SAT Guide

To gain admission to the best nursing programs, most prospective nursing students need to take the SAT test. Administered by the College Board, the SAT covers the skills necessary to succeed in a bachelor's program, including math and evidence-based reading and writing. The College Board also offers specialized SAT subject tests. The SAT primarily uses a multiple-choice format, along with some numerical grid-in questions on the math section and the written essay.

Administered by the College Board, the SAT covers the skills necessary to succeed in a bachelor's program, including math and evidence-based reading and writing.

SAT scores constitute an important part of nursing students' admission package, along with their transcripts, letters of recommendation, and experience. The College Board relies on college readiness benchmarks to design the exam. These benchmarks appear on the student's score report to enable colleges and universities to easily measure an applicant's abilities. Colleges and scholarships use SAT scores to admit students and award financial aid packages.

Preparing for the SAT requires a study plan, target scores, and SAT strategies and tips. This SAT guide for nursing students explains the format of the exam, tips for each section, and the process for submitting SAT scores to nursing programs.

SAT Subject Tests

The College Board also offers specialized SAT Subject Tests. Students can take 20 different subject tests focused on English, history, mathematics, science, and languages. Language tests include a regular version and a listening version.

SAT Subject Tests take one hour each to complete. They use a multiple choice format, and test takers receive a score between 200-800 points. Students pay a $26 registration fee to take subject tests, plus an additional $22 for each specific test. Test takers may complete up to three subject tests on the same day. However, students cannot take the regular SAT and subject tests on the same day.

Some colleges recommend that students take SAT subject tests. Students with high subject test scores stand out during the admission process.

What Does the SAT Look Like?

To earn the SAT scores needed for nursing programs, students need to understand the structure of the exam. The SAT test includes three mandatory sections and one optional section. The reading section, which includes 52 questions, takes 65 minutes. The writing and language section covers 44 questions in 35 minutes. The math section gives students 80 minutes to complete 58 questions. The math section includes both a no-calculator and a calculator portion. Test takers may choose to write the SAT essay, which takes 50 minutes. The total exam takes three hours, or just under four hours for the SAT with essay option.

The sections appear in the same order: reading, writing and language, no-calculator math section, and calculator math section. Some students then take the essay. The exam includes breaks after the reading section, the math with no calculator section, and before the essay.

Most questions use the multiple-choice format, though some math questions require numerical answers. Test takers may return to questions if needed, and the test does not penalize guessing. Because of that, students should answer every question.

The SAT Going Online

In recent years, the College Board has moved toward offering the SAT online. Many standardized tests now offer online versions. The ACT, for example, provides an online and paper version, and students take tests such as the GRE and GMAT only online. Today, in addition to the paper version, the College Board offers the SAT in an online format, and in the 2016/2017 school year, around 5,000 students took the SAT online.

While only a small percentage of SAT test takers use the online version, that percentage will almost certainly grow in the future. Currently, school districts may opt into the online SAT or continue using the paper version. Because students do not choose between the two formats, they should prepare for either possibility.

How Does the Online SAT Work?

Currently, the College Board offers the SAT in an online or paper format. The two versions use identical structures, formats, and breaks, but the two formats do harbor differences. The online SAT uses school-owned computers to ensure the security of the exam. Unlike the paper SAT exam, where students can use the test booklet as scratch paper, the online exam provides electronic scratch paper. Students taking the SAT on a computer can also highlight passages, use a bookmarking feature to return to questions, and pace themselves with a countdown clock.

As students complete sections, College Board saves their answers on multiple servers to protect the results. If network connection drops, students can still start the exam exactly where they left off. After the exam, the College Board electronically scores the answers.

Students cannot choose between the online and paper versions of the SAT. Instead, schools choose between the two formats. Students with a documented disability may receive an accommodation to take the test either by paper or online. Both tests cost the same amount. The SAT without the essay costs $47.50, and the SAT with the essay costs $64.50.

The Evidence-Based Reading Section

Skill Areas

The SAT reading section measures test takers' ability to read passages, interpret information, and understand words in context. The multiple choice questions test command of evidence, data interpretation, and reading skills. The questions may present one or two passages for students to read and interpret.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The reading section presents over 3,000 words for students to read and 52 questions that they must answer -- all within the 65 minute time limit. Students need to plan ahead to manage their time, including extra time to review their answers. Time management may require skimming some of the passages, but test takers should always read the prompts and questions closely. Reading the questions before reading the passage can help students zero in on the most important information.

