About the SAT Exam
The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude /Assessment Test, created by the College Board) measures a student's ability to understand and process elements of both mathematical and verbal reasoning. SAT scores are calculated based on the sum of scaled section scores of Mathematics, Critical Reading and Writing. The SAT is the test used by colleges to help decide whether to admit students (along with GPA, transcript, recommendations, etc.). Not all schools require the SAT, but most do.
The SAT consists of ten sections:
Writing: 3 sections (25 minute multiple-choice, 10 minute multiple-choice & 25 minute essay response)
Mathematics: 3 sections (25 minute, 25 minute & 20 minute)
Critical Reading: 3 critical reading sections (25 minute, 25 minute & 20 minute)
"Experimental": 1 unscored Mathematics, Writing or Critical Reading section
The Writing section measures a student’s ability to recognize and conform to the conventions of standard written English. This section consists of one student-written essay (25 minutes), and two multiple-choice question sections. The multiple-choice sections contain three types of questions: identifying sentence errors, improving sentences, and improving paragraphs.
The time format of the multiple-choice sections is:
25 minutes: 11 Improving Sentence questions, 18 Identifying Sentence Error questions & 6 Improving Paragraphs questions
10 minutes: 14 Improving Sentence questions
The Mathematics section measures a student's ability to reason quantitatively, solve mathematical problems, and interpret data presented in graphical form. These sections focus on four areas of mathematics that are typically covered in the first three years of American high school education: number and operations; algebra and functions; geometry and measurement; and data analysis, statistics and probability. The algebra section was recently expanded to include basic college algebra. There are a total of 54 questions on this particular test. They are broken down into two question types: 44 multiple-choice and problem solving questions, and 10 student-produced response (or grid-in) questions (which require you to fill in a response).
The format of the three sections is:
25 minutes: 20 multiple-choice questions
25 minutes: 8 multiple-choice questions, followed by 10 grid-in questions
20 minutes: 16 multiple-choice questions
Critical Reading Section:
The Critical Reasoning section of the SAT exam measures a person's ability to understand and analyze written material. There are two types of questions in this particular section. The first type is reading comprehension, or “passage based reading” – this includes passages that range in subject matter from literary fiction to natural sciences. Passages also include content in areas of humanities and social sciences. Passages range in length between 100 to 850 words, where at least one passage on the exam will include two smaller passages, where the test taker must compare and contrast the two passages with each other. The second type of question is sentence completion – these questions test your vocabulary and your ability to understand complex sentences.
The format of the three sections is:
25 minutes: 8 Sentence Completion questions, followed by 16 Reading Comprehension questions
25 minutes: 5 Sentence Completion questions followed by 19 Reading Comprehension questions
20 minutes: 6 Sentence Completion questions followed by 13 Reading Comprehension questions
The experimental section of the SAT is an additional 25-minute section. It can be a Writing, Mathematics, or Critical Reading section. It does not count toward the examinee’s score. The inclusion of this section within the SAT ensures a more fair and balanced scoring method, and allows the College Board to compile data on previously unreleased questions.
Structure of the SAT Exam:
There is no consistent method as to how the sections are presented in any one SAT exam, except that the essay portion of the Writing section is the first of the 10 sections. Expect breaks roughly every hour – of five minutes in length. Note that the experimental section will never occur in the beginning or end of the SAT.
The composite score of the SAT exam is the sum of the three main section (Writing, Mathematics & Critical Reading) scaled scores (which are spread over 10 shorter sections on the actual exam). Each main section’s score ranges from 200 – 800. Thus, the composite score range is 600 – 2400. Each correctly answered multiple-choice question earns one point. Each omitted question earns zero points (does not count for or against your score). For incorrectly answered questions, there is a penalty of ¼ point for every incorrect answer on the SAT exam.
Most Commonly Asked Questions
When can I take the SAT? The SAT is given seven times per year. Test
dates, registration dates, and dates that scores will be available are listed on
What kind of calculator can I bring on exam day? The most popular
calculators used on the exam include the TI-83 and TI-84. If you do not have
a Texas Instruments calculator, ensure it is not a PDA, is not a calculator
built into a cellular phone, or is not a calculator with a QWERTY keyboard.
Be sure to show your calculator to your tutor to be certain it is permissable on
What is the average SAT score? The 2008 national average composite
score is 1511. The average section scores are: Writing – 494, Mathematics –
515, and Critical Reading – 502.
How long does the SAT exam take? The exam takes about three-and-a-
half hours to complete. With an 8:00 am start time, expect to be finished with
the test between 11:30 and 12:00 pm.
When I submit scores to colleges, can I send scores of specific sections only?
No, when scores are submitted to colleges or universities, the entire composite
score must be sent.
Get a good night sleep the before the day of the test. Being well rested helps you function at your full capacity.
Eat a good, solid breakfast. You will be at the test center for several hours and you will probably get hungry!
Be sure to bring an acceptable photo ID, and do not forget your SAT Admission Ticket!
Bring at least two No. 2 pencils and a good eraser – a pencil is required for the multiple-choice questions and the essay. Mechanical pencils and pens are not allowed.
Make sure you use a No. 2 pencil on the answer sheet. It is very important that you fill the entire circle darkly and completely. If you change your response, erase it as completely as possible. Incomplete marks or erasures may affect your score.
Bring some snacks. You will have one break in the midst of the multiple-choice sections, and another one before the Writing test. You can eat or drink any snacks you have brought with you during these breaks. A healthy snack will go a long way toward keeping you alert during the entire test.
Unless otherwise instructed, you need to arrive at your assigned test center by 7:45 am.
SAT vs ACT
Which exam is best for you? Learn about the two below!
Though in the past there have been significant differences between the SAT, developed by Educational Testing Services on behalf of the College Board, and the ACT, developed by American Testing Services, the two have slowly converged. Slight changes to the ACT (the addition of a paired passage to the Reading section, more time for the essay) and the most recent overhaul of the SAT (optional essay, passage based Writing & Language section, more charts and graphs) mean that the two are as alike as ever in terms of structure and content. However, a few notable differences remain: