What is the Experimental 5th Section on the SAT?

sat section 5

Since 2019, the SAT test has had not four, but five test sections. This fifth section, called “Section 5” by the SAT, is an experimental section used to test out questions for future SAT tests. 

College Board Eliminates SAT Essay, Subject Tests

Is the Extra Section New?

There has always been some sort of experimental section on the SAT test. The College Board includes this section to try out new test questions on students to gauge fairness, ease, or difficulty. They use the data gathered from this extra section to create future tests that are more fair and balanced. 

But how the experimental section appears on the SAT has changed throughout the years. Following the 2016 redesign, only students who didn’t take the Essay section were given the experimental section. But as of March 2019, anyone who takes the SAT could have the extra section appear on test day. (Note: The College Board eliminated the SAT Essay section in January 2021.)

What to Study the Week of the SAT

What Exactly is the Experimental Section?

Information about this section is vague, at best. According to the 2019 – 2020 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual “at some centers, certain administrations will include Section 5, a 20-minute section to be completed by all standard SAT test takers. The Standard Testing Room Manual informs proctors precisely when to administer it. Students taking the Essay will have a stretch break after Section 5 while test books are collected and counted.” 

Section 5 is 20 minutes long and can be a Math, Reading, or Writing and Language section. It’s usually administered, after a short break, following the Math with Calculator section.  

SAT Section 5 is after the Math with calculator section

Via the 2019 – 2020 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual

Video: What is the 5th Section of the SAT?

Does Section 5 Count Towards my SAT Score?

The short answer: we don’t know for sure. The College Board has kept this information intentionally vague since the 2016 redesign. In their most recent statement, the College Board said,

“The SAT (as of March 2016) and SAT with Essay (as of March 2019) contain some questions that won’t be used to compute student scores. These questions may appear in any section. To give students the extra time to answer more questions, the tests include a fifth section with regular and pretest questions.”

That last sentence is the most questionable: “the tests include a fifth section with regular and pretest [experimental] questions.” Their wording makes it sound like there are questions on Section 5 that could count towards your score. Could this be true?

Why Section 5 Probably Doesn’t Count

While, again, we don’t know for sure, there are a few reasons why it’s highly unlikely that anything in Section 5 counts towards your score. 

First, it would defeat the point of a standardized test. Students can be given any section of the test for Section 5 – one student could get Math, while another student testing the same day could receive a Reading section. If the College Board were counting questions from Section 5 towards the student’s score, then these two students’ tests would no longer be standardized. Student A would have tested different Math questions than Student B, and Student B different Reading questions than Student A. That’s the opposite of standardized.

Second, the time limit for Section 5 does not align with any other section of the test. For example, if you get a Reading section, which presumably covers one passage, you would get 20 minutes to complete the passage compared to the 13 minutes you get per passage during the Reading section. Those extra seven minutes can make a big difference in outcome for many students. Counting any question from the section would be like giving extra time to some students but not all students.

Finally…we would hope their policy would be clearer if they were counting any of Section 5 towards your score. Many people assume that the vague policy is an attempt to ensure students actually try on Section 5 rather than blow it off. When students don’t take this section seriously the College Board’s data can become inaccurate, leading to easier test questions but a tough curve. 

2021 SAT Test Dates

Why You Should Try Anyway

No one knows for sure if the experimental section counts towards your score. And although it probably doesn’t, since the College Board is not transparent about this, we recommend you try your best on Section 5. In this case, it’s better safe than sorry. Plus, the data is used to help make the test better for future students – which could be you if you test again!

What to Expect on the SAT

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4 thoughts on “What is the Experimental 5th Section on the SAT?”

  1. Thank you for this post! Information about this section is vague, sometimes misleading, and often contradictory. Having all the information well laid out is a great service to students!

  2. Is it legal for them to force kids do the experimental section?
    If they want data for future tests, how about pay for it? Ask for volunteers and then reimburse them part of the test fee?
    I can’t believe they can just force kids to spend 20 (or 22 actually) extra minutes for them to collect data for their purposes!!

    1. I know! I had to do it with my SAT today and thought it was unfair how we basically became test subjects without consent.

  3. They probably do not count it towards the score. With Covid, a lot of test dates have been moved. Those taking the SAT on a moved date do not have to take the mysterious “5th section.” That indicates something, doesn’t it?

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