SAT Guide

Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients at hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other healthcare facilities. To advance their careers and increase their salaries, RNs can pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, many RN-to-BSN programs require applicants to submit SAT scores as part of the admissions process. This SAT guide for nursing students helps prospective BSN students prepare for the SAT.

The College Board administers the SAT test and provides detailed information about the exam, including the differences between the SAT, the SAT with an essay, and the SAT subject tests. The SAT measures a student’s reading, writing, and math skills through a variety of assessments. Most of the sections ask multiple-choice questions, while the optional essay section requires test takers to write an essay that analyzes a passage. The College Board uses college readiness benchmarks to design the exam, testing the skills college students need to succeed in a bachelor’s program.

College admissions officers may use the SAT to help with admissions decisions. SAT scores -- along with transcripts, letters of recommendation, and experience -- help many nursing schools choose which students to admit into RN-to-BSN programs. High SAT scores can also qualify students for certain scholarships. The following article contains information pertinent to many aspiring nurses, including the SAT scores needed for nursing programs.

SAT Subject Tests

In addition to the regular SAT test, the College Board administers SAT subject tests. These 20 tests cover subjects in the areas of English, history, languages, mathematics, and science. Language-specific tests offer test takers the option to sit for an exam with a listening component. Subject tests last one hour and use multiple-choice questions, awarding participants a score ranging from 200 to 800. Students can take up to three subject tests on the same day, but they cannot take the regular SAT test and a subject test on the same day. Students pay a $26 registration fee and $22 for each SAT subject test.

Some colleges suggest that students take an SAT subject test, and many students opt to register for these exams to boost their application materials.

What Does the SAT Look Like?

Students aiming to earn the SAT scores needed for nursing programs should familiarize themselves with the SAT exam structure before taking the test. The current SAT includes three required sections: reading, writing and language, and math, as well as and the optional SAT essay. The sections appear in the same order on each exam, starting with the 65-minute reading section, which contains 52 questions. Students then get a 10-minute break before taking the writing and language section, which covers 44 questions in 35 minutes. The next section, math, includes both no-calculator and calculator portions. Math is the longest part on the exam and takes 80 minutes to complete; it includes 58 questions. Test takers get a five minute break between the two portions of the math section. Finally, students can opt to take the 50-minute SAT essay. The complete exam takes three hours for the regular version and just under four hours for the version with the essay.

Most sections use multiple-choice questions, although some math questions ask students to enter numerical answers on a grid. During the SAT, students may return to previous questions at any point during a section, but they cannot return to prior sections. The test does not penalize guessing, so students should provide an answer for every question.

The SAT Going Online

In addition to the paper-based version of the test, the College Board now offers the SAT online. The SAT isn’t the only standardized test exploring computer versions. Currently, the ACT, GRE, and GMAT also offer an online version. Based on this trend, the College Board will likely continue to expand the use of the online SAT. During the 2016 to 2017 school year, approximately 5,000 students took the SAT online. While that number represents only a small amount of total SAT tests, that percentage will likely increase over time.

Unless they receive an accommodation from the College Board, students cannot choose between the paper and online versions, instead, school districts decide which test to offer.

How Does the Online SAT Work?

The online SAT maintains the same structure, format, and timing as the paper-based version, but students complete the test on a school-owned computer. For both versions of the test, students get two breaks over the course of the exam, with an additional short break before the optional essay portion.

Students cannot take the SAT on their personal laptops; similar to the paper-based version, the online exam uses a controlled test setting. However, some differences do exist between the two exams. With the paper version, students may write in their test booklet and use it as scratch paper. Alternatively, the online version provides electronic scratch paper, the ability to highlight sections in passages, and a bookmarking function that allow students to return to questions later. It also includes a countdown clock for each section. After completing the test, the College Board electronically submits the exam for scoring.

Schools choose whether to use the computer- or paper-based version of the test, and students may not opt out of the online version unless they receive an accommodation based on a documented disability. Both tests cost the same price: $48 for the SAT without the essay and $65 with the essay.


