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SAT content and format

An overview of the SAT
The SAT tests skills that you are learning in high school—skills you're likely to need in college and beyond.
Here's an overview of the content areas and question formats you can expect to see on the SAT:

Evidence-based reading and writing

Words in context

You will be tested on words that appear frequently in high-school-level and college-level texts.

Range of sources

You'll be asked to analyze, synthesize, and interpret data from a range of sources, including tables, charts, and graphs, as well as multi-paragraph passages in the following areas:
  • Literature and literary nonfiction
  • The humanities
  • Science
  • History and social studies
  • Work and career

Command of evidence

For every passage or pair of passages you’ll see during the Reading Test, at least one question will ask you to identify which part of the text best supports the answer to the previous question. In other instances, you’ll be asked to find the best answer to a question by pulling together information conveyed in words and graphics.
The Writing and Language Test also focuses on command of evidence. It will ask you to analyze a series of sentences or paragraphs and decide if they make sense. Other questions will ask you to interpret graphics and to edit a part of the accompanying passage so that it clearly and accurately communicates the information in the graphics.

The Math that matters most

The Math Test focuses in depth on three essential areas of math: Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math.
  • Questions from the Problem Solving and Data Analysis area will require you to use ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning to solve problems in science, social science, and career contexts.
  • Questions from the Heart of Algebra area focus on the mastery of linear equations and systems, which help students develop key powers of abstraction.
  • The Passport to Advanced Math questions focus on more complex equations and the manipulation they require.

Problems grounded in real-world contexts

Throughout the SAT—in the Math Test, the Reading Test, and the Writing and Language Test—you will be asked questions grounded in the real world, directly related to work performed in college and career.

Analysis in science and analysis in history/social studies

You will be asked to apply your knowledge in reading, writing, language, and math to answer questions in science and history/social studies contexts. Questions will require you to read and understand texts and to synthesize information presented through texts and graphics.

Founding documents and great global conversations

These reading passages focus on major founding political documents and the great global conversations they inspire.

Essay analyzing a source

The optional essay will no longer be part of weekend SATs.
However, the following states will be administering the SAT with Essay in the 2021-2022 academic year as part of their spring state-wide assessment system:
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
To find out more, check out our article The SAT Essay: Overview

Section Breakdown

Here are the main components of the SAT:
Reading Test – 65 minutes, 52 questions
Writing and Language Test – 35 minutes, 44 questions
Math Test – two sections:
1) No calculator – 25 minutes, 20 questions
2) Calculator permitted – 55 minutes, 38 questions
If you live in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, or Oklahoma, and you are taking the SAT on a school day, you may be required to write the essay (50 minutes).

Scoring

The SAT is scored on a 400 to 1600 scale. You will also receive subscore reporting for every test—math, reading, and writing and language—plus additional subscores to provide added insight into your test performance.
The optional essay doesn't contribute to this score.

No penalty for guessing

No points are deducted for wrong answers, so don't leave anything blank!
For details about what each section of the SAT contains, check out more articles and videos in Tips and Strategies

Attributions

This article was adapted from “Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT” from The College Board.

Want to join the conversation?

  • marcimus purple style avatar for user Taylor Berry
    For the reading test, it says that I have 65 minutes to answer all 52 questions, but for the writing and language test, I have 35 minutes to answer all 44 questions, as a person who struggles with that topic, how can I make sure that I can answer ALL 44 questions, right or wrong, in that amount of time?
    (143 votes)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Utkarsh Bhagat
    This question is for those who wrote the real sat exam:Are khan academys questions harder than the real sat?
    (74 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ash
    When is the best time to take the SAT? I'm planning on taking my test in my junior year (11th grade).
    (19 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Sarah
      Many students take the SAT (and the ACT!) in the spring of their junior year and again (if they feel that it's necessary) in the fall of their senior year. I'd recommend taking it for the first time once you've finished Algebra 2. Make sure to take the PSAT in October!

      Some people take the SAT and ACT as early as the fall of their sophomore year, often to have scores to put on summer program applications or to have a lot of time to improve their score. This isn't always truly necessary, though! Talk to your counselor to figure out the best time for you to take the SAT.
      (54 votes)
  • duskpin tree style avatar for user Herbert Okuthe
    Hey everybody.I did a full full test today and I scored 1070(500 in reading & writing,570 in math).It's the first full test that I have done and I haven't studied for Sat at all. I'D like to score 1500 and above ,how do I improve my skills in these areas?Kindly help!
    (27 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Pranu
      Go back to the questions you answered wrong and try to really understand why you got that question wrong. Also try to figure out why you thought the right answer was wrong. If you work on your strong and your weak areas equally, you will not make as much progress as you want to. Focus on getting your weak areas stronger, then I would take another practice test. The SAT test is like a boat and your weak areas are like holes in the boat. You need to plug in the holes to prevent the boat from sinking. And remember, the College Board only has a limited number of practice tests, so use them wisely!
      (17 votes)
  • starky seed style avatar for user Chiedza Vushe
    is there still an experimental section in the new SAT ?
    (14 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user jordanroth001
      Are you talking about the last section of the test that is randomly chosen for anyone? (It is a random section at the end of the second math portion and it is different for everyone whether it is reading, writing, or math). If this is what you are asking about, yes, they had that on the test when I took it last month. I had reading on mine, luckily that is the portion of the test that is easiest and that I score the highest on.
      (7 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Prachi Chaubey
    In the practice test there is a fifth option of 'guessing'. Is this option available in the real sat also?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Ashley Pierre
    What would you recommend as the #1 tip on scoring high on the SAT?
    (5 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Aileen
    Would you recommend doing the optional essay?
    (7 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Kabya Roy
    if i find an unknown word in the paragraph, how can I guess it precisely ?
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user kendra
      The best way to guess the meaning of a word is to look at the context of the word. Is the word a verb? noun? adjective? How is it used? Are the words "but" or "and" by it? These will help you guess what the meaning of the word is.
      (11 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user brinly.tekiele
    What kind of math will I need to be most familiar with?
    (5 votes)
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