SIE Strategies

SAT Test Structure and General Information

What's on the SAT?

The SAT is 3 hours long for most students. In some states, a 50-minute essay is also required as part of the SAT School Day administration. If you are taking such an administration, check to see whether the essay will be part of it. The SAT consists of the following:

1 multiple-choice Reading Test (52 questions, 65 minutes)

1 multiple-choice Writing and Language Test (44 questions, 35 minutes)

1 Math Test, consisting of a No Calculator section (20 questions, 25 minutes) and a Calculator section (38 questions, 55 minutes)

Both sections of the Math Test contain some student-produced-response questions called Grid-Ins, but all other questions on the exam are multiple choice. All multiple-choice sections on the SAT have four possible answer choices.

Reading Test

Your scores on the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test (see below) together make up your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score on the SAT. The Reading Test is 65 minutes long and consists of 52 questions, all of which are passage based and multiple choice. Passages may be paired with informational graphics, such as charts or graphs, and there will be a series of questions based on a pair of passages. The selected passages will be from previously published works in the areas of world literature, history/social studies, and science. Questions based on science passages may ask you to analyze data or hypotheses, while questions on literature passages will focus more on literary concepts like theme, mood, and characterization. The main goal of the Reading Test is to measure your ability to understand words in context as well as find and analyze evidence.

Writing and Language Test

The Writing and Language Test is 35 minutes long and consists of 44 questions, which are also multiple choice and based on passages. However, instead of asking you to analyze a passage, questions will require you to proofread and edit the passage. This means you will have to correct grammar and word choice, as well as make larger changes to the organization or content of the passage.

Math Test

You will have a total of 80 minutes to complete the Math Test, which, as mentioned earlier, is divided into two sections: No Calculator (Section 3; 25 minutes, 20 questions) and Calculator (Section 4; 55 minutes, 38 questions). Most questions are multiple choice, but there are also a handful of what College Board calls Student-produced Response questions, which are also known as Grid-Ins. For Grid-In questions, instead of choosing from four answer choices, you'll have to work through a question and then enter your answer on your answer sheet by bubbling in the appropriate numbers. We'll discuss this in more detail in Chapter 18. Exactly 13 of the 58 math questions will be Grid-Ins.

The Math Test covers four main content areas, which the College Board has named the following: (1) Heart of Algebra, (2) Problem Solving and Data Analysis, (3) Passport to Advanced Math, and (4) Additional Topics in Math. This last section includes complex numbers and topics in geometry and trigonometry. Part IV of this book covers each of these content areas in depth.

The Optional Essay Is No Longer an Option

As of June 2021, the SAT will no longer be offering its optional essay, and if you've already signed up, you should have gotten an option from the College Board to cancel the essay portion without any fee. If you are still taking one of the last administrations of the optional essay or are required to take an essay for a school day administration and want to practice the timing of this 50-minute add-on, we have included some sample prompts online in your free Student Tools.

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