SAT – Overview
What is the SAT?
The SAT is a standardized college admissions test used in the U.S. The test is designed to assess a student’s readiness for college. It is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors. There are three sections on the test, along with an optional essay. The sections are Evidence-Based Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The test is typically taken on a Saturday morning and lasts for approximately 3 hours (plus an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay section). Scores range from 400 to 1600, with separate scores reported for each section.
In what order are the sections given on the SAT test?
1. Reading Section – This is the first section of the test. It assesses a student’s ability to understand and analyze written passages.
2. Writing and Language Section – This is the second section given. It assesses a student’s ability to identify and correct errors in written passages.
3. Math (no calculator) – This is the third section of the test. It consists of 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions that assess a student’s ability to solve math problems without the use of a calculator.
4. Math (with calculator) – This is the fourth section of the SAT. It consists of 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in questions that assess a student’s ability to solve math problems while using a calculator.
5. Essay (optional) – This section of the SAT is given last. If a student chooses to take it, they are given 50 minutes to write an essay that analyzes a provided passage.
How many questions are in each section of the SAT? How much time do students get to complete each section of the SAT?
|Section||Number of Questions||Time (in minutes)|
|Writing and Language||44||35|
|Math (no calculator)||20*||25|
|Math (with calculator)||38**||55|
*5 questions are ‘grid-in’
**8 questions are ‘grid-in’
SAT – Reading Section
How is the Reading section organized?
In the Reading section, the student reads 5 passages – 4 are stand-alone passages and there is 1 set of related paired-passages, with 500 – 750 words per passage or passage-set.
- 52 multiple-choice questions total with 4 answer choices for each question
- 65-minutes total
- Passages or passage-sets each have 10 – 11 questions
- Passage Types
- US. and World Literature – a literary passage from a work of fiction
- History/Social Studies – 2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired set – may come from a U.S. founding document or a speech that focuses on topics such as freedom, justice, or human rights; may be a passage from a work of economics, psychology, or sociology
- Science – 2 passages or 1 passage and 1 paired set – may come from Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics
What skills are assessed in the Reading section of SAT?
- How the author uses evidence to support a claim – Examples include:
- Identify the part of a passage that supports a point the author is making.
- Find evidence in the passage that supports the answer to a previous question.
- Find a relationship between an informational graphic and the passage it is paired with.
- Understand vocabulary words in context – Examples include:
- Identify the meaning of a word in context.
- Use context clues in the passage to figure out the meaning of a word or phrase.
- How did the author’s choice of words shape the meaning, style, or tone?
- Analysis in History/Social Studies/Science – Examples include:
- Examine hypotheses, interpret data, or consider implications.
- Your answer will be based on content stated or implied in the text, not by prior knowledge.
SAT – Writing and Language Section
How is the Writing and Language section organized?
In the Writing and Language section, the student reads 400 – 450-word passages and finds and fixes mistakes and weaknesses.
- 44 multiple-choice questions with 4 answer choices
- 35-minutes total
- 4 passages (11 question each)
- At least 1 narrative passage, plus other passages that are persuasive, informative and/or explanatory
- Passages may include graphics with data that will be fundamental to answering the questions asked.
What skills are assessed in the Writing and Language section of SAT?
- Expression of Ideas – 24 questions; Examples include:
- Development questions about the main ideas, supporting details, quantitative information in graphics
- Organization questions about logical sequence and placement of information and ideas; effective use of introductions, conclusions, transitions
- Effective use of language such as improving precision of language, word usage, style, tone, sentence combination and flow of the text
- Often, students are asked to choose which of 3 alternatives to an underlined portion of the text best expresses the idea (or they may choose the current version as the best option).
- Standard English Conventions – 20 questions; Examples include questions covering:
- Sentence structure, conventions of usage, punctuation
- Often, students are asked to improve the passage to conform to conventional standards of English grammar, punctuation, usage, mechanics, and style.
SAT – Math Section
How is the Math section of the SAT organized?
SAT Math sections are given 3rd and 4th on the SAT. In the first 25-minute section covering 20 questions, you cannot use a calculator. In the next 55-minute section covering 38 questions, you may use your calculator. Both sections begin with multiple-choice questions with 4 answer options. Each section also has student-generated response questions, called “grid-in” questions.
• Time allotted – 25 minutes
• Total questions – 20
• Multiple-choice questions – 15
• Grid-in questions – 5
Calculator Allowed (for acceptable calculators CLICK HERE)
• Time allotted – 55 minutes
• Total questions – 38
• Multiple-choice questions – 30
• Grid-in questions – 8
What is on the Math section of the SAT?
The Math Section of the SAT has 4 categories of questions:
- Heart of Algebra – 19 questions; Examples include:
- Create, solve, or interpret linear expression/equation/inequality in 1 variable OR systems of linear inequalities/equations in 2 variables.
- Build a linear function that models a linear relationship between 2 quantities.
- Algebraically solve linear equations in 1 variable OR systems of 2 linear equations in 2 variables.
- Interpret the variables and constants in expressions for linear functions.
- Understand connections between algebraic and graphical representations.
