As you prepare for the SAT this year, it’s helpful to understand how the test works to improve your score (and scholarships). NOTE: In 2024, the Digital SAT will be very different.

What are the SAT Sections?

The SAT has four sections: three different subjects and 154 questions total. The entire test takes 134 minutes, not including the ten-minute break between the Reading & Writing and  Math sections. 

Reading & Writing 

The Reading & Writing section includes short (25-150 words) reading passages (or passage pairs) on subjects from literature, history/social studies, the humanities, and science.  Each multiple-choice question that follows a passage covers one of four domains:

  • Information and Ideas. Measures comprehension, analysis, and reasoning skills and knowledge and the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, and integrate information and ideas from texts and informational graphics (tables, bar graphs, and line graphs).
  • Craft and Structure. Measures the comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, synthesis, and reasoning skills and knowledge needed to understand and use high-utility words and phrases in context, evaluate texts rhetorically, and make connections between topically related texts.
  • Expression of Ideas. Measures the ability to revise texts to improve the effectiveness of written expression and to meet specific rhetorical goals.
  • Standard English Conventions. Measures the ability to edit text to conform to core conventions of Standard English sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

Math Test

The Math section requires a deep understanding of algebra, but the test provides basic geometry formulas. The Bluebook app includes a built-in calculator, or you can still choose to bring your own from an approved list. Most (approximately 75%) questions are multiple-choice; but for some questions, you’ll need to provide a specific answer. These student-produced response (SPR) format questions may have multiple correct responses, but you’ll only provide one answer. Questions measure your ability to apply essential math concepts and about 30% of questions ask you to evaluate an in-context (worded) scenario and determine how to apply your math skills to find the answer. Each question covers one of four content areas:

  • Algebra. Algebra measures the ability to analyze, fluently solve, and create linear equations and inequalities as well as analyze and fluently solve equations and systems of equations using multiple techniques. (13-15 questions)
  • Advanced Math. The Advanced Math area measures skills and knowledge central for progression to more advanced math courses, including demonstrating an understanding of absolute value, quadratic, exponential, polynomial, rational, radical, and other nonlinear equations. (13-15 questions)
  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis. Problem-Solving and Data Analysis measures the ability to apply quantitative reasoning about ratios, rates, and proportional relationships; understand and apply unit rate; and analyze and interpret one- and two-variable data. (5-7 questions)
  • Geometry and Trigonometry. Problems to solve include area and volume formulas; lines, angles, and triangles; right triangles and trigonometry, and circles. (5-7 questions)

Remember, while there’s no Science section on the SAT; you’ll need to interpret charts, tables, and graphs in all of the test sections. 

Take Practice Tests

The best way to get familiar with the sections and questions on the SAT is to take multiple practice tests. Once you’re armed with the best strategies (by using OnToCollege SAT Prep), take multiple practice tests…and then take the actual test multiple times. 

Think of your favorite sport or activity. Odds are, you weren’t amazing at it the first time you tried it. But over time, with practice, it became more natural. We learn by practice, and the same principles are true of the SAT. Know the format of the test, the types of questions you will encounter, and the best strategies to score your best.