If you’re looking for some basic information on the different SAT test sections, we’ve got you covered. Directly below is a table summarizing the sections and format of the SAT. Further down, you’ll find more details about each section.
|Section||Sub-Section||Total Testing Time||Number of Questions||Content/Skills Covered|
|Evidence-Based Reading & Writing||Reading||65 Minutes||52 multiple choice||Reading, Vocabulary in Context, Understanding Charts and Graphs|
|Writing and Language||35 Minutes||44 multiple choice||Grammar, Usage, Vocabulary in Context, Understanding Charts and Graphs|
|Math||Calculator: Not Permitted||25 Minutes||15 multiple choice,|
|Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Additional Topics in Math|
|Calculator: Permitted||55 Minutes||30 multiple choice, 8 grid-in||Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, Additional Topics in Math|
|Essay (Optional)||50 Minutes||1 essay response||Ability to explain how an author uses his or her argument to persuade audience|
|Total Time (Without Essay):||3 Hours||Total Time (With Essay):||3 Hours, 50 minutes|
There are two SAT Math sections: a 25-minute no-calculator section that includes 15 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-in questions, and a 55-minute section that includes 30 multiple choice questions and 8 grid-in questions and allows the use of a calculator.
Most of the questions on the math section fall into one of three categories:
- Heart of Algebra: Linear equations, systems, and graphs; about 1/3 of the math questions fall into this category; learn more from the College Board here
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis: Numeracy and quantitative skills; just under 1/3 of the math questions fall into this category; learn more from the College Board here
- Passport to Advanced Math: Manipulation of complex equations like quadratic equations or equations involving polynomials; just under 1/3 of the math questions fall into this category; learn more from the College Board here
A few questions fall into a fourth category, Additional Topics in Math, which includes geometry and simple trigonometry. Only about 10% of the questions on the test fall into this category. Learn more from the College Board here.
The SAT reading section includes 52 questions to be answered in 65 minutes. The questions are based on four passages and one set of paired passages, and at least one passage will be accompanied by a graphic like a chart, table, or graph.
The passages include one literature passage, one passage from either a U.S. founding document or from the “Great Global Conversation,” one passage from social science, and two passages from science. Each passage or set of paired passages will have 500 to 750 words.
Reading questions are entirely multiple choice. Some questions are fairly straightforward comprehension-based questions while others require you to draw conclusions or make inferences. Every passage will feature questions that evaluate your command of evidence and your ability to discern meaning based on context:
- Command of Evidence: These questions ask you to identify evidence from the passage to support your answer to a previous question, identify how authors use evidence to support their claims, or identify the relationship between a graphic and the passage it is paired with.
- Words in Context: These questions require that you examine a word or phrase to determine its meaning based on how it is used in the passage or to determine how a particular word choice influences the meanings, style, and tone of the passage.
The SAT writing section includes 44 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. The questions are based on four passages, and at least one passage will be accompanied by a graphic like a chart, table, or graph.
The passages include one careers passage that discusses issues in major professional fields; one social studies passage from history, anthropology, psychology, political science, or sociology; one humanities passage that discusses literature or the arts; and one science passage. Each passage will have 400 to 450 words.
Writing questions are entirely multiple choice. Some will offer alternatives to an underlined portion of the passage, asking you to select the option that fixes an error or better suits the tone or style of the passage; others will ask whether certain additions, deletions, or revisions should be made; still others will ask about purpose, development, or organization.
In all, just under half of the questions on the SAT writing section will focus on Standard English Conventions, including usage, sentence structure, and punctuation. The remaining questions focus on the author’s expression of ideas, including the development of ideas, the organization of individual paragraphs or of the overall passage, and effective use of language.
The SAT essay is optional, but we strongly advise students to take it anyway. Many colleges, particularly selective colleges, still recommend the essay, and any such recommendation ought to be treated as a requirement. Moreover, if a student can score well on the essay, the additional positive data point can only elevate a college application.
The SAT essay section allows 50 minutes to read a passage and write an essay analyzing the persuasive elements in the passage. The 700 to 750 word passage is a persuasive piece on the arts or sciences or on civic, cultural, or political life.
The essay is graded in three areas:
- Reading: Did you fully understand the passage?
- Analysis: How thoroughly did you examine the author’s use of persuasive elements, and did you include evidence from the passage to support your analysis?
- Writing: How well is your essay written?
Getting SAT Help
Preparing for each section of the SAT can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not sure which sections you’re weakest in. An SAT practice test can help you figure out where to prioritize your efforts. C2 offers a free test and has personalize options to help with your SAT prep.