring some active translation and complex problem-solving. This is all part of the College Board’s attempt to give students “real-world math” on the SAT.

Pro-tip: For more insight into the two SAT Math sections and the content they test, check out our posts on SAT Geometry, SAT Math Charts and Graphs questions, and SAT Math tips.

SAT Section 5: The Essay (Optional)

The fifth and final section of the SAT is the essay. It is optional, and as of January 2021, the College Board will also be discontinuing the SAT essay following the June 2021 SAT administration.

We wont spend much time on it here for that reason, but encourage students taking the essay in June 2021 to check out the following posts:


If you’re enjoying this SAT Guide, we recommend downloading our SAT Guidebook, a FREE resource for all of our students and families. It includes all of the information in this post and so much more!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guidebook

  • Details about SAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SAT strategies
  • Information about SAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!


2) SAT Scoring

So how is the SAT scored?

SAT test takers can earn a maximum score of 1600 on the SAT and minimum of 400. This composite score is a combination of students’ CR/WR and Math scores.

SAT SectionScore Range
Evidence-Based Reading + Writing and Language 200 – 800
Math (2 sections)200 – 800
Total (Composite)400 – 1600

A student’s scores on SAT Reading and SAT Writing & Language are combined into an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score on a scale of 200 – 800. (This section score does not include the SAT essay.)

For SAT Math, test graders calculate how many total questions a student gets right on both of the Math sections. They then convert this raw score to a sectional score. On SAT Math, a student can earn a minimum section score of 400 and maximum of 800.

Unlike the rest of the test, the SAT essay (which will be discontinued after June 2021) does not have a composite score. Two separate readers give each student a score between 1 and 4 for three categories: reading, analysis, and writing. The SAT test graders then add these two sets of scores together per category. Students can thus receive a score of 2 – 8 on each of the three sections.

SAT Percentiles

There’s one more aspect to scoring on the SAT that parents and students should emphasize throughout their test prep: SAT percentiles.

When students receive their SAT score reports, they will also receive percentages based on their performance. Students receive sectional percentiles and composite percentiles.

These are quite different from high school percentages, which often translate directly to how many questions students got right. SAT percentiles reflect the percentage of test-takers an individual student out-performed. An SAT composite percentile of 77%, for example, signifies that a test-taker earned a higher score than 77% of all students who took that particular test.

Percentiles are important, especially when assessing eligibility for more competitive colleges. When it comes to test prep, however, it is often more valuable to establish a goal score range rather than a goal percentile range.

A “Good” SAT Score

Students taking the SAT for the first time often ask what a good SAT score is, and what they need to do to get this score. We have two definitions for a “good” SAT score:

  1. “Good” is anything that is “above average” with sectional scores and percentile rankings
  2. “Good” is anything that will look competitive on a college application
Definition #1: The Above Average SAT Score

With this definition, in very basic terms, a good SAT score for 2020 could be anything above 1059. This was the average national composite SAT score for the graduating class of 2019.

A good SAT CR/WR score could be anything above 531 and a good SAT Math score could be above 528, based on the same data released by the CollegeBoard

An SAT score–composite or section–always comes attached to a percentile ranking. This percentile indicates the percentage of comparison students an individual test-taker out-performed. There are two comparison groups: “SAT Users” (actual SAT test-takers from the classes of 2018 and 2019) and a “nationally representative sample.”

A student who scores 1350 on the SAT, for example, will likely have a composite percentile of 94 (nationally representative sample) and 91 (SAT user percentile). This means that this student out-performed roughly 91-94% of SAT test-takers in these two comparison groups.

SAT scores are also usually normally distributed. This means that the bulk of students’ composite SAT scores hover around the middle of the curve. Far fewer scores appear on the higher or lower end of the SAT score range between 400 and 1600.

The middle-of-the-road (or median) SAT composite percentile is the 50th. Students in this percentile range out-performed 50% of all test-takers and under-performed 50% of all test-takers. Students with a 1080 SAT composite are in this 50th percentile.

What does this mean? Students who score higher than 1080 on the SAT are above average nationally from a percentile basis. These students also hold a 51% or higher SAT percentile. Thus, a great SAT score on a national scale is above 1080. 

