The SAT Reasoning Test, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Achievement Test, is easily one of the most important exams any college-bound student will take.

As a key part of the college admissions process, the SAT test has the potential to open doors to more restrictive and more reputable universities as well as help secure financial aid to pay for college.

A solid score on the SAT, when combined with a good academic and extracurricular record, can virtually guarantee admission into most schools. As such, it is worthwhile to take the test seriously and work hard at getting the best score possible.

So how can one work to increase their score and do well on the SAT? The best answer is to be prepared for the exam, understand what is on it and know what it takes to do well. If you go in with the right mindset, it is much easier to get the score you deserve.

The Basics of the SAT

The SAT test has undergone a series of changes in the past ten years, making it a very different test than the one many who took it in the past might remember. The current SAT exam has three separate parts, each designed to test different skills. The current sections are as follows:

1. Critical Reading: The critical reading test is designed to assess vocabulary, grammar and comprehension skills. It consists of three parts, the first two of which are 25 minutes in length and the third 20 minutes long. This section has a variety of questions including sentence completion, comparisons and comprehension questions regarding short passages.

2 . Mathematics: The math portion has similar structure to the Critical Reading portion but is targeted at comprehension of math-related subjects. The first section is multiple choice, the second has some multiple choice and some grid-in questions and the last section is solely multiple choice.

3. Writing: The final portion of the test is the writing one, which includes two multiples choice portions, one 25 minutes long and the other 10 minutes, and a short essay portion. This section is designed simply to test one’s writing ability. The multiple choice questions focus on recognizing errors and improving paragraphs. The essay portion is a broad question with no right or wrong answer but is designed to test one’s ability to communicate and obey the rules of grammar.

All totaled, taking the SAT takes about four and a half hours. Scoring is done on a scale of 600-2400, with 2400 being a perfect score. According to College Board, the average score on the current SAT is just a little bit over 1500.

Preparing for the SAT

It is important to begin preparing for the SAT as early as possible. Fortunately, there are many great resources and tools to help you begin to get ready for the SAT, the bulk of them free.

The PSAT/NMSQT: The PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is co-sponsored by the College Board, the creators of the SAT, and gives an example of the kinds of questions that will be on the SAT and lets students see their weaknesses before taking the full test. The test is most commonly taken by sophomores and juniors in college as part of the scholarship qualification process but is being given to students as early as the 7th and 8th grade. The test is typically only given once per year in October and students may have to register with their school to take it.

Official SAT Preparation: College Board provides an extensive test preparation area with sample questions, a full practice test, a “Question of the Day” section and books for sale to help students get ready for the test.

Yahoo! Education: Yahoo! has partnered with Peterson’s to create a very extensive test preparation section with articles on improving scores in the different areas as well as sample questions and even a full sample test. This resource is completely free.

Princeton Review: The Princeton Review offers a wide variety of online courses and books on taking the SAT including practice tests and even live tutoring. You can sit in on a free class or sign up and take one of their full courses, which often include up to 30 hours of instruction.

SAT Prep Classes: Many high schools and community colleges offer SAT prep courses either as part of their regular curriculum or as an after-hours program. These courses are often the best way to get help with the SAT and get help tailored to your needs.

In short, while the SAT can be daunting and challenging to take, there is no reason to feel that you have to face it alone. There are countless resources out there to help you get the best score that you possibly can.

Retaking the SAT

It is important to remember, when taking the SAT, that you can always retake the test as you need to. However, it is also important to note that every time you take the test it goes onto your transcript. Taking the test too many times can look very bad and different schools handle multiple scores in different ways.

That beings said, the majority of students do improve their test scores by taking the test a second time so it may make sense to take it at least twice, especially if you address problems and weaknesses discovered from the first one.

Also, it is important to know that your scores will show the percentage of students that did better/worse than you during a particular testing cycle, meaning your ranking can fluctuate with each test.

Bottom Line

In the end, though the SAT is a very difficult and important test, there is no reason to worry about it too much or stress over it excessively. With preparation, almost any student can do well on the SAT.

It is always important to remember that the goal of the SAT is not to get a perfect score, but to get a score good enough for the school you want and/or the scholarships you need. However, the SAT is almost never the sole factor that is considered. GPA, recommendations and extracurricular activities play critical roles in deciding your post-graduation future. As such, even a weak SAT score can be mitigated against by these other considerations.

That being said, the SAT is one of the easiest and fastest ways to improve one’s prospects, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It simply is not the life-or-death test many make it out to be.