Updates on changed SAT requirements in 2020 and 5 common FAQ

As dozens of U.S. schools dropped their ACT and SAT requirements, and many more are in the pipeline, is it the time for us to say goodbye to the SAT prep books?  What are the major changes to the SAT this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic?  What are the SAT score percentiles? And what is the good SAT score to apply to top colleges? 

These are the common questions that we often receive from our families and students. So here you are, in this article, we put together an SAT FAQ section to have all your SAT questions answered.  If you can’t find your questions here, let us know by commenting below!

Q: Some colleges are going to stop requiring SAT test scores for admissions. Is it true that the SAT is falling out of favor, and students don’t need to take SAT to get into college?

A: According to a list by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization working to end the misuse of standardized testing, about 51 universities, and colleges have dropped the ACT/SAT requirement for at least Fall 2021 in recent months.  Critics say the tests put less wealthy students at a disadvantage.  They acknowledge that SAT and ACT results follow a pattern of all standardized test scores: Kids from poor families do worse than kids with more money.  Wealthy parents can provide benefits that many poor families can’t, such as tutors, learning opportunities, the best schools with ample resources.  This comes on top of repeated SAT and ACT cheating scandals in the U.S. and abroad. The SAT in recent years has become the target of a sophisticated cheating system in Asia made possible in part because the College Board reuses questions.  Now, a growing list of colleges has announced they’re going test-optional for the class of 2021, meaning the SAT or ACT will not be required for admission.

Does it mean that students don’t have to worry about SAT/ ACT from now on?  When it comes to college admissions, we believe that the SAT/ ACT scores are still, not very inaccurate though, good indicators to compare students across disparate countries.  To compare students from totally different high schools, college admission committees can’t just choose the top students at each school; they need some way to compare students from across the nation and around the world, and that’s the history of SAT and why SAT scores are still important.  Therefore, even though more and more schools are going test-optional, we recommend students sitting the exam, especially if you are an international student and want to apply to competitive colleges, as this is a concrete data point to compare you among thousands of applicants, and is what makes your application stand out more.

That said, the fact that many schools are going test-optional has opened more options for applicants, and leveled the academic playing field.  SAT scores are not everything you need to apply to colleges – numbers can not tell the whole story.  If you think your scores are an accurate representation of your ability, submit them. If you feel they are not, don’t.  Instead, try to show your special-self in some other ways – which can come across in letters of recommendation, talent, extracurriculars, and college essays.

Q: When is the best time to take the SAT?

A: The SAT can be taken any time starting your freshman year.  We strongly recommend that all but the very strongest students do not take the first SAT exam until at least the spring of Grade 9, as this ensures you have covered the required academic content in school.  We also strongly recommend that all students should take their first SAT exam in either the spring of Grade 10 or fall of Grade 11.

Doing so will give you enough time to take the test twice, which is highly recommended, as 67 percent of students improve their score the second time around. This also helps to unlock the power of Superscoring, which is a tremendous advantage for those who take the SAT multiple times.

Once you receive your initial test results, you’ll know your weak points and can prepare to retake the test.

The SAT exam is offered internationally every year in October, November, December, March, May, and June.  View SAT Test Dates and Deadlines here.

COVID 19 Update from SAT: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the College Board has canceled the May 2, 2020, and June 6, 2020 SAT and SAT Subject Test administrations.   College Board has announced that they plan to provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August.  This includes a new administration on September 26, along with the previously scheduled tests for Fall 2020.  Learn more here.


Q: What Are SAT Score Percentiles?

A: In addition to the composite score you get on the SAT (i.e., that number between 400 and 1600), you’ll get a percentile ranking, ranging from 1 to 99.  The SAT gives you a percentile ranking for your overall composite score as well as for each of the two-section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. Your percentile tells you how you did on the SAT compared with everyone else who took the test.

Your percentile score is not like a grade out of 100.  For instance, if you get a percentile of 90, this doesn’t mean you got exactly 90% of the questions right.  It just means that compared with everyone who took the SAT, you scored higher than 90% of them.

Colleges use percentiles to compare you with other students.  If you got, say, an SAT score in the 90th percentile, this would make you competitive for many schools since you scored better than 90% of students nationwide.

Q: What is an SAT superscore and which colleges superscore

A: Superscoring is when a college chooses to consider your highest section score from multiple sittings of the same examination.  For instance, imagine you’ve taken the SAT two times, once in the spring and once in the fall. The second time around, your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score increased 80 points, but your Math score came out 10 points lower. Colleges that superscore the SAT use your best section-level scores, even if they were from different tests. Many colleges that follow a superscore policy encourage students to submit all test scores, and some require it. This allows them to see and consider the highest section scores consistently and fairly across all applicants.

If you’re planning to take the SAT more than once, then superscoring is a beneficial policy.  You may incorporate this policy into your test prep strategy: If they superscore, then you can take the SAT on various dates throughout high school with a very specific section target score in mind each time.  In this way, you can use SAT superscoring to maximize your composite score and present a stellar SAT score on your college applications.  Make sure you research the standardized test policies of your colleges well in advance of applications.

Most colleges, but not all, consider your SAT superscores.  It’s always a good idea to review the SAT score-use policy for each college on your list so that you can come up with the best application strategy.  You can usually find this policy on the admissions website, usually in an “application requirements” section. Also, refer to this complete list of colleges that superscore the SAT.

Q: What is a good score on the SAT?

A: Now, let’s look at the 25th and 75th percentile SAT/ACT scores for MIT, Stanford and all Ivy League schools:

If you’re scoring lower than the 25th percentile on either the SAT, you’ll have a really tough time getting accepted to an Ivy League school.  Unfortunately, you just won’t measure up to all the other highly qualified applicants who have extremely impressive SAT scores.

Clearly, these are very high standards.  In fact, all 75th percentile scores for Ivy League schools are in the 99th percentile nationwide.  To be at the top of the Ivy League application pool, you will need to be one of the top 1% of test-takers in the country!

While these SAT scores for the Ivy League can be used as standard guidelines, everyone has a different target score.  This means that you’ll need to know the SAT/ACT score target that’s right for you.  But how do you figure this out?

Your target SAT score will be based on the colleges you’re applying to.  You’ll need to find the average SAT scores of admitted students for all the schools you’re interested in attending, specifically their 75th percentile scores.  Aiming for the 75th percentile will give you the best chance of getting into all the schools on your list.


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