As a point of reference, in 2018, students in the 75th SAT percentile scored about 1215. This is nearly 400 points away from a perfect score, and yet it is a higher score than 75% of all test-takers achieved! 

Definition #2: The College Competitive SAT Score

In the context of college entrance, one student’s “good” SAT score could be vastly different than another student’s. It just comes down to where you are applying and the average SAT scores of admitted applicants.

So, we like to say that, under this definition, a ‘good SAT score’ is the one that is right for you given your college aspirations. This will probably be close to the SAT scores of admitted applicants. 

If a student is aspiring to attend a highly selective institution like Princeton University, for example, a “good” SAT score likely surpasses the 90th percentile. 

Plenty of universities specify score ranges and percentiles of successful applicants on their websites (although some are not public with this information). Most do so by specifying the ‘Middle 50,’ or the 25th and 75th percentile of accepted students’ SAT scores–this is not to be confused with SAT score report percentiles! 

Here’s a sampling of the Middle 50s from various elite institutions:

College25th Percentile CR/WR Section Score 75th Percentile CR/WR Section Score25th Percentile Math Section Score75th Percentile Math Section Score
Stanford University700770720800
Vanderbilt University700760750800
Amherst College660750670780
Pomona College700760700780
Princeton University710770740800
Brown University700760720790
Barnard College670740660760
Source: The National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS (2019)

When researching competitive applicant SAT scores, keep in mind range. Successful Vanderbilt applicants, for example, often have an SAT CR/WR section score of 710-770. Successful Barnard College applicants have an SAT CR/WR section score between 660 and 760.

Those ranges are actually significant. Yes, the higher your score in these cases, the better. But, technically, students on the lower end of these ranges still earned acceptance!

Pro-tip: We also recommend checking out our post on A Good SAT Score for 2021 to learn more about competitive SAT score ranges.

3) SAT vs. ACT

All U.S. colleges and universities accept ACT and SAT scores equally. So which test should you take?

The answer to that question depends upon your personal strengths. At the end of the day, you’ll want to take the test most likely to give you the highest possible score.

You can learn more about choosing your best fit test–as well as 5 easy questions to ask to do so–in our detailed post, Should I Take the SAT or ACT?. We also encourage students to download our 2021 SAT Guidebook, which includes all of the information in this post (and more), absolutely free.

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guidebook

  • Details about SAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SAT strategies
  • Information about SAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!


SAT Guide Part 2: Preparing for the SAT

Your Complete SAT Guide_Preparing_PrepMaven

So far in this SAT guide, we’ve discussed the fundamentals of the test itself, including its format, scoring, and relevance in the context of college admissions.

In the second part of this SAT guide, it’s time to discuss what it means to prepare for this college entrance exam.

Students can prepare for the SAT in a variety of ways. Yet in our many years of helping students succeed on the SAT and earn acceptance into their dream schools, we have learned that effective test prep boils down to three things:

  1. Timeline
  2. Practice
  3. Strategy

1) Timeline

How much time students allocate to SAT test prep has to do with a lot of things, including:

  1. When they take the SAT for the first time
  2. When they take it for the final time
  3. When they intend to apply to college
  4. How many times they take the SAT
  5. Their target SAT score

When should I take the SAT for the first time?

In December 2017, we polled 89 of our tutors, the vast majority of whom were Princeton undergraduates or graduates. 80% of our tutors polled took the test for the first time sometime in Junior year, with Fall and Spring the most popular times.

Determining your first official testing date, however, has a lot to do with your college application timeline, which we discuss in our responses to the next questions.

Students should also plan to take the SAT for the first time after they’ve finished Algebra 2, as much of the test’s math content spans this subject area.

What is my latest possible testing date?

Answering this question can be vital for helping students establish a viable test prep timeline. The latest possible testing date is often the last SAT a student can take and still be able to submit official scores to colleges. Most schools will also indicate on their websites latest recommended testing dates.

When do I intend to apply to college?

Do you intend to submit regular decision applications? Early action? Early decision? A mix of all of the above? Whatever the case, be aware of application deadlines and school policies for final testing dates. 

