Introduction to the SAT

Written by tutor Jeff S.

The SAT test is a standardized test designed to measure students’ skill in math, reading, and writing. Many colleges and universities in the United States require applicants to take the SAT and submit their scores as part of their application process.

The SAT test itself is composed of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 points. The only exception is the essay section in the Writing test. It is scored on a scale from 2 to 12 points. Each section is divided into three subtest sessions that are 25 – minutes or less.

The test is offered seven times a year in the United States (six times internationally). Most students (about half) take the test twice – once during their junior year of high school and a second time their senior year – according to As of 2014, the SAT test itself costs $51 USD with additional fees charged for services such as additional score reporting and phone registration. (Waivers are available for the test and some additional services.)

There is no penalty for taking the SAT test multiple times. However, students may need to take the test more than once for several reasons: if their scores are not high enough to qualify them for their college of choice and/ or major, if their scores are not high enough to qualify for a particular scholarship or grant, or if a particular set of scores is needed to qualify for athletics under NCAA requirements.

SAT Structure

Subject Time Content
Reading 70 Minutes One 20 minute section
Two 25 minute sections
Math 70 Minutes One 20 minute section
Two 25 minute sections
Writing 60 Minutes One 10 minute section
Two 25 minute sections

The first section of the SAT is always a 25 minute essay test. The last section of the test is always a 10 minute multiple choice writing test. The rest of the test is comprised of six 25 minute multiple choice tests and two 20 minute sections. Below is a description of each of the test section, including the number and type of questions in each.

Critical Reading Test

The Critical Reading test is made up of two 25 minute test sections and one 20 minute section. There are 19 sentence completion questions and 48 passage-based reading questions. In the latter case, test takers must read passages of various lengths and answer questions related to the preceding passage.

Writing Test

The SAT Writing test is made up of one 25 minute essay section, a 25 minute multiple choice section, and an additional 10 minute multiple choice section. The essay section begins with a writing prompt that test takers must read and respond to using original thoughts and ideas. Essays are scored based on their structure, having a well developed thesis statement, and the observations and experiences included. The multiple choice questions are related to grammar, word choice, usage, and organization.

Math Test

The Math test is made up of two 25 minute sections and one 20 minute section. One section has 20 multiple choice questions, the second is “mixed” and has 10 “grid-in” questions and 8 multiple choice questions, and the final section has 16 multiple choice questions. Questions cover algebra, geometry and measurement, statistics and probability, and numbers and operations. Test takers must compute the answers to each.

SAT Study Tips

Below are some general study tips to help test takers give themselves the best possible chance of a successful first SAT test attempt.

  1. Prepare for the SAT test early. It is not unreasonable for high school freshmen and sophomores to start studying for the SAT test.
  2. Plan to take the PSAT (Pre-SAT) test. Studies show that PSAT scores are one of the single best predictors of future SAT scores. Taking the PSAT gives test takers a type of practice test instead of considering their first SAT attempt as a “trial.”
  3. Make an SAT study plan. Use a calendar to plan approximate time frames for studying each subject. This will help you study one subject at a time and avoid procrastination.
  4. Take frequent practice tests. Use the practice tests found online and in SAT study guides to help track your progress. Treat each practice test as if it is the SAT itself.
  5. Address your weakest areas first. Begin your SAT preparation by studying the subject you scored the lowest on when you took your first practice test. This allows you to devote more study time to your worst subject if you need it.
Scroll to Top