Helpful Tips

Active Reading: While students may need to skim the passages, practicing active reading skills such as underlining words and phrases helps students identify key information.

Learn the Passage Types: The SAT reading section almost always includes passages from literature, the social sciences, and the sciences. Identifying the passage types helps students predict what the questions will ask.

Don't Use Outside Knowledge: The questions never require outside knowledge, so students should avoid drawing on information that does not appear on the exam.

Read Prompts and Answers: Always plan to read the prompts and all of the answers to avoid simple errors like answering the wrong question.

The Evidence-Based Writing and Language Section

Skill Areas

On the SAT writing and language section, students identify mistakes and weaknesses in a passage and provide an answer that corrects the error. The section uses multiple-choice questions based on reading passages to assess writing and language skills. Students act as editors, using proofreading skills to correct errors.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

While the writing section may appear more straightforward than the other sections, students can easily fall into problems by skimming, failing to identify grammatical errors, or misreading the question. Practice carefully reading all parts of the passage and study grammar rules before attempting the test. Keep in mind that the writing section always gives the option of choosing "no change" if no errors appear in the passage. Students should avoid relying on the "no change" option, checking each passage at the end should they find themselves with additional time.

Helpful Tips

Avoid Skimming: Some writing questions ask about the structure of the passage or the appropriate concluding sentence for the passage. Skimming hurts students on these questions.

Time Management: The writing section counts as the shortest part the exam, at only 35 minutes. Students receive less than a minute per question, so practice time-management skills.

Use Grammar Rule Flashcards: Studying grammar rules often proves difficult. By using tools like grammar rule flashcards, students can build their grammar skills during their practice sessions.

Cross Out Incorrect Answers: Test takers can almost always rule out one or two clearly incorrect answers. By eliminating incorrect answers, students increase their chances of finding the right answer.

The Math Section

Skill Areas

The SAT math section assesses problem solving, applying algebraic formulas, and strategic thinking. In order to answer questions, students must identify the best mathematical procedure, use efficient solutions, and solve a variety of question types. The section covers data analysis, complex equations, and algebra.

Question Types

Students answer several question types within the math section, including algebra, problem solving and data analysis, advanced math questions, and grid-in questions. Algebra includes linear equations and linear inequalities, and problem solving and data analysis questions cover rates, ratios, and percentages. Questions also cover data analysis from graphs and tables. The advanced math questions include quadratic equations. Unlike the other question types, students do not answer grid-in questions using multiple choice; instead, students enter a numerical answer on a grid.

Can You Use a Calculator on the SAT?

The SAT math section includes a no-calculator and a calculator portion. The no-calculator section includes 20 questions, while the calculator section includes 38 questions. However, even in the calculator section, some questions may prove easier to answer without using a calculator. Students must bring their own calculator for the exam.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

A simple error during calculations can make it impossible to find the correct answer. Small errors matter on the math section, but fortunately, students can avoid this common pitfall with a few simple steps: write out the steps on scratch paper so that you can go back and identify errors and always double check calculator answers to avoid errors. Pacing helps students increase their scores, too. Because the test doesn't penalize guessing, students should always answer every question.

Helpful Tips

Avoid Calculator Errors: Entering the wrong numbers into the calculator means that you get the wrong answer. Always double check your calculations to avoid errors.

Learn Formulas: The SAT math section does not give test takers all of the formulas required to answer every question, so plan to memorize important formulas.

Pacing: The section includes 58 questions, and test takers can only take an hour and 20 minutes to answer them. Practice pacing and time management skills to earn a high score.

Show Your Work: The SAT doesn't provide partial credit for showing your work, but writing out the steps involved in solving a problem helps students identify any mistakes in their calculations.

The Essay Section

Should You Complete the Essay Section?

The SAT essay remains optional for students hoping to take the test without the essay. However, some schools require or recommend taking the essay, so students need to research the guidelines for their prospective schools before registering. Because the College Board does not offer the essay separately from the exam, students who later realize that they need an essay score must retake the entire SAT. The essay also requires additional studying, but a high score can strengthen a student's application.

Students can look up which schools require or recommend the SAT essay to make their decision.

Skill Areas

The SAT essay measures a student's skills at reading, analysis, and writing. The test presents a passage, and students must explain how the author crafts an argument and persuades their audience. Students provide supporting examples from the passage. The format replicates a typical college writing assignment.

The Essay Prompt

Although the passage changes with each test, the essay prompt remains the same. The essay prompt asks students to consider how the author uses facts or examples to support their claims, how they develop their ideas, and whether the arguments persuade readers. The prompt directs students to write an essay analyzing the author's argument, its logic and persuasiveness, and its style -- including word choice and emotional appeal.