For most schools:

  • Regular Decision deadline = January 1st
  • Early Action/Early Decision deadline = November 1st

It usually takes about a month after your testing date before schools receive your scores, so these are the latest recommended testing dates:

  • December SAT if applying Regular Decision
  • October SAT if applying Early Action/Early Decision

How many times should I take the SAT?

75% of our polled tutors took the SAT or ACT between 2 to 4 times. The ideal situation is to crush the test on the first try and be done with it. Realistically, you’ll probably need to take the test several times even if you’re hitting your target scores in practice.

Multiple testing dates are also likely to reduce test anxiety and mitigate potential unforeseen circumstances (i.e., getting sick). Students who take the SAT multiple times can also take advantage of Superscoring and Score Choice.

What is my target SAT score?

A target SAT score is essential for effective prep. It gives students a direction and can significantly impact their prep timeline.

To establish your target score, start by taking a diagnostic practice SAT and investigating the score ranges of competitive applicants to the schools on your list.

How much time should I plan between testing dates?

After receiving your scores, you might be super close to your target scores. In this case, you’ll probably want to sign up for the next available testing date. If you feel like you still have a lot of improvement to make, you might want to give yourself a couple more months before re-testing.

If possible, avoid scheduling back-to-back testing dates if they are only a month apart. Ideally, you’ll first want to receive your scores back before figuring out the best strategy moving forward.

We recommend planning several months between official SAT testing dates. Be sure to keep in mind potential scheduling constraints, including:

  • Junior year workload
  • AP tests
  • SAT 2 Subject Tests (you cannot take the SAT and SAT 2 subject tests on the same date)
  • College applications
  • Summer activities
  • Extracurricular obligations

How many hours should I plan on studying for the SAT?

Having an understanding of how many hours you plan on studying will help you plan out your study schedule and determine how soon you can take your first test. In general, we recommend:

  • Minimum of 20 hrs
  • Target of 40 hrs
  • Ideal of 80 hrs
  • Superstars put in 120+ hrs

Let’s say you want to get in 80 hours of studying before your first test and want to to take advantage of summer break. A 2-month study schedule might look like:

  • 2 hrs/day
  • 5 days/week
  • 8 weeks

80 hours sound like a lot, but it’s more than doable if spread out over a period of time. In this scenario, you would be in great shape to take your first test at the end of the summer/ early fall. We do not recommend showing up cold to your first test without any preparation.

If you’re enjoying this SAT Guide, we recommend downloading our SAT Guidebook, a FREE resource for all of our students and families. It includes all of the information in this post and so much more!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guidebook

  • Details about SAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SAT strategies
  • Information about SAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!

2) Practice

Consistent practice is essential for effective SAT prep, especially when it comes to assessing progress, building stamina, and maintaining grasp of content and strategies. Besides setting aside a sufficient timeline for their SAT prep, students should also make sure they have the right resources to set them up for success.

These include:

  • Official practice tests
  • Other practice materials
  • Private tutoring and/or group classes

Official Practice Tests

The College Board has released several official practice tests, which you can find for free on their website or right here.

These are excellent resources for every test-taker, because they allow students to apply what they’ve learned to test-like questions.

They also serve as fantastic benchmarks. Students should start their SAT prep, for example, by taking a practice test, which can serve as a diagnostic of where they stand score-wise. Taking regular practice tests throughout a prep timeline can also be vital for assessing progress and honing specific skills.

Practice Materials

There are scores of other SAT prep resources out there. How do you know which ones to choose? We want to emphasize that it’s vital to prep as close to the source as possible. For this reason, we always encourage our students to utilize College Board resources first and foremost. 

This includes the following:

With the exception of the Official SAT Study Guide book, all of these resources are free to SAT students. 

When it comes to other resources, keep in mind that these are not as likely to be as representative of the official exam (although they can still prove helpful). Use these as a last resort, and be mindful that practice test scores may not be reflective of your current abilities. 

We recommend supplementing College Board official SAT practice with targeted content work through various reputable third parties. 