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis – 17 questions; Examples include:
- Use ratios, rates, proportional relationships, and scale drawings to solve single- and multistep problems.
- Solve single and multistep problems involving percentages, measurement quantities, units, and unit conversions.
- Use scatterplot, linear, quadratic, or exponential models to describe variable relationships.
- Use the relationship between 2 variables to investigate key features of the graph.
- Compare linear growth with exponential growth.
- Interpreting, analyzing, and making inferences based on data from charts, tables, graphs.
- Evaluate reports to make inferences, justify conclusions, and determine appropriateness of data collection methods.
- Use 2-way tables to summarize categorical data and relative frequencies and calculate conditional probability.
- Use statistics to investigate measures of center of data, analyzing shape, center and spread.
- Passport to Advanced Math – 16 questions; Examples include:
- Create, analyze, and fluently solve quadratic and higher-order equations.
- Add, subtract, multiply and divide polynomials to solve problems.
- Create equivalent forms of algebraic expression by using structure and fluency with operations.
- Analyze, solve, and graph quadratic or other nonlinear equations.
- Interpret functions and their graphs.
- Interpret functions and evaluate functions and composite functions.
- Show mastery of rational, irrational, and complex numbers.
- Demonstrate mastery of exponents in powers of 10 and scientific notation.
- Create equivalent expressions involving rational exponents and radicals.
- Additional Topics – 6 questions; Examples include:
- Demonstrate mastery of geometric concepts within one question in context.
- Compute perimeter and area of polygons and circumference and area of circles.
- Show knowledge of right triangles and apply trigonometric rations to solve for missing values.
- Manipulate complex numbers.
- Use trigonometric functions of radian measure.
SAT – Optional Final Essay Section
How is the Essay section organized?
- There will be a 650 – 750-word passage for you to read and analyze in arts, sciences, government, politics, or culture.
- The passage will involve a reasoned argument or point of view stated by the author that is backed by evidence.
- Often, the author states their points and builds to a conclusion in subtle ways. The student writer of the essay will need to use inference skills and make connections to analyze the argument.
- You’ll have 50 minutes to write the essay on a double-sided, lined page. Do not feel that you need to fill up all the pages. Focus on writing a quality essay.
- 1st prompt (before the passage) As you read the passage, consider how the author uses:
- Evidence such as facts or examples to support their claims,
- Reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence,
- Stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
- After you read the passage, a 2nd prompt instructs you to:
- Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade their audience that [whatever they claim]. In your essay, analyze how the author uses one or more features listed in the 1st prompt (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of their argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
- Your essay should not explain whether you agree with the author’s claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade their audience.
- Even though this part of the test is optional, it is recommended that you do it as it will open up more school options for you.
- Do not state what the passage is about and share your personal opinion. Focus only on the author’s argument itself and how they support it.
- Explain how the author builds their argument to persuade the reader.
- State the main point or claim the author is making.
- Analyze how the author makes that point by using examples of the evidence they use drawn from the passage itself.
- To effectively explain how the author builds their argument, focus on the 3 ideas listed in the 1st prompt of the instructions (evidence, reasoning, style, or persuasive elements.
How is the essay scored?
- Each essay is evaluated by 2 graders.
- Each grader assigns a score of 1 – 4 in three categories: reading, analysis, and writing.
- The 2 grader’s scores are added together to give a score of 2 – 8 on each of the three categories.
- Reading score – how well did you understand the passage? Do you use the evidence effectively to demonstrate your understanding?
- Analysis score – How well did you explain how the author built their argument to persuade the reader using evidence, reasoning, and other persuasive details? Does your essay pull relevant details from the passage to support your claims?
- Writing score – What is the quality of your writing abilities? How effective was your use of language to support your points? Is there a clear thesis? Do you vary your sentences? Does the essay follow a logical path of ideas? Is your language use clear and concise? Are the paragraphs well crafted? Does the argument flow?
How is the SAT test scored?
After taking the test, your answer sheet is scanned for a raw score (the number of questions answered correctly). Students receive 1 point for every question answered correctly so there is no penalty for guessing or skipping a question. The raw score is converted to a scaled score between 200 – 800 for each of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math sections of the test. Then the scores are added together. The overall SAT test is scored on a scale of 400 – 1600. The optional essay is scored and reported separately.
What is a good score on the SAT test?
A good score on the SAT test will vary depending on the scores the colleges or universities you are applying to are looking for. In general, a score of 1200 or above (out of 1600) will put you in the top 75th percentile of test takers, which means you did better than 75% of the other test takers.
Here are some statistics that will give you a sense of the score you may want to aim for.
Score Needed to be in the top 10% of all SAT test takers:
SAT EBRW – 670 – 800
SAT Math – 690 – 800
Score Needed to be in the top 25% of all SAT test takers:
SAT EBRW – 610 – 660
SAT Math – 600 – 680
Score Needed to be in the top 50% of all SAT test takers:
SAT EBRW – 540 – 600
SAT Math – 530 – 590
How are the SAT and ACT Tests different from each other?
- SAT has a stronger focus on vocabulary than ACT.
- ACT has a Science section and SAT does not. For SAT, while there is no Science section, there is science content in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections of the test which measures your ability to interpret charts, graphics, and data on scientific topics.
