What to Expect on the SATThe SAT prizes depth over breadth. Rather than know a little bit about a lot of math topics, you’ll need to fully comprehend the inner-workings of algebra. Instead of quick, efficient reading, you’ll be rewarded for thoroughly understanding rhetorical devices at play.
The test opens with a 65-minute Reading section — it includes 5 passages from various genres. Next up? A 35-minute Writing & Language section that tasks you with editing 4 passages for grammar and rhetoric errors. You’ll need to switch gears for sections three and four: a 25-minute No-Calculator Math section followed by a 55-minute Calculator section. Last but not least? An optional 55-minute essay.
The Format of the SAT
The SAT requires stamina, not speed. There’s a lot of content to get through, but the test-makers didn’t design this exam as a race against the clock. Keep timing in the back of your mind, focus on what’s in front of you, guess when you’re not sure — there’s no penalty! — and you’ll make it through.
Reading Test: 65 Minutes | 52 Multiple-Choice Questions | 5 Passages
- Social Science or Politics*
- Natural Science
- Social Science or Politics
- Natural Science
★ One of the above will be a comparison passage set.
*The other genres are pretty self-explanatory, but Politics is unique. Sometimes dating back to the 1700’s, this passage focuses on American politics and will be tougher than the other four. Tip from our experts! Save it for last so that it doesn’t slow your mo.
Writing & Language Test: 35 Minutes | 44 Multiple-Choice Questions | 4 Passages Roughly 50% of these questions test you on grammar. The other 50% will require you to flex your rhetorical skills.
No-Calculator Math Section: 25 Minutes | 15 Multiple Choice Questions | 5 Grid-Ins Wanna know the secret to math sans calculator? Write everything down! That’s right. Every step. We promise it will make all the difference.
Calculator Math Test | 55 Minutes | 30 Multiple Choice Questions | 8 Grid-Ins This section is full of wordy problems that might look overwhelming at first, but push through! Most of them are really just testing you on the equation of a line.
Optional Essay | 50 Minutes | 1 Question The SAT Essay includes a 750-word passage paired with an analysis writing prompt. The test-makers aren’t concerned with your stance on an issue. Rather, they want to see whether you can spot rhetorical strategies in action and analyze the author’s persuasive moves.
Total Time: 3 Hours / 3 Hours, 50 Minutes with the Essay
How is the SAT Scored?The SAT is scored out of 1600. Your total score breaks down into 2 Section Scores —Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math — each out of 800. Your grade report will also include additional subscores. When you get a score report, it will also show your Reading, Writing, and Math Test Scores (out of 40), along with Cross-Test Scores and Subscores which reflect your performance on certain types of questions. Finally, you’ll receive 3 Essay Scores, each ranging from 2 to 8. The essay scores will not affect the rest of your score. Curious about what your SAT score means in terms of college admissions? Learn more! Thinking about the ACT? Learn what the ACT is really about.
When Can I take the SAT?The SAT is offered 7 times a year — in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. It’s smart to sit for the SAT a few times to account for first-time jitters and take advantage of super scoring, so plan ahead! At the outset of junior year, consider sports seasons, end-of-semester exams, whatever factors will affect you most, and register for 2 or 3 SAT dates accordingly. You’ll thank yourself senior year when you’re free to focus on college applications. For more information on how to register for the SAT, check out our SAT test dates page.
SAT vs. ACTAt face value, the SAT and ACT don’t seem all that different. Both tests have 4 sections, followed by an optional essay, and both last 3 hours without the essay. The SAT allots 50 minutes for the essay in contrast to the ACT’s 40 minutes, and therein lies a key difference. The ACT requires you to move faster on every section. On the Reading test, for example, the ACT only gives you 53 seconds per question, whereas the SAT gives you 75 seconds. Why would anyone take the ACT? It has some key content differences that for many outweigh the time crunch. In place of the SAT’s No-Calculator Math section, the ACT has a Science section. Also, the ACT Math section encompasses a wide variety of topics, including geometry, in contrast to the algebra-focused SAT — a con for some students, a pro for others.
There isn’t a right test and a wrong test, just a test that’s best for you.Interested in learning more about the ins and outs of each? Hop over to our comprehensive SAT vs. ACT breakdown.