Online resources include:

Text resources include:

  • Erica Meltzer’s guides to SAT Critical Reading and Grammar ($)
  • The College Panda’s SAT Math books ($)

Private Tutoring & Group Classes

We strongly encourage test-takers to enlist the help of experts in preparing for this tough test! There are lots of options out there for this, but we find that our students have the most success when working with a private tutor and/or enrolling in a group class. At PrepMaven, we offer both!

3) Strategy

The SAT is a standardized test, which means that it is predictable in many ways. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be considered a fair benchmark in college admissions!

This also means that successful test-takers must rely on strategy as much as content knowledge. This is especially the case for the Evidence-Based Reading section, which is entirely strategy-based.

But strategy also relates to your overall approach to this standardized test. Students should spend significant time learning the test, much as they would learn a second language, and plan to take the test at least twice over a generous timeline.

Doing so can help them pinpoint their specific strengths and weaknesses, hone these strengths, and earn a competitive score.

We’ve compiled the very best strategies for all sections of the SAT–and by the very best, we mean the very best! We’ve seen these strategies help students achieve (or surpass) their target scores time and again.

Strategies for SAT Reading

Strategies for SAT Writing & Language

Strategies for SAT Math

Strategies for the SAT Essay

If you’re enjoying this SAT Guide, we recommend downloading our SAT Guidebook, a FREE resource for all of our students and families. It includes all of the information in this post and so much more!

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Guidebook

  • Details about SAT scoring, content, testing options, and more
  • An introduction to PrepMaven’s SAT strategies
  • Information about SAT prep resources
  • Application essentials for the top U.S. colleges

Click here to download a copy of our digital guide!


SAT Guide Part 3: Taking the SAT

Your Complete SAT Guide_Taking the SAT_PrepMaven

At this point in this SAT guide, you’ve learned the basics about the SAT and how to prepare for this challenging test. Now it’s time to discuss the more administrative aspects of taking the SAT so you can feel extra confident on Test Day!

1) Registering for the SAT

Students can register for an official SAT either online or by mail. For ease and convenience, we strongly recommend that students register online.

Some schools offer SAT administrations on-site. For School Day administrations, students should check with their guidance counselors, as schools themselves will handle registration for these administrations.

Here’s how you register for an SAT administration online:

  1. Choose your test date (discussed in the next section).
  2. Create a free College Board account and log in to this account.
  3. Provide your full legal name and other “identifying information.” This information should match your photo ID.
  4. You’ll be asked other questions related to your interests and prospective colleges. These are entirely optional, but may be worth answering if you’re interested in colleges and scholarship organizations finding you.
  5. Sign up for the SAT Essay if applicable.
  6. Choose your test center location.
  7. Upload a photo of yourself that meets specific requirements.
  8. Check out and print your Admission ticket!

Depending upon your circumstances, you might need to enter the following additional registration information:

  • If you’re using a fee waiver, enter the identification number on your fee waiver card.
  • If you’ve been approved by the College Board to test with accommodations, enter the SSD number on your eligibility letter.
  • If you’re home-schooled, enter 970000 when asked for a high school code.

Photo Requirements

The College Board is very strict when it comes to the photo that you’ll have to upload for registration. If your photo doesn’t meet these requirements, you won’t be allowed to test.

Here is what the College Board says is acceptable for your photo, which can be recent or taken at the time of registration:

  • You’re easy to recognize.
  • You’re the only one in the picture.
  • There’s a head-and-shoulders view, with the entire face, both eyes, and hair clearly visible; head coverings worn for religious purposes are allowed.
  • You’re in focus.
  • There are no dark spots or shadows.
  • Black-and-white photos are acceptable.

You won’t be allowed to test if any of the following is the case with your photo:

  • One or both of your eyes are not visible or blocked (for example, if you are wearing sunglasses).
  • Photos include more than one person.
  • Poor photo quality makes you unrecognizable.
  • You are wearing a hat or head covering that is not worn for religious purposes.
  • Your photo has been digitally altered or tampered with in any other way.

