SAT : Test Pattern, Good Scores, Tuition fees and Scholarships

This post is all about SAT I�exam on the request of a blog reader from Dubai (UAE) who asked �Could you please tell me what�s the SAT exam pattern, a good score on SAT test for a top US engineering college like MIT, Stanford, Caltech or Cornell? Moreover, I kindly request you to tell me where can I get some practice tests for SAT?�

This post discusses the important aspects of SAT Reasoning Test and�provides side-by-side comparison of SAT scores for top US colleges.

The SAT Test:

The SAT Reasoning Test (SAT I) is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. The SAT is owned, published, and developed by the College Board- USA. The current SAT Reasoning Test takes three hours and forty-five minutes and costs $45 ( additional $26 for international students, extra $23 for India/Pakistan centres). In SAT test, one can possibly score from 600 to 2400, combining test results from three 800-point sections (math, critical reading, and writing), along with other subsections scored separately.

The SAT test has been more popular among colleges in the coasts and the ACT test more popular in the Midwest and South. There are some colleges that require the ACT to be taken for college course placement, and a few schools that formerly did not accept the SAT at all. Nearly all colleges accept the SAT test.

SAT Exam Pattern

SAT I consists of three major sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing.

SAT II consists of 2o subjects and the most renowned US colleges asks for SAT II test in 3 subjects (eg. Maths, Phy, Chem). Each SAT II subject exam lasts for one hour and candidates can give all tests on the same day.

There are many websites that offer mock tests and preparatory materials.

For SAT I, each section receives a score on the scale of 200�800. Each major section is divided into three parts. There are 10 sub-sections, including an additional 25-minute experimental or “equating” section that may be in any of the three major sections. The experimental section is used to normalize questions for future administrations of the SAT and does not count toward the final score. The test contains 3 hours and 45 minutes of actual timed sections, Easier questions typically appear closer to the beginning of the section while harder questions are towards the end in certain sections. This is not true for every section but it is the rule of thumb mainly for math and sentence completions and vocabulary.

Critical Reading

The Critical Reading section of the SAT is made up of three scored sections, two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section, with varying types of questions, including sentence completions and questions about short and long reading passages.

MathematicsThe Mathematics section of the SAT I�is widely known as the Quantitative Section or Calculation Section. The mathematics section consists of three scored sections. There are two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section, as follows:

� One of the 25-minute sections is entirely multiple choice, with 20 questions.

� The other 25-minute section contains 8 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-in questions. The 10 grid-in questions have no penalty for incorrect answers because the student guessing is limited.

� The 20-minute section is all multiple choice, with 16 questions.

WritingThe writing section of the SAT I includes multiple choice questions and a brief essay. The essay subscore contributes about 30% towards the total writing score, with the multiple choice questions contributing 70%.

Style of questions

Most of the questions on the SAT I, except for the essay and the grid-in math responses, are multiple choice; all multiple-choice questions have five answer choices, one of which is correct. The questions are weighted equally. For each correct answer, one raw point is added. For each incorrect answer one-fourth of a point is deducted. No points are deducted for incorrect math grid-in questions.


On a 1600 �scale, the scores and percentile is noted below

Score 1600 (percentile 99.98), >1540 (percentile 99+),>1480 (percentile 99), >1450 (98), >1420 (97), >1380 (88), > 1280 (83), >1200 (78).

Some of the colleges only consider critical reading and math scores and not the writing scores. This is because the writing part of the exam is still new, and many schools do not yet use it in their admissions decisions.

One must realize that SAT I scores are just one part of the application. Perfect 800s don’t guarantee admission if other parts of the application are weak. Admissions officers will also want to see a strong academic record, a winning essay, meaningful extracurricular activities and good letters of recommendation. Just 3 years back, there was a case of an Asian candidate who got perfect SAT I�score of 2400 but was denied admission to top 6 institutes out of 9 applied, apparently because the colleges judged him to be a ‘nerd’. Some sort of extracurricular activities like outdoors games, social work, cadets course also�help in getting admissions to good college especially for students from China and India who are already well represented in US colleges.

While, few colleges don�t require scores for the SAT Subject Tests (SAT II), many top colleges want SAT II scores for the 3 Subject Tests as well.

Following list shows the middle range of SAT I scores for two �elite� schools. The middle 50% (25%-75%) of admitted students fell within these numbers. Note that 25% of students who were admitted scored below the lower numbers listed here.

MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology : Critical Reading: 660 – 760 , Mathematics: 720 – 800 , Writing: 660 � 750. Total: 2040- 2310

Stanford : Critical Reading: 660 � 760, Mathematics: 680 � 780, Writing: 670 � 770. (Total: 2010- 2310)

Please refer to following link to know more about SAT scores for top engineering colleges, Ivy League and non-Ivy League top universities.

Side-by-Side Comparison of SAT scores for Top US Colleges

College tuition fees and other expenses:

The tuition fee for an academic year would range from $30k-40k depending on the college (eg. Harvard: US$34 K, MIT: US$38K for year 2009-10). Room and boarding costs are about US$12K while food/insurance/books and personal expenses could average another US$12-15K.

Subject Tests (SAT II ):

Of the approximately 3,000 colleges and universities across the country, only around 100 use Subject Tests in their admissions decisions. Subject tests are taken for Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, American history and languages (English, French etc). At the most competitive schools, Subject Test scores are often as important as the SAT or ACT. Other colleges may consider Subject Test scores only if the scores add positively to the student�s application.

The vast majority of colleges requiring or recommending Subject Tests limit their expectation to TWO subjects. The only colleges that expressly require THREE subjects are Georgetown and Harvard. Bottom line: if you can show more than two subjects with relatively �good� scores, you should do so. At most colleges and for most programs, you can take whichever subjects you choose. Certain colleges, notably the UC system, do have specific requirements.

Subject Tests are scored on the same 200-800 scale as the SAT, with the only difference that the scaled score, not the subject test percentile, is the most important number on the Subject Test report.

The average Subject Test scores of admitted students are similar to the average SAT scores. So your SAT scores (and the median range of colleges on your list) provide the easiest way of judging your scores. For example, a student with SAT scores of 620CR, 600M, and 630W should be pleased with Subject Tests scores in the mid-600s. A student with SAT scores of 710CR, 720M, and 700W would be disappointed with those same scores.


Most colleges look at both the SAT score and the GPA requirement for merit scholarships, if they offer any at all. An individual college’s financial aid page will give more adequate details on what is available. For example, enrollment in a small private school with a SAT score of 1400 (combined Critical reading and math, not Writing) may result in a more generous offer than a state school or a school with a very high caliber. In general, most colleges offer generous scholarships to top 5% of students in the class and the % of scholarships diminishes to lower amounts for the rest 20% of top students. Many of the bright international students manage to get a scholarship by end of 1st Semester and most by 2nd semester.

Princeton, Yale, Williams, MIT, Harvard, Middlebury all provide full scholarship as per set criteria (eg athletic achievement, academic accomplishments or artistic talent) from institute/donors/alumini fund. Someone who has scored 2325 (2400 scale) has a good chance for full scholarship in top colleges provided they can support the score by their school GPA, essay, special talent and financial need. Important thing for getting scholarship is to be within top 10% in the class.

Good luck.

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