The College Board provides sample essay prompts so students know what to expect on the test.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Some students start the SAT essay by misunderstanding the prompt. The essay section measures analytical ability, not the student's opinions about the passage. Rather than writing an essay agreeing or disagreeing with the passage, students need to emphasize the construction of the argument. The essay also needs to contain examples and evidence from the passage to support the student's argument. Students can avoid many common pitfalls by planning before writing. Create an outline with a clear, focused argument and a list of evidence before beginning the essay.

Helpful Tips

Use an Outline: Unstructured essays earn low scores on the SAT essay section, so students should begin by creating an outline. Use the five-paragraph format to structure the essay.

Craft Your Argument: The essay should contain a clear, focused thesis statement, and students should avoid using multiple arguments in the essay.

Write at Least Two Pages: The SAT essay section provides four blank pages for the essay, and students should use at least two of them -- writing a minimum of five paragraphs. Shorter essays will not provide enough evidence of your writing skills.

Proofread: Grammatical mistakes lower your SAT essay score, so leave time at the end of the 50 minutes to proofread your essay and correct any errors.

How is the SAT Scored?

After taking the SAT, the College Board will scan and analyze your answer sheet. At this point, each test receives a raw score determined by the number of questions you answer correctly. The College Board then converts the raw score to a scaled score between 200-800 points. The process adjusts for the difficulty of different versions of the test so that a score of 400 carries the same weight regardless of the testing day or specific questions.

Students then receive a test score between 200-800 on the reading and writing section and the math section. The combined score ranges from 400-1600.

The SAT essay uses a different scoring system. Two readers assess the essay's strengths in reading, analysis, and writing, awarding one to four points for each. The final essay score, which ranges from two to eight for each category, represents a combination of the readers' scores. Test takers do not receive percentile scores for the essay.

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

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

The SAT score report includes several measures of the test taker's ability. The test gives a 30-40 point range representing how the student might score if they retook the exam. Average scores give the mean scores for other U.S. test takers by grade. The College Board also provides college readiness benchmarks for each section, showing the minimum score for college readiness. Finally, the score report includes a percentile rank, which compares the test taker's score to other students. Earning a score in the 75th percentile indicates that the student scored higher than 75% of other test takers.

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

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

Nursing schools admit students with a range of SAT scores, depending on the selectiveness of the program and the applicant's grades. However, prospective nursing students can research the SAT scores needed for nursing programs by looking up the SAT range for any college or nursing program. Aim for an SAT score above the middle range for a given program. For example, if the middle range reaches 1200-1300, students should aim for a 1300 or higher.

How Do You Register for the SAT?

Students can register for the SAT online or by mail by creating a College Board account. During the registration process, students select up to four schools to receive their scores for free. Students may also sign up for Student Search Service, which provides information about the student to colleges and scholarships. At the end of the registration process, students receive an admission ticket. The College Board website provides additional information on how to register for the SAT.

When Should You Take the SAT?

Most students take the SAT in spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. It takes close to a month after the test date to send official SAT scores to colleges.

How Much Does the SAT Cost?

Test takers pay $47.50 for the SAT or $64.50 for the SAT with the essay. Schools also distribute fee waivers to eligible students through the school counselor.

How Many Times Can You Take the SAT?

The College Board does not limit the number of times you can take the SAT. However, some schools require students to report all SAT scores, so students should not take the test more than five or six times.

How Should You Prepare for the SAT?

At-Home Study Methods

Students can study for the SAT using a variety of at-home methods.

Printed Study Guides

Printed study guides help students succeed on the SAT. These guides contain practice questions, strategies, and tips for the exam.


The SAT requires a solid vocabulary, and flashcards can help build vocabulary skills. Keep track of which cards you don't know and continue drilling until you can quickly identify every word.

Private Tutoring

Some students benefit from private tutoring. Tutors help test takers identify weaknesses and learn strategies to succeed on the SAT.

Studying Apps

SAT studying apps let students incorporate studying into each day, including SAT vocab flashcards and math skills.

Online Practice Tests

When preparing for the SAT, students benefit from both online and paper-practice tests, some of which contain questions used on past SAT exams.

SAT Prep Courses

In addition to at-home methods, students can also sign up for SAT prep courses. These courses may include in-person or online options. Most courses provide live instruction, a bank of SAT questions, personalized study strategies, and practice tests. Students can also sign up for self-paced prep courses. These courses, offered by companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review, typically cost close to $1,000 -- with less expensive options for self-paced courses.

