Community High School District 218 SAT and PSAT FAQ

What is the SAT?

The SAT is a college entrance exam designed and administered by the College Board--who also oversee Advanced Placement (AP) testing--and the Educational Testing Service (ETS). First developed in 1926, it was recently redesigned for 2016, and takes three hours and fifty minutes to complete with the essay portion. The SAT is used by most East Coast and West Coast colleges and universities as their entrance exam, though it used less frequently in the Midwest. For more information, please visit the College Board's website for the SAT

Why are students taking the SAT?

In 2015, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) selected the SAT to replace the ACT as the state's college entrance exam; in July of 2016, ISBE selected the SAT to replace the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Carreers (PARCC) exam for high school students. On April 5, 2017, 11th grade (Junior) students will take the SAT including essay free of charge. ISBE has released an FAQ regarding the SAT that details their reasoning for the shift to new test. 

What is the PSAT?

The PSAT is the practice version of the SAT designed by the College Board and ETS and is administered in two versions: the PSAT 8/9 and the PSAT 10. The PSAT 8/9 is designed for 8th and 9th grade students while the PSAT 10 is designed for 10th and 11th grade students. Additionally, the PSAT 10 is also administered as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) which allows students access to the process to become National Merit Scholars. As with the SAT, the College Board has a website for the PSAT 8/9 as well as a website for the PSAT 10/NMSQT

What is a National Merit Scholar and what is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test?

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition that allows students to access a number of corporate- and college-based scholarships; the PSAT/NMSQT is a required step into the program. 

Why should students take the PSAT?

The PSAT offers students a number of benefits including:
  • the change to preview the SAT's format and questions
  • individual score reports on a student's likely SAT score as well as indications of subjects and topics to focus on to improve their score
  • aggregate score reports to the students' schools in December that allow teachers to make adjustments to instruction to better prepare students for the SAT
  • the AP Potential report to the students' school that allow school personnel to better match students with AP courses
  • information for school personnel to better assist students in the selection of colleges and careers 

What is on the tests?

The SAT Overview document contains information on the contents of the SAT test. In general, the SAT tests students thinking and reasoning abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics at levels that are appropriate for students in their 3rd year of high school. The breakdown of the SAT questions and timings is below:

Reading Test

Questions: 52 (MC)

Time: 65 minutes

Passages: 4 single and 1 pair (500-750 words each; total of 3,250 word)

Passage Types: 1 US and world lit passage; 2 history/social studies passages (1 social studies

and 1 US/Great Global Conversation); 2 science

Scores: Reading

Contributes to Command of Evidence (10 Qs); Words in Context (10 Qs); Analysis in

History/Social (21 Qs); Analysis in Science (21 Qs)

Writing and Language Test

Questions: 44 (MC)

Time: 35 minutes

Passages: 4 (400-450 Words; total of 1,700 words)

Passage Types: 1 career-related topic; 1 humanities; 1 history/social studies; 1 science

Scores: Writing and Language

Contributes to Expression of Ideas (24 Qs); Standard English Conventions (20 Qs);

Command of Evidence (8 Qs); Words in Context (8 Qs); Analysis of History/Social Studies

(6 Qs); Analysis in Science (6 Qs)

Math Test

Questions: 58 (45 MC; 13 Student-Produced Responses)

Time: 80 minutes

Portions: Calculator (38 Qs); No-Calculator (20 Qs)

Scores: Math

Contributes to Heart of Algebra (19 Qs); Problem Solving and Data Analysis (17 Qs);

Passport to Advanced Math (16 Qs); Additional Topics in Math (6 Qs - not reported as

subscore); Analysis in Science (8 Qs); Analysis in History/Social Studies (8 Qs)

SAT Essay

Questions: 1 prompt (650-750 words) requiring analysis of argument (reading including)

Time: 50 minutes

Scores: Reading, Analysis, Writing (scores are not combined with each other or with any other

score on the test)

How are the tests scored?

The College Board uses the number of correct responses that a student makes and converts the results into a scale score that allows comparisons between the students who took the test. The College Board reports several categories of scores drawn from the SAT and PSAT, but the two main types of scores are the section scores and the composite score. The SAT and the PSAT have two, large sections--the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test and the Math test; each of these test is scored on a range from 200-800. These two section scores are then combined into the composite score, which ranges from 400-1600. The SAT Essay is scored separately on a scale from 2-8. A breakdown of the types of scores can be found on the SAT Overview

What is considered a "good" score?

Each college or university sets their own individual cut scores for college admissions--it is recommended that you consult with your prospective college or university for their score. Further, the State of Illinois has not yet released their cut scores for the SAT and likely will not until late 2017. In general, however, it appears that a total score between 1060-1100 could be considered college-ready based on concordance with an ACT score of 21.   Again, it is best to consult with your prospective college or university for more information on their admissions standards. 

How should a student prepare for the SAT?

The best preparation for any college readiness test comes from rigorous high school classes--CHSD 218 strongly recommends that students take Honors-level and/or Advanced Placement (AP) classes; additionally, CHSD 218 is constantly revising and updating its curricula to offer the highest levels of academic rigor and challenge to its students. 

For more specific test preparation, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free SAT preparation to all students. The Khan Academy preparation program includes free diagnostic tests, at least four complete SAT tests, and allows students to schedule "training" and practice. Additionally, there are a number of apps available for iOS and Android for SAT preparation, but please be aware that some may require in-app purchases. 

Finally, taking the PSAT is an important step to preparing for the SAT. 

Will my student be provided with his or her accommodation(s) on the tests?

Yes, students with accommodations will be provided with those accommodations on both the PSAT and the SAT. Please contact your student's school if you would like to review your student's testing accommodations. 

What are the dates of the tests?

9th, 10th, and 11th grade students (freshman, sophomore, junior) will take the PSAT on October 19, 2016
11th grade (junior) students will take the SAT on April 5, 2017, with a make-up on April 25, 2017

Do all students need to take the SAT?

All 11th grade (junior-level) students must take the SAT on April 5, 2017 unless their special education accommodation entitles them to take the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternative Assessment (DLM-AA). Students who miss the April 5, 2017 administration will have to take the make-up on April 25, 2017. Pursuant to Section 2-3.64a-5 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, the SAT is a graduation requirement for Illinois students unless they are eligible for an alternative exam or otherwise exempt from testing. A student CANNOT substitute an SAT taken on a different date for the April 5 administration. 

What is the cost of the PSAT and SAT?

Community High School District 218 is providing the PSAT to freshman, sophomore, and junior students free of charge; the State of Illinois is providing the SAT to juniors on April 5, 2017 free of charge (the make-up test on April 25, 2017 is also free of charge). If you would like to register your student for an additional administration of the SAT at your cost, please use this link for more information; please note that students CANNOT substitute an SAT taken on a different date for the April 5 administration.
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