The Evidence-Based Reading Section

Skill Areas

The SAT reading section assesses an individual's reading ability through multiple-choice questions based on written passages. Students must interpret information, demonstrate their command of evidence, and understand words in context. The test typically asks several questions about a single passage or a pair of passages.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

During the 65-minute reading section, students need to read over 3,000 words and answer 52 questions, which makes time management critical to success. By planning ahead, students can leave time at the end of a section to review their answers, correcting any mistakes. Studying also helps students identify the types of passages, which almost always include a classic or contemporary work of literature, a passage from a U.S. founding document, and/or social science and natural science passages. Identifying the type of passage can help students predict what types of questions they need to answer.

Helpful Tips

Active Reading The reading section typically asks 10-12 questions about a single passage or pair of passages. Practice active-reading skills, such as underlining words or phrases in the passage, to correctly identify key information.
Avoid Outside Knowledge Although the passages may mention topics a student recognizes or has experience with, the reading section requires no outside knowledge.
Time Management Like every other section of the test, the reading section challenges students to answer questions in a limited amount of time. Practice time management to maximize your score.
Carefully Read Prompts While students may need to skim some of the passages, they should make sure to read the prompts and directions carefully to avoid committing errors.

The Evidence-Based Writing and Language Section

Skill Areas

The SAT writing and language section tests a student’s ability to find mistakes and weaknesses in written work and correct them. Test takers act as writers and editors, proofreading passages and choosing corrections from a list of multiple-choice answers.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The writing section demands focused, thorough reading. If students skim passages they may fail to notice grammatical errors. By carefully reading the passage and studying grammar rules before the test, students have a better chance of selecting correct answers. Test takers should also read the questions carefully to make sure their answers address the prompts. The writing section also offers the option of “no change” if a passage does not contain errors; however, some students rely on the “no change” option too heavily. If students have time, they should go back and double check those answers.

Helpful Tips

Learn Grammar Rules Study grammar rules to memorize the differences between colloquialisms and proper grammar. Many students find grammar rule flashcards especially helpful.
Eliminate Incorrect Answers When it comes to grammar-related questions, some answers do not create a complete sentence or contain clear grammatical problems; students can eliminate these immediately to find the right answer more quickly.
Watch for Tricks The writing section requires a strong command of grammar, and the SAT test may try to throw students off with answers that appear correct. Practice tests can help students learn many common tricks.
Pacing The writing section only provides 35 minutes to answer 44 multiple-choice questions, giving students have less than a minute per question. Practice time management skills and watch the clock during the test.

The Math Section

Skill Areas

The SAT math section measures several core abilities, such as problem solving, using algebraic structures and strategic thinking. Test takers must complete mathematical procedures, identify the most efficient solutions, and quickly solve different types of math questions.

Question Types

The math section includes questions related to algebra, problem solving, and advanced math. Algebra-related questions cover linear equations and linear inequalities. Problem solving and data analysis questions provide students with data in the form of graphs and tables and ask about rates, ratios, and percentages. These questions may includes multi-step problems. Advanced math questions cover quadratic equations, word problems, and exponential expressions.

In addition to multiple-choice options, this section contains “grid-in” questions that ask students to enter a full numerical answer. This type of question makes up 22% of this section.

Can You Use a Calculator on the SAT?

Students can use a calculator but only for one part of the math section. The no-calculator section has 20 questions, and the calculator section has 38 questions. Test takers must bring their own calculator, and test administrators do not provide backup calculators or batteries.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The most common problem encountered on the math section is simply running out of time. Learn how to pace yourself, spending no more than two minutes working on any individual question. Additionally, use strategic guessing to make sure you provide an answer for every question. Keep in mind that this section starts with easier questions and moves to more difficult ones. Finally, avoid calculation errors by writing out your work in the booklet and checking for calculator typos or errors.