- The ACT has more questions per section and less time per section than the SAT. Pacing and time management will be important for the ACT test.
- The two tests emphasize different math skills. ACT emphasizes algebra and problem solving. The ACT Math section includes more straightforward problems and covers a broader range of math topics, including coordinate geometry, matrices, logarithms, and graphs of trigonometric functions. SAT emphasizes geometry and data analysis. The SAT Math section includes more complex, multi-step problems that require a higher level of critical thinking and analytical skills than the ACT. SAT also includes a section without a calculator, which assesses a student’s ability to perform calculations by hand.
- In general, questions on the SAT require more reasoning and analysis, while the ACT is straightforward, assessing basic achievement skills and fewer reasoning abilities.
- Depending on what schools you are applying to, some schools prefer one test over the other.
How do you choose between taking the SAT or the ACT?
The SAT and ACT have content differences such that, depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you are likely to do better on one test versus the other. For example, the SAT has a stronger vocabulary focus while the ACT has a science section. The types of math problems emphasized by each test are different. The SAT is longer overall but gives you more time for each question than the ACT. So, students with time-management issues may do better on the SAT. Most important, questions on the SAT require reasoning and analysis, while the ACT is straightforward, assessing basic achievement skills and fewer reasoning abilities.
If you are interested in determining which test you are most likely to score highest on, Testing Mom can give you a 1-hour Mindprint Assessment of your cognitive affinities. This will predict and project your scoring range on both tests and offer advice on which test may be best for you. It also guides you on which areas of the test you have the best chance of improving upon and where to focus your attention during preparation. The advantage of taking the Mindprint Assessment is that you won’t waste time or money preparing for a test you don’t end up taking or one that you are less likely to excel on. One of our experts will meet with you after you take the Mindprint Assessment to explain your score and what it means in terms of whether the SAT or ACT is the better test for you, given your cognitive strengths and weaknesses. To learn more about this tool, CLICK HERE and scroll down to the video called SAT vs. ACT with Mindprint Data.
Does TestingMom.com offer tutoring for the SAT test?
Yes, we do! Call us at 877-609-6203 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or to get started.
Can you practice for the SAT on TestingMom.com?
Yes! Join TestingMom.com today and as part of your membership, you will have access to an in-depth library of interactive practice questions, detailed lessons, and printable worksheets for every section and topic on the SAT test. Questions and learning resources are available for each skill listed below that is assessed on the SAT:
- Command of Evidence
- Textual Evidence
- Understanding Relationships
- Analyzing Quantitative Information
- Analyzing Arguments
- Analyzing Purpose
- Words in Context
- Interpreting Words and Phrases in Context
- Analyzing Word Choice
- Analysis of Information
- Determining Central Ideas and Themes
- Analyzing Multiple Texts
- Analyzing Text Structure
- Reading Closely
- SAT Reading – Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- SAT Reading – Test-Taking Strategies Video
SAT Writing and Language
- Expression and Analysis of Ideas
- Development of Ideas
- Organizational Structure
- Effective Language Use
- Command of Evidence
- Relevance of Supporting Information and Data
- Standards of English Conventions
- Sentence Structure
- Conventions of Usage
- Conventions of Punctuation
- Words in Context
- Revising Choices of Words and Phrases
- 3 Essay Writing Tests
- SAT Writing and Language: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- SAT Writing and Language: Test-Taking Strategies Video
- Heart of Algebra
- Linear Expressions and Equations – One Variable
- Linear Inequalities – One Variable
- Build Linear Functions
- Systems of Linear Inequalities – Two Variables
- Systems of Linear Equations – Two Variables
- Algebraically Solve Linear Equations and Inequalities
- Algebraically Solve Systems of Linear Equations
- Interpret Linear Expressions
- Algebraic and Graphical Representations
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Ratios, Rates, Proportional Relationships, and Scale Drawing
- Measurement Quantities, Units, and Unit Conversions
- Scatter Plots – Linear, Quadratic, and Exponential Models
- Key Features of Graphs
- Linear and Exponential Growth
- Two-Way Tables
- Inferences from Data
- Shape, Center, and Spread of Data
- Evaluate Reports
- Passport to Advanced Math
- Create Quadratic or Exponential Functions
- Forms of Expressions and Equations
- Rational Exponents
- Equivalent Algebraic Expressions
- Solve Quadratic Equations
- Operations with Polynomial Expressions
- Solve Radical and Rational Equations
- Solve Systems of Linear and Quadratic Equations
- Rewrite Rational Expressions
- Interpret Nonlinear Expressions
- Zeroes and Factors of Polynomials
- Nonlinear Relationships
- Function Notation
- Rewrite Expressions and Equations
- Additional Topics in Math
- Trigonometric Ratios and Pythagorean Theorem
- Complex Numbers
- Radians – Angles, Arc Length, Trigonometric Functions
- Circle Theorems
- Congruence and Similarity Theorems
- Similarity, Right Triangles, and Trigonometric Ratios
- Circles in the Coordinate Plane
- SAT Math: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- SAT Math: Test-Taking Strategies Video