USA: SAT and SAT Subject Tests

Last updated
Last verified

Updated 2016

Education context

While the US Government provides funding and national standards for schools, authority over public (state-funded) school education in the US rests primarily with individual state departments of education. As most policies are set at the state and local levels, the school curriculum can vary from state to state and even between school districts within a state.

Formal education is generally mandatory from age five/six to 16, varying slightly by state. School-level education is organised into ‘grades’. Grades K (kindergarten) – 12 correspond with years 1 –13 in the UK.


Level of study

US grade

UK year

11 – 13

Middle school

6th – 8th

Years 7 – 9

14 – 18

High school

9th – 12th (freshman – senior)

Years 10 – 13

Although there is no national curriculum, the general content of the high school curriculum across the country has many consistencies. The state will usually set a list of basic required courses for high school graduation. These may include English, mathematics, foreign language, physical education, art and / or music, general science, and social studies (a subject that combines history, government and geography).

Students continue to have flexibility in choosing the level of their classes and elective subjects.

Many high schools will also have ’tracks’ for students wishing to study a four-year bachelor's degree (BA / BSc), pursue a vocational or technical degree at a two-year college, or enter the workforce following high school.

Students are generally assessed continually throughout the semester by a combination of tests, mid-term / final exams, essays, quizzes, homework assignments, classroom participation, group work, projects and attendance. This assessment culminates with a final ’grade’ for each course awarded at the end of the semester. Marks can be given as letters (A+, A, B+, B, etc), or as numbers out of 100%. These grades are averaged over the student’s high school career, resulting in a Grade Point Average (GPA). Students may also receive a class rank, ranking his /her GPA amongst other members of his/her grade (year in school). On satisfactory completion of 12th grade and the state graduation requirements, the student receives a ’high school diploma’ (the requirements for which are set by each state).


The SAT is a college readiness assessment connecting students to post-secondary education. It is widely used for university entrance in the US and around the world. They are independent of the high school syllabus taken by students.

A new version of the SAT was introduced in March 2016 in the US and in May 2016 outside the US for the first time. The specificaitons that follow refer to the new exam.

There are two types of SAT tests.


Designed to measure reasoning alongside a clearer, stronger focus on the knowledge, skills, and understandings most important for college and career readiness and success, the test covers two areas:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Mathematics

The Essay is an optional component of the SAT.

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Mathematics is made up of:

  • 65-minute Reading test
  • 35-minute Writing and Language test
  • 25-minutes No Calculator Math test
  • 55-minute Calculator Math test

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math test time: 3 hours

Optional Essay test time: 50 minutes

SAT Subject Tests

One-hour long content-based multiple-choice tests available in 20 subjects in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics, and science. For SAT Subject Tests, students can take up to three tests per sitting but can take as many SAT Subject Test as they wish up to the 20 available in total.

Subject areas

SAT – test areas: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Mathematics, and optional Essay.

The SAT is on a 400 –1600 point score scale (sum of two sections).

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section are each scored on a 200 – 800 point scale.

Scores for the optional Essay section are reported separately. The Essay has three scores associated with it, and these scores are not added up to a total score. Students receive a score of 2 – 8 for each of the categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

SAT Subject Tests: 20 specific subjects in five general subject areas of English, history, languages, mathematics, and science.

One-hour multiple-choice test scored on a 200 – 800 point scale.


SAT Subject Tests




US history

World history


Mathematics Level1

Mathematics Level2


Biology E / M





Spanish with Listening

Chinese with Listening


French with Listening

Korean with Listening


German with Listening



Modern Hebrew

Japanese with Listening


Level 3 – acceptable as a group qualification satisfying HE general entrance requirements.

For further information on the qualification level you may wish to refer to UK NARIC, which is the UK body responsible for providing comparability of overseas qualifications.



The redesigned SAT reports one total score, two section (domain) scores, three test scores (plus additional Essay scores), two cross-test scores, and seven subscores.

The SAT gives credit for every correct response but does not deduct points for incorrect answers (rights-only scoring).

Total score scale ranging from 400 to 1600 (sum of two sections). Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing; 200 to 800 for Math;

Essay results reported separately: 2 to 8 on each of three dimensions for Essay.

Average scores and percentiles are given at national, state and school levels so that student achievement can be compared and ranked. Benchmarks for each section of the SAT are provided to show college readiness. Detailed feedback in students’ online score report show which skills need the most improvement.

Both the SAT and the PSAT were recently redesigned.The old SAT was on a 2,400 point scale (three sections with maximum scores of 800 on each).The new SAT is on a 1,600 point scale (two sections, maximum scores of 800 on each) and a stand-alone essay that receives additional scores.

The redesigned SAT Suite (three different exams) uses a common score scale, providing consistent feedback across assessments to help educators and students monitor growth across grades and to identify areas in need of improvement.The most difficult reading, writing, and math questions are not included on the PSAT, therefore the total number of points a student can score is reduced (from 1,600 to 1,520).