Helpful Tips

Time Management Test takers have 80 minutes to answer 58 math questions; managing your time is crucial to success in this section.
Double Check Calculations During the calculator section in particular, students should double check their answers to make sure they do not make any entry or calculation errors.
Memorize Formulas The SAT math section does not provide all of the formulas needed to answer questions. When studying, students should memorize the basic formulas required for the exam.
Practice Strategic Guessing The SAT does not penalize incorrect answers. Therefore, test takers should plan to answer every question, even if they don’t have time to fully read all of the questions.

The Essay Section

Should You Do the Essay Section?

Students must choose whether or not to take the essay section when registering for the SAT. Although the essay is optional, some schools require or recommend taking it. In addition, students can only take the essay as part of the full exam; if a student realizes too late that one of their schools requires the essay, they must retake the entire SAT. Students applying to competitive schools can sometimes improve their chances with a high essay score, but applicants should weigh these benefits against the extra study time. Additionally, the College Board provides a database of schools that require or recommend the SAT essay.

Skill Areas

The SAT essay asks students to analyze a written passage and explain how the author constructed their argument and attempted to persuade their audience. Test takers must provide supporting evidence for their explanation. The essay format replicates a typical college writing assignment and tests students on their reading comprehension, analysis skills, and writing ability.

The Essay Prompt

Each SAT test presents a different passage, but the essay prompts remain largely the same. A prompt directs students to analyze the author’s argument and their use of facts or examples to support their claims. It also asks students to assess the reasoning and persuasive elements in the passage. Students must write an essay that deconstructs and analyzes the argument, logic, and persuasiveness of the passage.

The College Board provides sample essay prompts, helping students better understand what to expect on the test.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

One of the most common pitfalls on the SAT essay occurs when students misunderstand the purpose of the essay itself. The section tests analytical ability rather than a student’s opinion of a passage; test takers should avoid agreeing or disagreeing with the author. Creating a clear, central argument in response to the prompt helps students write a focused analytical essay. Students also need to provide examples and evidence by drawing from the passage. By constructing an outline before they start to write, test takers can better stay on point while writing their essay.

Helpful Tips

Create an Outline Writing an unstructured essay harms a student’s score. Therefore, after reading the passage, test takers should create an outline for their essay. Students can use the five-paragraph essay structure for their response.
Read the Prompt First The prompt provides a summary of the argument in the passage; it may be helpful to read the prompt before reading the passage.
Don’t Prioritize Brevity While you should avoid rambling or being repetitive, use more than one of the four pages given for your answer. Short essays do not provide enough evidence of your writing skills.
Proofread Manage your time so that you leave at least five minutes to proofread the entire essay. Pay particular attention to grammatical errors.

How is the SAT Scored?

A perfect score on the SAT equals 1600, representing the best combined scores on the reading and writing section and the math section. Both of these sections award 200-800 points, meaning that 400 equals the lowest possible combined score. These scaled scores represent a test taker’s raw score, corresponding to the number of questions they answered correctly. Students also receive percentile scores, which better compare their results to those of other test takers.

The essay section uses a different scoring system and measures a student’s abilities in three basic areas: reading, analysis, and writing. Two readers score the essay in each category, awarding one to four points in each area. The final essay score combines the scores awarded by these two readers, giving a final score of two to eight for reading, analysis, and writing. Unlike the other sections, the essay section does not provide a percentile score.

Score Ranges on the SAT

SAT Section Score Range
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 200-800
Math 200-800
Essay 2-8

Source: The College Board

What's the Difference Between Score Ranges, Average Scores, College Readiness Benchmarks, and Percentile Ranks?

The SAT provides scores in a variety of formats, including score ranges and percentile ranks. Score ranges, which appear on the score report sent to colleges, give a 30-40 point spread representing the range of the test taker’s current abilities. Along with score ranges, the report shows average scores earned by U.S. test takers separated by grade. A percentile score represents the test taker’s score compared to other students. For example, a 75th percentile score means that the test taker scored higher than 75% of other students. The score report also provides college readiness benchmarks for each section; individuals who pass these benchmarks should find success at the college level.

