Closeup view of someone's hand with a pencil taking the SAT

College Success

Is the SAT Important and Why?

12.05.2022 • 6 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

Learn what the SAT is, who has to take the test, and why it is important.

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In This Article

  1. What Is the SAT?

  2. Why Is the SAT Important?

  3. What Does Test Optional and Flexible Mean?

  4. FAQs about the SAT

During World War I, Army Alpha was an intelligence test given to all new recruits. An assistant to the creator of the test was Carl Brigham, a young psychologist at Princeton. After the war, Brigham adapted the Army Alpha to a college admissions test. Today we know it as the SAT.

What Is the SAT?

The SAT, or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized test that has been around for nearly 100 years. It is a test designed to measure your readiness for college, and college admissions officers often use it as a predictor of success.

The test takes 3 hours and 50 minutes—if you include the optional essay—and has 5 sections:

  • Reading

  • Writing

  • Math (with calculator)

  • Math (with no calculator)

  • Essay

Aside from the essay, the test consists of 154 multiple-choice questions. The total score possible for an SAT is 1400. There is no penalty for guessing, so make sure you guess if you don’t know an answer! The cost of the test is currently $55, but many high schools have grants or other programs that cover the cost of the test for high school juniors. .

Some research shows the SAT can be a barrier to entry for some students. For example, in one SAT study, females' average math score was 33 points lower than that of males. Hispanic and Black students fell an average of 219 points and 303 points behind white students, respectively. Many see the test as discriminatory since minorities and women routinely score lower on it.

However, the SAT can predict student success in college. A National SAT study showed this when looking at different variables for predictions. The combo of a student’s high school GPA with their SAT was at the top. The correlation between the two scores was 15% more predictive than with just GPA alone.

Before the pandemic, college admissions tests like the SAT were often required. When the pandemic hit, most colleges and universities stopped requiring any entrance exams. While many colleges have remained test-optional after the pandemic, some still require the SAT. Be sure to check the requirements for the schools you are applying to. Even without this requirement, it still may be a good idea to take the SAT.

Why Is the SAT Important?

When weighing whether or not to take the SAT, here are some important things to consider:

1. College Admission

In 2022, almost 80% of four-year schools didn’t require the SAT. But some colleges on your list may still use it as a part of the admissions decision. Accredited schools are more likely to require the SAT than unaccredited schools.

The SAT needs to be taken early, typically in your junior year in high school. You might decide later on to apply to this great school… but it requires the SAT. If you haven’t taken it, that might eliminate that school from your list.

2. Scholarships

Some scholarships still require the SAT, while some scholarships are based on GPA only. Make sure you are aware of the requirements for the scholarships you are interested in. Even if the scholarships you are applying to do not require the SAT, they generally require you to write a quality scholarship essay to drastically increase your chances of getting free money for college.

3. Balancing Your GPA

If your GPA isn’t where you want it to be, a good SAT score can help you! A good SAT score can show colleges you have the potential to be successful in college, even if your GPA is lower than you want it to be. If the reason you take the SAT is because of your SAT, you need to make sure you explain this in your college application and in letters of recommendation. Address why your GPA is where it is, what your true potential is as a student, and why the SAT is a better reflection of who you are as a student.

What Does Test Optional and Flexible Mean?

As stated previously, schools can be test optional or test flexible. So what does that mean?

What Does Test Optional Mean?

Test optional means that you don’t have to submit a test score, but the college will accept the test score if you do submit it. So if they don’t require an SAT score, you can still submit one. This has become very common for many schools, including top schools like Harvard.

What Does Test Flexible Mean?

Test flexible means that they may require test scores, but not necessarily specific test scores. So you can submit your ACT score, SAT score, or some other test score that the university will accept. These vary by college, so make sure you are looking over their test requirements carefully.

Many colleges have test-optional or test-flexible policies. Since we are only just out of the pandemic, these policies may change.

Since you take the SAT in your junior year, and many high schools subsidize the cost, it’s not a bad idea to take the SAT exam, even if you know the schools you are applying to don’t require it. Also, if you aren’t happy with your score, you still have your senior year to retake the test.

FAQs about the SAT

What happens if I don’t take the SAT?

It depends. Here are some scenarios that might affect you:

  • You might not be able to apply to the college you want if they require the SAT.

  • You might not be eligible for scholarships or grants that you otherwise may be eligible for if the financial aid you want requires the SAT. Make sure you know the differences between scholarships and grants you are applying for and what is required. You’ll want to take every opportunity to get the funding you are eligible for. Start with filling out the FAFSA and find out about other student loan requirements, but also think about taking the SAT.

  • You won’t be able to use a good SAT score to offset your GPA if it is too low to qualify for a school you are interested in.

How many times can I take the SAT?

You can take the SAT an unlimited number of times, but there are also a limited number of test dates each year. Many students take the SAT only once.

If you are taking it an additional time to improve your test score, you might consider taking an SAT prep class either through your community or online. Test preparation classes and practice tests give you a great opportunity to practice skills that can make you successful in standardized tests.

You can also take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) in 10th or 11th grade in the US. Some high schools cover the cost or give waivers for low-income students, but the cost is minimal at less than $20. While the PSAT is slightly easier and has fewer questions, it strongly mirrors the SAT and can give you some ideas about where you might need extra preparation.

Is the SAT more important than GPA?

Potentially. Your GPA is important, and many schools use this now as a tool in the admissions process. However, the SAT can be an asset for a couple of reasons:

  1. As we’ve discussed before, a good SAT test score can offset a GPA that isn’t as good. Admissions officers are always looking for multiple ways to measure a student’s aptitude for college.

  2. GPAs are not standardized. That means two students can do the same work, and one might get a C while the other gets an A. Whereas the SAT is standardized, so two students who do the same on the test are going to get the same score, no matter where or when they take the test. So SATs tend to be a more reliable measure compared to GPA.

When applying for college, there is a lot to consider in order to ensure you have the best chances of being accepted. Look through the application requirements and know exactly what you need to make your college application stand out.

All in all, taking the SAT is not a bad idea even if you don’t think your college will require it of you. Some students get stressed about taking the test—that’s understandable. But don’t use that as a reason to skip taking it. Taking the SAT can have some advantages that you don’t want to miss. Take the SAT and make the most of all the opportunities it can afford.

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