The SAT Exam

The SAT is an exam administered by the College Board that evaluates students’ levels of knowledge of material covered in High School that they are expected to know before entering college.  Most colleges and universities in the United States use the SAT exam scores as references during the college admissions process. Some universities and colleges outside of the United States also use SAT scores to evaluate a student’s eligibility to their schools.  This exam is generally taken by students in high school between their 10th and 12th grade years.  Seniors should have already taken the SAT if they want to be prepared when it comes time to applying for colleges in their senior year, but they still can take it during their senior year if they want or need to.  Generally, we recommend that students are familiar with Geometry and Algebra II before taking the exam.  Once they are comfortable with that math, then they should be prepared to take the SAT.  Students that are in advanced math can begin taking the SAT much earlier than others.

The SAT consists of three mandatory sections:  Reading, Writing/Language, and Math; and an optional section which is Essay Writing.


The Reading Section

The Reading section of the SAT has 52 questions and a time limit of 65 minutes.  It examines the following:

  1. Reading comprehension: students must accurately analyze the content of a passage to validate their ability to comprehend information.
  2. The use of evidence: students must use reasonable critical thinking skills to recognize evidence in a passage that will best support the answer they gave to the previous question, which serves as the basis for their analytical conclusion.
  3. The analysis of the argument: students must demonstrate their ability to identify the author’s use of evidence in supporting their arguments.


The Writing and Language Section

The Writing and Language section of the SAT has 44 questions and a time limit of 35 minutes.  It can be broken down as follows:

  1. Reading Passages: The Writing/Language section of the SAT has reading passages that are written specifically for the exam to intentionally present errors that students need to identify and correct.  All passages are several paragraphs long to engage students in editing and revising complex, real-world articles, demonstrating their ability to understand overall content and make an analysis based on information given throughout multiple paragraphs.
  2. Distinctive Features: The Writing/Language section of the SAT purposely contains questions designed to test different aspects of a student’s writing abilities.  At times, the exam will test a student’s ability to express and expand on ideas, where the students are expected to improve on the topic development, organization, and rhetorical effectiveness of a passage.  This part of the exam includes passages on the topics of science, history, and social studies.
  3. English and Grammar: Some questions in this section test a student’s ability to understand the standards of English conventions.  Students will be asked to edit text so that words, phrases, sentences, and punctuation are used appropriately and consistently with the standards of written English as on the Reading Test.
  4. Vocabulary: Some Writing and Language questions evaluate a student’s ability to understand words in context.  They ask the students to improve passages by carefully selecting words with purpose that best fit in the context of the sentence.
  5. Command of Evidence: Certain questions are designed specifically to evaluate a student’s ability to revise a passage in order to improve the development of information and ideas in an attempt to express them more effectively.   
  6. Informational Graphics: This section of the SAT contains passages that include tables, charts, graphs, and other forms of graphics containing information that the student must be able to analyze. Students are evaluated on their ability to draw connections between the graphics and the passages relating to them.  They might be asked, for example, to analyze a table or chart and then correct the corresponding passage based on their analysis of the information given. 


The Math Section

The Math section of the SAT is made up of two different parts.

  1. Math section, no calculator: This section contains 20 question and the students are given 25 minutes to complete it.  During this part of the exam, students are not allowed to use any calculator or devices.
  2. Math section, calculator permitted: This section is made up of 38 questions and students have 55 minutes to work through the problems.  During this part of the exam, students are allowed to use an approved calculator, which includes all scientific calculators and most graphing calculators.  (For more information on approved calculators, visit The College Board website at, click on the SAT section and then the article titled, “View the Test Day Checklist”) 

This section evaluates a student’s reasoning skills pertaining to mathematics, which reflects the success of mathematical teachings in schools across the country.  The Math section covers all mathematical techniques with more focus given to problem solving strategies, recognizing and solving algebraic equations, and the ability to use the appropriate tools strategically.


The Optional Essay

The final section of the SAT is an optional essay and students are given a total of 50 minutes to work on their essay.  Students are given a prompt and asked to analyze the strategies used by the author during the passage in order to persuade the audience a certain way.  The essay shows how well a student understands a passage and can use it as a basis to write a well-thought-out discussion.  This section evaluates a student’s essay skills in three ways:  reading, analysis, and writing.

  1. Reading: Evaluates a student’s ability to read and understand a long passage, to recognize the central idea of the passage, and to identify important details and evidence used to support the central idea.
  2. Analysis: Assesses a student’s understanding of how an author builds an argument that is effective and supported throughout the article.  Students must be able to identify the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and other techniques to support their arguments and redirect those claims to support their own analysis.
  3. Writing: Finally, the essay demonstrates a student’s ability to successfully write an essay that is formatted in a focused, organized, and precise manner with an appropriate style and tone.  Students must also be able to demonstrate their ability follow the conventions of standard written English while creatively personalizing their work. 

Each essay that is submitted is graded by two individuals who will both submit a score for the essay.  The scoring is split up into the three distinct categories described above, each graded on a scale between 1 and 4.  Keep in mind, if you submit an essay during an SAT exam, your score will be included every time you send them to a college.  Score ChoiceTM is the program you can use to choose which SAT scores you want to submit to colleges, but they include every section of the SAT that was submitted.  If you scored really well on the exam, but did a poor job writing the essay, the poor essay score will show with the other scores from the exam.  If you feel that you aren’t a successful writer, consider skipping the essay section of the SAT as it will probably only drive your results down.  If you feel confident in your writing skills, however, by all means, include your essay in your submission and let it shine with the rest of your scores.  Before opting out of the essay, however, check in with the schools you are interested in applying to.  Some colleges require the essay submission for admission into the school while others do not.  Regardless, if you opt to write the essay, your essay score will always be included in the results.

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