What's an Average Score on the SAT?

Average Scores on the SAT, 2016-17

SAT Section Average Score
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 533
Math 527
Essay 5,4,5

Source: The College Board

What SAT Scores Do You Need to Get for Nursing Schools?

To get into a nursing school, students should make sure they earn competitive SAT scores for their target program. The SAT scores needed for nursing programs vary depending on the school. By looking up the middle-range SAT scores for potential colleges, universities, or nursing programs, prospective nursing students can determine their target score. For example, if the middle range is from 1200-1300, students may want to aim to score 1300 or higher. Keep in mind that nursing schools admit students with a wide range of SAT scores; many other factors, such as grades, experience, and letters of recommendation, also influence admissions decisions.

How Do You Register for the SAT?

To register for the SAT, students need to create a College Board account, provide identifying information, and choose schools to receive their scores. Students can also opt in to the Student Search Service, which lets colleges and scholarship foundations identify students and reach out with information. Test takers also need to decide whether to sit for the essay portion and upload their photograph. After registering, students print out their admission ticket. Students can register online or by mail using instructions on the College Board’s website.

When Should You Take the SAT?

Plan to take the test in the spring of your junior year or the fall of your senior year. Official SAT scores take almost a month to reach colleges, so schedule the exam well before admissions deadlines.

How Much Does the SAT Cost?

The SAT costs $48, or $65 with the essay section. Students may qualify for a fee waiver, which they can receive from a school counselor.

How Many Times Can You Take the SAT?

The College Board does not enforce a limit on how many times a student can take the SAT; however, exams can only be taken on certain dates. Additionally, some colleges require students to submit all of their SAT scores.

Preparing for the SAT

At-Home Study Methods

As one of the most popular standardized tests in the world, students planning to take the SAT can access many study tools and at-home study methods to help prepare for the exam.

  • Printed Study Guides: SAT study guides help test takers prepare by providing practice questions, vocabulary lists, and SAT strategies and tips.
  • Flashcards: Flashcards help students build their vocabulary, which is a key skill for earning a high score on the reading and write and essay sections.
  • Private Tutoring: Students who can afford the expense can use private tutors to identify areas that need improvement and build test-taking strategies that fit their learning style.
  • Studying Apps: SAT apps help students build their vocab and math skills and provide study tips and strategies. Because many of these apps work on smartphones, students can study for the SAT on the go and at their convenience
  • Online Practice Tests: Students benefit from taking online and paper-based practice tests, which replicate test-day conditions. Some practice tests even include questions used on past SAT exams.

SAT Prep Courses

When preparing for the SAT, students can also enroll in online or in-person SAT prep courses. Most prep courses include quizzes, practice exams, and prep books and analyze a student’s strengths and weaknesses. These courses, which are offered by companies including Kaplan and Princeton Review, feature a variety of options. Students can choose between self-paced options or courses that follow a set schedule. They can also sign up for private tutoring. Prep courses range from around $99 for self-paced classes to over $2,000 for courses that feature private tutoring.

Studying Tips for the SAT

  • Create a Study Plan: Students should create a study plan and stick with it to earn higher SAT scores. Take a few practice tests before making a study plan so you can focus on your weaker areas.
  • Time Management: Students who improve their time management skills typically earn higher scores on the SAT. Taking timed section tests and practice exams, as well as setting goals like spending no more than two minutes on a question, can help test takers answer all questions.
  • Practice Strategy: While content knowledge is a must for the SAT, learning SAT strategies, such as common question formats, can help break down difficult questions.
  • Take Practice Tests: Use practice tests to work on pacing and strategy and to assess your progress toward your target SAT score.
  • Eliminate Wrong Answers: The multiple-choice format of the SAT allows students to eliminate some wrong answers and increase their chances of choosing the correct answer. Strategic guessing can improve your score significantly.

