About the SAT - Everything You Need to Know about the SAT

So you are considering taking the SAT? Before deciding that the SAT test is the right one for you, take some time to learn more about the test. In this post, we will guide you through everything you need to know about the SAT, including what the SAT is, how long the test is, test sections, the content featured on the test, and SAT scoring.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is a standardized test that help colleges and universities assess potential incoming students. Students applying to college must submit SAT or ACTT scores as part of their application. Some students will take both the SAT and ACT, but we recommend that students pick just the SAT or the ACT and focus on that test.

Before deciding which test to take, it is important to learn about the SAT and learn about the ACT. You can also check out our post on SAT vs. ACT to help you select which test is best for you.

What is on the SAT?

The SAT is a 3-hour test consisting of four sections: Reading, Writing & Language, and two Math sections (one with no calculator and one with calculator). There is also an optional Essay that makes the SAT 3-hours and 50-minutes long. The sections of the SAT are always administered in the same order (Reading, Writing & Language, Math (no calculator), Math (calculator), and finally the Writing Test) and have the same number of questions.

The Reading Test

On the Reading Test, students will answer 52 questions in 65 minutes. The Reading Test includes five passages taken from literature, social studies, history, and the natural sciences.

Each passage will be followed by 10-11 questions. Common questions will ask students about why the author includes details in the passage, the meaning of words-in-context, the author's goals, the main message, the function of sentences or paragraphs, comparing two passages and even pinpointing information in a graph. To successfully answer the questions, you will need to go back to the passage and find the evidence in the passage that matches the correct answer choice.

Time management is critical for success on the Reading Test.

The time constraint for the Reading Test can be difficult for some students. Maintaining your focus and your pacing for 65 minutes of reading comprehension is difficult. Managing your well time is essential here, as is Picking the Right Strategy for You on the SAT Reading Test.

The Writing & Language Test

On the SAT Writing & Language Test, students will have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. The Writing & Language Test features 4 short passages that each have 11 questions.

The Writing & Language Test feels like editing a paper. The majority of the questions will focus on a short underlined portion of the passage (from a few words to a sentence) and will test students on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and rhetorical skills (word choice, conciseness, transitions). Each question has 4 answer choices: the first is always NO CHANGE and then there are three other alternatives.

It is important to know your grammar rules for the Writing & Language Test!

Other paragraph modification questions will occur on the Writing & Language test as well. These questions will test students' knowledge of the style and content in the passage. The most common types will test student about adding or deleting information, correctly placing sentences within a paragraph, or evaluating the passage as a whole.

With only 44 questions in 35 minutes, this is one of the passages that most students can finish pretty comfortably, so timing is not usually a big issue here.

The Math Test (no calculator)

On the first part of the SAT Math Test, students will have 25 minutes to answer 20 questions without the use of a calculator. Geometry and algebra and heavily featured on the SAT, but students will have to be familiar with many other topics, including trigonometry, quadratics, coordinate geometry, and data analysis to name a few, to achieve high scores in this section. Many topics date back to 8th grade or freshman year of high school, so it is important for students to review many of the older math topics and formulas to get ready for test day.

Don't throw out your calculator...you'll get it back for the next section.

On the shorter, no-calculator section, students will work through 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions (where students must input their own answer). In general, the questions increase in difficulty as you go through the multiple choice questions, so all of the easier questions are clustered at the front while the hardest are all at the back. In general, the first 5-7 problems are the easiest, while problems 8-12 begin to get more difficult. The final 3 multiple choice problems are usually the most difficult and cover the most advanced topics. The 5 grid-in questions at the end of the no-calculator section reset and again increase in difficulty from easy to difficult.

The Math Test (with calculator)

On the second part of the Math test, students will have 55 minutes to answer 38 questions with a calculator. The same Math topics in the no-calculator section are still featured calculator section, but now students will have the calculator to help them solve problems with more complicated numbers.

Hooray...now you get your calculator back!

In this section, students will complete 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in questions. In general, the question increase in difficulty as you progress through the multiple-choice questions. The easier questions usually appear in the first 8-12 questions, then the difficult increases in questions in the middle questions (questions 13 - 25), and the final 5 questions are the most difficult and cover the most advanced topics. The 8 grid-in questions at the end of the section reset and again increase in difficulty from easy to difficult.

Based on your math skills, it is important to Pick the Right Strategy For You on the SAT Math Test.

The Essay

The optional Essay at the end of the SAT gives students 50 minutes to write an essay in response to the prompt. Students will be given a passage and asked to write an essay in which they analyze how the author builds an argument in the passage. While the Essay is optional, we recommend that students always take the Essay, as some colleges do require it on applications.

Managing time well on the Essay is very important. In the 50 minutes, students will need to read the given passage, outline your response, write the essay, and proofread it. Taking time to outline your plan and sticking to it is key to writing a successful essay.

SAT Scoring

The SAT is scored on a scale of 200-1600, with 1600 being a perfect score. Students receive two scores from 200-800: one in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (based on the Reading Test and Writing and Language Test) and one in Mathematics. The total score out of 1600 is simply the sum of the two scores. Student's scores are based on how many questions they answer correctly in each section. There is no penalty for guessing on the SAT, so it is important that students never leave any answer blank.

The Writing portion (Essay) is scored separately on a scale of 2-8 points for Reading, Analysis, and Writing. This score is an extra score and does not have any effect on a student's overall SAT score.

You can learn more about SAT scoring in our more details most about SAT Scoring.

What's Next?

If you are still not sure whether the SAT or ACT will be a better fit for you, you can learn more About the ACT and about The Difference Between the SAT and ACT.

If you think the SAT is the test for you, take a free practice SAT to see how you score.

You will also need to put together an SAT Prep Plan. Learn about the 4 Ways Students Prepare for the SAT and When You Should Take the SAT.

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