ID Requirements

ID documents that students bring to at testing center must meet all of these requirements:

  • Be a valid (unexpired) photo ID that is government-issued or issued by the school that you currently attend. School IDs from the prior school year are valid through December of the current calendar year. (For example, school IDs from 2015-16 can be used through December 31, 2016.)
  • Be an original, physical document (not photocopied or electronic).
  • Bear your full, legal name exactly as it appears on your Admission Ticket, including the order of the names.
  • Bear a recent recognizable photograph that clearly matches both your appearance on test day and the photo on your Admission Ticket.
  • Be in good condition, with clearly legible English language text and a clearly visible photograph.

Test Fees

Students will have to pay to register for the SAT. For standard registration, here’s what that looks like:

  • Standard SAT without Essay: $52
  • Standard SAT with Essay: $68

Students will have to pay extra fees for the following (full list and specifics on the College Board’s website):

  • Registering by phone
  • Late registration
  • Changes to registration
  • Waitlist fees
  • Score services

Fee waivers are available for many of these! Here’s what the College Board says about fee waivers:

SAT fee waivers are available to low-income 11th and 12th grade students in the U.S. or U.S. territories. U.S. citizens living outside the country may be able to have test fees waived.

You’re eligible for fee waivers if you say “yes” to any of the following:

  • You’re enrolled in or eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your annual family income falls within the Income Eligibility Guidelines set by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or are homeless.
  • You are a ward of the state or an orphan.

2) Standard SAT Test Dates

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board has offered new test dates in an effort to give students as many opportunities as possible to take the test. That is why we encourage students to check the College Board’s website for the most recent and up-to-date information regarding testing dates.

At the time of writing this SAT guide, students anticipating taking the SAT in 2021 and/or 2022 will be able to do so on the following test dates:

  • August 28, 2021
  • October 2, 2021
  • November 6, 2021
  • December 4, 2021
  • March 12, 2022
  • May 7, 2022
  • June 4, 2022

Registration deadlines are often a month prior to the official testing date. Students can register late for an added fee, and make changes to their registration often 10-14 days prior to the official testing date. Students can use this tool on the College Board’s website for locating a nearby testing center.

3) SAT Testing Accommodations

The SAT is a marathon of a standardized test! For students with learning challenges, it can be incredibly difficult to get through each of these sections in the time and minimal breaks allotted. The generic paper-and-pencil format of the SAT may also be an obstacle for students with sight impairment and/or other disabilities.

To ensure that such students are not at a disadvantage when taking the test, the SAT offers testing accommodations. These may include extended time, for example, or extra breaks, as well as accommodations for seeing and reading.

Accommodations apply to any test the College Board publishes, including the SAT, AP exams, SAT subject tests, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT.

Students must meet the College Board’s eligibility requirements in order to apply for (and ultimately receive) testing accommodations:

“Some students with documented disabilities are eligible for accommodations on College Board exams. Students cannot take the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or AP Exams with accommodations unless their request for accommodations has been approved by Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).”

The College Board boils this eligibility down to four criteria:

  • Applicants must have a documented disability
  • Participation in a College Board exam is impacted
  • Students need the requested accommodation
  • Applicants receive accommodation on school tests

Because requesting SAT testing accommodations can be complex and confusing, we’ve written an entire post about it–a valuable resource for students and families!


Work with an expert SAT tutor this 2021

In this SAT Guide, we’ve walked you through the ins and outs of the SAT, from what the test actually is to how to prepare for it. Now you have a great foundation for beginning your SAT prep!

To accelerate that prep, we encourage students to turn to the ultimate guide: a PrepMaven SAT tutor.

The SAT is a very specific test that is unlike any high school exam out there. Success on the SAT often boils down to gaining a deep understanding of the test itself and following through with a methodical preparation plan, which requires time and expert guidance.

Working one-on-one with an SAT tutor is the fastest and most effective way of preparing for the SAT–and getting that much closer to a competitive score.

At PrepMaven, we’re here to match students with the very best tutors in the industry, many of whom are Ivy League graduates. Learn more about SAT private tutoring with PrepMaven or our SAT Masterclass and Bootcamp offerings today!


Greg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin, Princeton graduates (and brothers) with over 20 years of education experience, are co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They apply research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. They also place a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service for successful college preparation.