10 Things You Absolutely Need to Know About the SAT

I thought I knew a lot about the SAT. After all, I took it and so did my three kids, over and over.

I knew about buying test prep books and hiring tutors. I knew that you dropped your kid off early one Saturday morning, gripping a handful of #2 pencils and a calculator and often still wearing their baggy flannel PJ bottoms. I knew that you nervously picked them up hours later and tried not to say, “How did it go?” before they even got in the car.

10 things to know about the SAT
So much has changed about the SAT since we took it.


What You Need to Know About the SAT

While you still might want to suppress the urge to pepper them with questions about the exam, so much has changed. Even if you think you know about the SAT, and one of your kids has taken the exam so your information does not date from the 1980s, stick with me, there is so much more to learn.

  1. The SAT is accepted everywhere, at every single college and university.
  2. The SAT has been redesigned and now measures what our teens are already learning in high school. It is a reflection of their high school coursework. Sure, they have to practice (you wouldn’t run out on a soccer field for a game without practicing beforehand) but they don’t need to learn any new content or skills or trickery. Preparing for the SAT now means reviewing material they learned in the classroom.
  3. There are no SAT vocabulary words. Yep, gone. Those words that no one used in real life are no longer part of the exam.
  4. The SAT Math test questions use simple, straightforward language and will look like the content your teen sees in his high school classes. There are no tricky questions or unclear wording. The math section consists of two parts with a break to catch your breath in between.
  5. There is no science section on the SAT but they’ll find science concepts within the reading passages instead. For any kid who finds science daunting, this is a big plus.
  6. There is no penalty for guessing. When kids have a hunch that a certain answer is right, they should go ahead and guess, as they won’t lose points if they are wrong.
  7. The SAT essay is optional. Some colleges want it, others don’t. Each teen can make her decision based on where she is applying. Kids who don’t need the SAT essay for their college application, don’t have to do unnecessary extra work.
  8. At one point the shelves in my kids’ room were stacked high with thick SAT prep books. I bought all those practice books because my kids felt that the single thing that helped them prepare most for the SAT was simply taking timed practice tests. But to get practice tests I filled our house with big thick tomes. No more. There are eight FREE full-length real SAT tests for high schoolers to use on the College Board website. They can download the tests, fill in the answer key just as they will on test day and then use an app on their phone to scan it and instantly score their exam.
  9. One of our favorite changes to the SAT is truly revolutionary. The single best way to prepare for the SAT is now totally free. Do your kids use Khan Academy? You are going to thank me. This is how my kids study for exams and review material from almost any class. Khan Academy material is comprehensive and the teaching is of the highest quality. Now this same powerful teaching tool is partnered with the College Board to create the Official SAT Practice that can help your student prepare for the exam and raise their score.
  10. Once your kid has taken his PSAT/NMSQT (or after he has gone online and taken a diagnostic test), he can link his PSAT/NMSQT scores to his Khan Academy account and receive a free, personalized study plan based on what he did well on during the test and where he needs more help. As he practices and shows that he has mastered the material, the questions will become more challenging to prepare him for test day. Teens who practiced at least 20 hours using Khan Academy saw, on average, a remarkable 115-point gain in their scores between the PSAT/NMSQT to the SAT. By registering on the College Board site, students and their parents gain access to a massive wealth of information about scholarships, colleges and careers. Ninth and 10th grade parents can take this opportunity to jumpstart on helping their kids go to and pay for college. The college-going process is complicated but this is free access to expert information.


The SAT has undergone some important changes that make the exam a great choice for our kids when selecting a college entrance exam. All the changes are designed to allow students to showcase their very best work. If your student has received their PSAT/NMSQT scores it’s important to know that there are over $160 million in scholarships connected to that exam.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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