SAT: All About the SAT


So you are thinking about taking, have decided to take, or are simply curious about the SAT. All the information you need to understand the SAT and what it entails can be found here. Feel free to jump around the sections, or go through the parts in order.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is a three hour and 50 minute standardized college admissions test used in the United States and recognized in other countries. For any high-school student who wishes to attend a college in the United States for an undergraduate program, they must sit either the SAT or the ACT.

Every year, more and more students are taking the SAT. In 2018, more than 2.1 million students took the SAT.

What Does the Test Include?

The SAT consists of three main sections. These are: Reading (25%), Writing and Language (25%) and Mathematics (50%). There is also an optional essay section.


The Reading section consists of one section with 52 questions. Candidates are given 65 minutes to complete this section. Candidates will need to complete sentences (typically 5 to 8 questions) and answer questions based on a number of reading passages (44 to 47 questions).

The sentence completion part will test the vocabulary knowledge of the student, by selection the appropriate vocabulary words to complete the sentences.

The reading passages will test your ability to read through information quickly and answer questions based on the excerpts. You can expect the reading passages to cover social sciences, physical sciences, humanities and personal narratives. The lengths of the passages will vary, and the number of questions per passage will increase with the length of that passage.

Writing and Language

In this section, you will need to answer 35 questions in 44 minutes based on 4 different passages. Whilst the reading section tests your ability to understand the passage and answer questions about the passages, the writing section tests your ability to identify errors, improve sentences, and improve paragraphs. To score highly on this section, you need to spend time revising English grammar rules and punctuation as well as the logical structure of ideas. For starters, you can take a look at our Grammar Yammer series, which covers some of the fundamentals required for the SAT Writing and Language section.


The mathematics section in the exam has the largest weighting. You will answer 58 questions and be given 80 minutes to do so. The mathematics part is split into two smaller sections: a calculator section, and a non-calculator section:

The non-calculator section, will have 20 questions and last for 25 minutes.

The calculator section, will have 38 questions and last for 55 minutes.

Although the topics in these questions are completely mixed, the SAT maths part focuses on three brackets of maths: Algebra (linear equations and functions), problem solving and data analysis (statistics) and advanced math (non-linear functions, radicals and exponents). Among these three sections, the SAT will only have a couple of geometry questions; so if you find geometry exceptionally difficult, then do not worry!

Optional Essay Section

This section is completely option. However, although a college might now specify its requirement, most competitive colleges do expect you to take it.

The essay is scored out of 4,4,4 (for Reading, Analysis and Writing respectively) by two examiners. The scores are then added together for a score out of 8,8,8. The scores for the three areas assessed are not added together.

Take a look at out post on the SAT Essay v.s. the ACT Essay to learn more.

How is the SAT Scored?

The scoring system for the SAT is a little bit confusing, so take your time to understand how it is calculated.

Each of the three sections (Reading, Writing and Mathematics) is given a test score from 10 to 40, where 10 is the worst and 40 is the best score possible. Once this is complete, the Reading and Writing sections are combined and rescaled to give a score between 200 and 800. The mathematics score is directly converted to a score between 200 and 800. Your overall score (called the composite score) is then calculated to yield a score between 400 and 1600.

What is a Good Score in the SAT?

It is hard for us to tell you what is a good score; it is entirely subjective and depends on your own ability, aims, and ambitions. Nevertheless, the SAT has been designed to produce a median score of 500 for each section. This means the average candidate will score 1000 out of a possible 1600 points each time.

Scoring in the 1100s will leave you in a strong position to apply for state schools in the United States. For more prestigious schools such as USC and Boston University, you will require a composite score in the 1400s to be competitive. The elite universities (Harvard, MIT, etc.) have much higher expectations of their applicants. You should be aiming to score in the mid-1500s for these top-tier universities. You can find out what score you need to get into your dream school using our College Search page.

How do I Register?

To register for the SAT, visit the College Board Website, create an account, and pay online. The current fee for the SAT is $47.50 ($64.50 with the optional essay). If you live outside of the USA, there will be an additional fee, depending where you live.


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