Helpful Resources

Test takers can access several free resources to improve their scores on the SAT. The following sites provide study guides, test-taking strategies, and practice exams.

  • Practice Tests from the College Board: The College Board creates and administers the SAT, and it also offers free practice tests. Students can choose between online or paper-based practice tests.
  • Khan Academy: Khan Academy serves as a valuable resource for test takers by providing practice tests; SAT tips on math, reading, and writing; and overall test-taking strategies.
  • Magoosh SAT Prep YouTube Channel: Magoosh provides multiple practice test questions and YouTube videos that explain the common pitfalls and strategies used to answer SAT questions.
  • Supertutor TV SAT YouTube Channel: With videos detailing ways to get a perfect score and numerous tips and tricks for the SAT, the Supertutor YouTube channel can help students improve their SAT scores.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

Every test center uses the same procedures and rules, so you’ll know what to expect in advance. After checking in, students receive assigned seats and the test coordinator reads the instructions aloud and answers any procedure-related questions. The administrator also announces the start and stop times for each section. Students get one 10-minute break and one five-minute break, and test takers may only use the restroom during these breaks. While students may not bring scratch paper into the test enter, they can write in their exam booklet.

What Should You Bring with You?

  • Valid Photo ID: Test takers need a valid, unexpired photo ID to enter the exam room. The ID must be government-issued or issued by the student’s current school, and it cannot be a photocopy or an electronic version.
  • Admission Ticket: Students must present their admission ticket to take the SAT. After signing up for the test, students can print out their admission ticket through their College Board account.
  • No. 2 Pencils: Many schools still use paper versions of the SAT and allow students to bring in two No. 2 pencils with erasers. Individuals sitting for both the computer- and paper-based versions can use pencils.
  • Approved Calculator: The SAT allows students to use calculators for one part of the math section; however, test takers may only bring in approved devices.
  • Watch: Students can bring a watch that does not have an audible alarm. However, digital watches that transmit or receive information, such as smartwatches, cannot be used.
  • Layers of Clothing: The exam room may be drafty, cold, or warm on the testing day, so don’t forget to wear layers.

What Should You Leave at Home?

  • Math Tools: Leave your protractors, compasses, and rulers at home. While you can bring an approved calculator, you won’t need other math tools on the SAT.
  • Unapproved Electronics: The College Board bans unapproved electronic devices, including computers, smartphones, audio players, texting devices, or any recording or transmitting devices during the exam.
  • Books: Test takers cannot bring outside study materials, books, or reference guides into the testing room. Non-native speakers may not bring in English dictionaries.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

The College Board provides accommodations for students who have a documented disability or health-associated need. These students must apply to the Services for Students with Disabilities office. Once approved, test takers may receive extended time, longer or more frequent breaks, and/or visual impairment accommodations. The College Board recommends that students apply for accomodations at least seven weeks before their test date. Approved students should wait until receiving their SSD eligibility letter to schedule their exam.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Students take the SAT on specific days throughout the year, and they receive official scores approximately three weeks after taking the exam. Test takers can log in to see their scores, receive a paper score report, or access scores by phone. The date scores become available is based on a test takers exam date.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

The College Board provides several options for submitting SAT scores to institutions of higher education. When students register for the SAT, they can select up to four schools to automatically receive a free official score report. After taking the test, students may also pick additional schools for a fee. Additionally, students can opt for rush reporting or apply for an SAT fee waiver.

What Scores Will Schools See If You Take the Test More Than Once?

Students can choose which SAT scores to send to schools if they take the test multiple times. The College Board now offers Score Choice, a program that allows test takers to selectively submit SAT scores. This lets students withhold individual SAT scores or send all of their results. However, students may not combine math and verbal scores from different test dates, and some schools and scholarships require applicants to submit all of their SAT scores.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

SAT scores remain valid for five years. Test takers can submit older score reports to colleges, but these contain a message saying that the score may not be a valid predictor of college readiness.