The College Board’s SAT is comprised of two sections:
1) Mathematics and
2) Reading & Writing.
The optional essay section was eliminated in March 2021.
The multiple-choice section of the exam format is three-hours long. There are scheduled rest-breaks between each section.
Reading & Writing
The complete SAT exam format is described here in the College Board’s Summary of testing requirements and in their detailed 210 Page PDF. I’ll boil it down for you!
The “Reading and Writing” section –also known as the “Language” section –contains 52 questions leaving you with 75 seconds to answer each reading question. In addition to interpretation of written passages, the SAT reading section includes interpretation of graphs or charts.
The passages include a variety of real-world situations that test-takers are expected to analyze and address the actual content. Students should expect that there will be at least one “founding document”—certainly something that would be encountered in classes covering a range of classical and contemporary historical documents or speeches (Abraham Lincoln, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Dr. King). The science section is designed to capture “culturally relevant” content. A recent title “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.”
Many of my students comment (complain) that there isn’t enough time and students contemplate whether it might be more effective to read less closely and aim to “speed read”. The short answer- is absolutely not!
This is one area that the SAT differs from the ACT—with 75 seconds per reading question on the SAT and roughly 52 seconds per question on the ACT, speed reading in either format is dangerous. Even with more time per question, most experts agree that SAT passages are more challenging than those of the ACT.
Analysis of the “founding documents” indicates that SAT questions are typically less contemporary often including historical documents much earlier in time.
In contrast to the Reading section, the Writing section includes non-fiction content- including narratives of actual events or information about a specific topic. Passages are provided and students are tested about grammar, vocabulary and language errors. The student “edits” the passages to convey the level of understanding of language.
The best preparation for this section of the exam comes from regular reading.
The SAT’s Writing section aims to measure student’s abilities in:
1) English conventions,
2) analysis in history and science,
3) expression of ideas,
4) words in context, and
5) command of evidence.
These are the fundamental concepts essential to preparing written pieces that convey a clear point effectively.
The Math section of the SAT is also designed to reflect test-takers ability to process “real world” problems. There are three main sections. The first section, “Algebra”, includes questions on linear equations and inequalities. The second section on “problem solving and data analysis” measures a student’s understanding of proportional relationships and ratio. The final piece of the math section presents the concepts that must be mastered for a student to “advance to higher level courses.”
This is why it’s essential that your SAT/ACT tutor coordinate your testing schedule with your college counselor. Clearly, taking the SAT too early in high school can create a situation where the math curriculum simply hasn’t yet covered the concepts a student will have encountered and mastered. For this reason, I urge students to wait until Algebra II has been completed and mastered.
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