SAT Test Overview

Your college dream might seem unique to you, but hundreds of thousands of students apply to universities each year, chasing the same dream. To make your dream a reality you need to stand out from the masses and one way to ensure that is with excellent SAT scores. Your SAT score might just be the difference between you and another candidate vying for the same spot. Here is everything you need to know about this, potentially, career-defining test.

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What is the SAT?

SAT is an acronym for Scholastic Assessment Test. This is a test focusing on 3 main areas of schooling i.e., mathematics, reading, and writing. This test is taken by students in grades 11 and 12 in the USA and these marks will accompany a college application. This test is created by The College Board and is administered by ETS.

Why is SAT important?

A good SAT score will be your first line of defense during a rigorous college application process. Colleges and Universities receive tens of thousands of applications annually and you are but a number in this process. A high SAT score will undoubtedly boost your application and increase your chances of being accepted to your dream school.

What is the format of the SAT?

The test evaluates 3 areas:

  • Evidence-based Reading and Writing
  • Mathematics
  • Optional Essay

The first 2 sections are tested in 3 hours but there is an option essay writing portion which is allocated 50-minutes. The language portions, reading, and writing are each given 65 and 35 minutes respectively. The math portion is divided into two parts; one where you are allowed a calculator and one part where you are not allowed a calculator. The calculator section is 55 minutes and the non-calculator section is 25, totaling 80 minutes for the whole math portion.

Section 1:


In the first part, you will need to show a mastery of reading critically and understanding texts that you have not seen before. You need to read and search for context clues to understand the language that is often used at the university level. You will receive 4 single passages and 1 pair where you will need to analyze the relationship between the pair of readings. During the reading section, you will be tasked with passages from different academic fields.

  1. US and World Literature

You will receive 1 passage from either a novel or a short story. This can be from literature dating as far back as the 18th century.

  1. History/Social Sciences

Here you will see 2 types of passages. The area of social science is a broad field and passages can relate to many sub-sections such as economics, anthropology, law, phycology, and more. For the historical passage, you will read from Founding Documents or Great Global Conversations. This will deal with issues of freedom and human rights and other moral and ethical issues.

  1. Science

Again, you will be met with 2 passages. This time they stem from various sub-sections across science, biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics. You will read about recent discoveries or innovations in these fields.

Each passage is between 500 and 750 words long and here is a total of 52 questions.


Directly after the reading, you move on to subsection 2, the Language and Writing test. Here you will read 4 passages, each followed by 11 questions.

  1. Careers passage
  2. Social Studies passage
  3. Humanities passage
  4. Science passage

There are all factual passages but they are littered with errors. You will need to identify the errors and improve the writing. This section requires a firm knowledge of the language, grammar, and vocabulary meanings.

Section 2: Math

The math test has 4 areas of focus

  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Additional Topics in Math

The first part allows the use of a calculator. This part has 38 questions. Thereafter you are not allowed a calculator for the remaining 20 questions. You will start each section with multiple-choice questions and end each section with “student-produced responses” also known as “grid-ins”.

  • Heart of Algebra (19 questions)

Solving equations is the main focus of this section. You will also need to show an understanding of the material by also creating equations and interpreting various formulas.

  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis (17 questions)

The name of this section says it all. You will use percentages, ratios, and units to show your command of the given data. The data can be qualitative or quantitative and be shows graphically.

  • Passport to Advanced Math (16 questions)

Here you will be faced with math problems that you might not have seen at a school-level before. You will need to understand their functions and be able to re-write some expressions. This can include non-linear equations, quadratic functions, and more.

  • Additional Topics in Math (6 questions)

The shortest math portion focuses on principles like the Pythagorean Theorem and trigonometry. Equations could involve volume and area, right triangles, and circles. You should also be able to do multiplication, subtraction, division, and addition with complex numbers.

Section 3: Essay (optional)

The essay section has become optional in recent years. You will pay extra to be able to complete this section. You are allowed 50 minutes to read the given passage and thereafter analyze the argument therein. The passage will be 650-750 words long. The writing prompt will always stay the same but the passage will differ from test to test. The author will make a broad statement and try to convince the audience of their viewpoint. You need to analyze their use of evidence and reasoning. You also need to examine their use of emotive language and persuasive elements to bring their point across.

How is the SAT scored?

The maximum score for Sections 1 and 2 is 800 each. Thus, your total SAT score can be a maximum of 1600. Since the test only has 154 questions, your final score is a scaled score. Your raw-score is calculated by simply adding all your correct answers. Thereafter your score is scaled to equate the minor differences in difficulty that can occur on different test days. Each test has a formula that ensures any discrepancies are ruled out.

The essay section is score completely separately. Your essay is evaluated by 2 separate people and their scores are then combined. You are assessed on 3 different skills; reading, analysis, and writing. Each examiner awards 1-4 points per skill. Your maximum score can thus be 8,8,8.

How do I prepare for the SAT?

It is suggested that you commence with SAT preparation at least 6 months ahead of your test date. You should take prep tests to evaluate a base score and see which areas you need to improve on the most.

You must understand the instructions of each section ahead of time. The time constraints of the test are rigorous and you should not be wasting time on test day figuring out what the task at hand requires.

The majority of the test will tap into the knowledge you have recently acquired at school but you will also be tested on your ability to analyze and comprehend unfamiliar work. This means you will need to broaden your horizons over and above the subject matter at school. You need to assess higher-level academic reading and broaden your vocabulary.


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