Studying Tips for the SAT

Make a Study Calendar: At least two months before the exam, create a study calendar. Take practice tests regularly to chart your progress and identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Learn SAT Strategy: In addition to building math, reading, and writing skills, test takers improve by studying SAT strategies, common question structures, and repeated question types.

Practice Time Management: Finishing early and running out of time can prove problematic. Take practice exams and time yourself on full SAT sections to improve time management skills.

Use Practice Tests: The College Board provides eight practice tests, and students should plan to take all of them.

Learn Strategic Guessing: The SAT does not penalize guessing, so you can increase your score by eliminating incorrect answers and trying your best guess.

Helpful Resources

Test takers benefit from many free resources when preparing for the SAT. These resources offer study tips, strategies, and practice exams to improve students' SAT scores.

College Board Practice Tests: Students can take eight practice tests offered through the College Board, including four former SAT exams, either in paper form or online. Khan Academy: Khan Academy provides practice tests, SAT tips and strategies, and advice on how to prepare for the SAT. The strategies also focus specifically on the math, writing, and reading skills necessary to earn a high score. Magoosh SAT Prep YouTube Channel: Magoosh offers videos that simplify specific SAT questions, vital concepts for the SAT, and common pitfalls. The YouTube channel also links with content from the Magoosh website. Supertutor TV SAT YouTube Channel: The Supertutor YouTube channel provides helpful tips and tricks to improve SAT scores.

What Should You Expect on Test Day?

The College Board provides clear guidelines on what to expect on test day. Students must check in with their admissions ticket and go to assigned seats. A test coordinator reads directions and announces the start and stop times for every section. The test includes one, 10-minute break and one, five-minute break during which students may eat, drink, or use the restroom. Test takers cannot use the restroom outside of the breaks. The SAT does not allow scratch paper, but students can write in the test booklet.

What Should You Bring with You?

Valid Photo ID

Don't forget to bring a valid, unexpired photo ID. Either government-issued or school IDs qualify; electronic or photocopy IDs will not suffice.

Admission Ticket

All test takers need to bring their admission ticket in order to enter the exam room. You can print out your admission ticket from your College Board account.

No. 2 Pencils

Test takers may bring two No. 2 pencils with erasers into the testing center. You can also write in the booklet during the exam.

Approved Calculator

Students can use approved calculators during one part of the math section. The test center does not provide backup calculators or batteries.


Test takers may bring in a watch without audible alarms. The watch can help students pace themselves during the exam.

Layers of Clothing

Testing rooms often prove too hot or too cold, so students should wear layers or plan to bring layers in their bag.

What Should You Leave at Home?

Math Tools

The College Board does not allow protractors, compasses, rulers, or other math tools aside from the approved calculator. Test takers will not need these devices on the exam.

Unapproved Electronics

Test takers cannot bring in recording devices, computers, smartphones, audio players, or similar electronic devices into the exam room.


Students may not use any books during the SAT test; non-native English speakers may not bring in any reference materials either.

Math Tools

The College Board does not allow protractors, compasses, rulers, or other math tools aside from the approved calculator. Test takers will not need these devices on the exam.

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-Associated Needs

Students with a documented disability can receive accommodations by applying to the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities office. Available accommodations may include extra time, longer breaks, or accommodations for the visually impaired. Students who want to apply for testing accommodations should do so at least seven weeks before their intended exam date. Approved test takers who submit documented proof of a disability or health-associated need will receive an SSD eligibility letter to apply for the exam with accommodations.

Submitting Your Scores

When Will You Get Your Scores?

Test takers receive access to their scores a few weeks after taking the exam. Students can access their scores online, by mail, or by phone. The SAT essay score may require additional time. Test takers can look up their scores by test date on the College Board website.

How Do You Submit Your Scores to Schools?

Test takers may choose up to four schools to receive SAT scores. Students may also submit official score reports to additional schools for a fee. Additionally, the College Board offers rush reporting and SAT fee waivers.

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

The College Board offers Score Choice, which lets students choose which scores to send to colleges. Test takers select which scores to submit using the test date, withholding any scores the student would rather not send. Students must select entire tests rather than picking individual math or verbal scores from specific tests. Some schools or scholarships require that applicants send all of their SAT scores, so students should check before using Score Choice.

How Long Will Your Scores Be Valid?

Your SAT score does not expire, but scores taken within the last five years typically predict the degree of a student's college success. Test takers may choose to request older score reports, but they will contain a message noting the age of the score.