SAT Subject Tests

Raw scores are calculated based on the number of correct or incorrect questions. 1 point for correct questions, ¼ point deduction for each incorrect 5-choice questions, ⅓ point deduction for each 4-choice questions, ½ point deduction for each 3-choice questions. Raw scores are equated to a scaled score (reported on a 200 – 800 scale). No points are deducted for unanswered questions.

SAT Subject Test scores are reported on a scale from 200 – 800. Subscores on the Subject Tests are used to compute the total score, but their individual contributions differ between the different tests. Subscores are reported on a 20 – 80 scale. For the French, German, and Spanish with Listening Tests, the reading subscore counts twice as much as the Listening subscore. For the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean tests, subscores are weighted equally.

Average scores and percentiles are given at national, state and school levels so that student achievement can be compared and ranked.


The SAT has a range of assessment forms including multiple-choice, essay and student response (mathematics). The overall assessment time is three hours.


Test area



Time allowed (mins)


Form of test

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

200 – 800

100 min

Reading test: 65 min

Writing & Language test: 35 min

Multiple choice

Passage based

Key features: emphasis on words in context; emphasis on command of evidence; inclusion of informational graphics; and specified range of text complexity.


200 – 800

80 min

Multiple choice

Student produced responses

Four Content Areas

  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Additional Topics in Math
Essay (optional)

2 – 8 on each of three dimensions for Essay

50 min

Prompts and passage based

Key features: use of common prompt; emphasis on analysis of argument; and use of clear, powerful evaluation criteria.

Tests reading, analysis, and writing skills; students produce a written analysis of a provided source text.

The SAT Subject Tests are all multiple-choice although some languages have additional Listening elements. Each test is one hour long.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade


Students will receive a score between 200 – 800 for each of the two sections (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Mathematics). These are combined to give a total score ranging from 400 to 1600.

Students who take the optional Essay will receive an additional separate score of 2 – 8 for each of the categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

SAT Subject Tests

Students will receive a score between 200 – 800 for each Subject Test.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

There is no formal teaching time associated with any SAT test.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

HEPs may wish to make offers using a range of indicators – including GPA, AP results, ACT / SAT scores.

Student choice – admissions tests in the US allow students to choose which results they allow universities to see. Students may choose only to show their best results, or may prefer to show results from all test occasions. Some universities do request that all attempts are disclosed.

Access to admissions tests – although it has traditionally been the case that students would have sat for either the SAT or the ACT tests, it is becoming increasingly common in the US for students to sit for both. This is seen as an advantage since some students perform significantly better in one compared to the other.

There are published equivalences ‘concordance’ of test scores for theredesigned SAT to old SAT and a derived concordance of the redesigned SAT and ACT test. These are summarised in the ‘Additional information’ section below and a reference to the full information about this agreement is also given.

Note that these tests are widely taken outside of the US, particularly in Canada, East Asia, and the Middle East.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

SAT tests are national and available on seven occasions each year (October, November, December, January, March, May and June) in the US and on six occasions outside the US (not March admin).

SAT Subject Tests are national and available on six occasions each year although not all subjects are available on each occasion (October, November, December, January, May and June).

Results are available about three weeks after the test is taken.

Students cannot take SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day.

Qualification dates notes

Current. SATs are owned and operated by College Board – formed in 1900 to develop common entrance exams. SAT first administered in 1926.

Reporting and certification information

SAT percentiles: This data will be available in Fall/Winter 2016.

SAT Subject Test data is available at:

Progression information/access to HE within home country

Students are assessed for university entry based on a variety of information including:

Academic performance: GPA – the following is a general percentage / letter grade scale for classes taken at US schools:

Letter grade


Grade Point Average


90 –100%



80 – 89%



70 – 79%



65 – 69%


F (fail)

Below 65%


Rigour of classes taken (AP, honours, regular).

Class rank within the year group.

Admissions tests – ACT or SAT/ SAT Subject Tests are used to supplement secondary school record and help admission officers put local data – such as grades and class rank – in a national context. Universities often require a threshold score in admissions tests.

Students may take two to three SAT Subject Tests of their choice.

ACT or SAT on their own are not normally sufficient for competitive HE admissions. Candidates would be expected to offer SAT Subject Tests and / or show quality/rigor of academic classes, such as APs.

Further information



The College Board provides concordance tools to help students, parents, college admission officers and others compare scores on the redesigned SAT with those on the old SAT, given before March 2016. Because the two tests are different, their scores are not equivalent — concordance is the only way to make comparisons between them.

  • Concordance to compare scores on the redesigned SAT with those on the old SAT, given before March
  • Derived concordance between ACT andnew SAT.

For detailed concordance tables and guides, see