SAT Format

The SAT exam consists of three sections:

  1. writing
  2. reading
  3. mathematics

Each section receives a score between 200 and 800. The final score is the sum of the three section scores. However, traditionally, the score has been the sum of only the reading and math sections (as the writing section is relatively new). Each of the three main sections is divided into three sub-sections. There is also an experimental sub-section mixed in (it doesn’t count but helps the College Board to build future tests). Due to the experimental section, either the writing, reading, or math sections will actually have four sub-sections. Which sub-section is experimental is unknown to the tester, however.

The test consists of 3 hours and 45 minutes of timed testing. Combined with instruction and break time, the entire test takes about 5 hours to complete.

Writing section

The SAT has a writing section, however the ACT does not. This writing section includes multiple-choice questions and a short essay. There will be three writing sections, four if the experimental section is in writing.

The essay is always given as the first section of the exam. Here the test taker must write a short essay on a given prompt. The prompts are purposely broad in nature (thus to avoid an advantage to anyone with specialized knowledge or advantages/disadvantages due to cultural differences). The student can include material from his or her “reading, studies, experiences, or observations.” The College Board is more interested in the writing itself than what is written. Two readers read and grade the essay on a scale between 1 and 6, then the total score is used.

The multiple choice questions focus on grammar, syntax (sentence structure), usage, punctuation and the like. Questions may be on topics such as: sentence improvement, identifying errors in a sentence, and paragraph improvement. Sentence improvement questions have students select a better option that could substitute for an underlined section(s) of a sentence. In error identification questions, the tester must identify the word or phrase that holds the error, or note that there is no error present. Paragraph improvement questions have testers assess an awkward or weak essay then answer a series of questions that would improve the paragraph. The Writing section consists of a:

  • 25 minute section, 1 essay (always given as the 1st section of the day’s exam)
  • 25 minute section, 35 multiple choice questions
  • 10 minute section, 14 multiple choice questions (always given as the last section of the day’s exam)

Critical Reading section

The SAT calls this the “Critical Reading” section. It contains three sections (or four if the experimental section is included here). Two main question types are (1) sentence completion questions and (2) questions from reading passages. Sentence completion questions generally test the student’s vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure. They are essentially fill-in-the-blank questions, with a small word bank to choose from. Most of the Critical Reading section comes in the form of questions that are drawn from short and longer reading passages. Some questions may ask students to compare two related passages. The Critical Reading section includes, in random order:

  • 25 minute section, 24 multiple choice questions
  • 25 minute section, 24 multiple choice questions
  • 20 minute section, 19 multiple choice questions

Mathematics section

The Mathematics section contains three or four sections if the experimental section is included here. The Mathematics section includes, in random order:

  • 25 minute section, 20 multiple choice questions
  • 25 minute section, 8 multiple choice, 10 grid-in questions
  • 20 minute section, 16 multiple choice questions

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