What to Expect on the SAT

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If you’re looking for information about the structure of the SAT, how long the SAT is, how it’s scored, and how you should study, this is for you! 

The SAT is a college entrance exam designed for 10th, 11th, and 12th-grade students. SAT test scores are accepted by all four-year US colleges and universities. Despite the pandemic and many universities rolling out test-optional applications, more than 1.5 million students from the US and around the world took the SAT in 2021. 

The SAT is designed to measure the skills that are most important for success in a college environment. To accomplish this, the SAT tests students in three subject areas: English, Math, and Reading. (The optional Essay section was cut from the test in early 2021.) These three multiple-choice sections (sometimes referred to as “tests”) are scored and combined for a total score of up to 1600 points.

Timing and Structure

The Timing of the SAT

The SAT contains 4 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math Without Calculator, and Math With Calculator.

The test is 3 hours and 15 minutes long (with breaks).

The Structure of the SAT

The SAT sections always appear in the same order: Reading, then Writing and Language, followed by Math without Calculator, then Math with Calculator.

You’ll have a 10-minute break between the Reading and Writing and Language sections, and another five-minute break between the two math sections.

SAT Test Breakdown

SAT SectionTime (minutes)Number of
Minutes per
Reading65/180 (36%)52/154 (34%)1.25
Writing and
35/180 (19%)44/154 (27%)0.80
Math without
25/180 (14%)20/154 (13%)1.25
Math with
55/180 (31%)38/154 (25%)1.45
(with breaks)
195 minutes154 questions

What is Tested on the SAT?

The SAT tests Reading, Writing and Language, Math without Calculator, and Math with Calculator. 


The SAT Reading section tests your ability to read and interpret texts. There are five passages on the Reading section: narrative or prose, natural science, social science, humanities, and paired passages, which usually fall under the social science or natural science designation.

The natural science passage usually contains a chart or graph and questions in which you must analyze or understand the data presented.

How to Ace the SAT Reading Section
Natural Science Passage Walkthrough (with Videos!)
Prose Fiction Passage Walkthrough (with Videos!)

Writing and Language

The SAT Writing and Language section puts you in the position of a writer revising and editing a text. You’ll see four short passages rife with grammatical errors paired with 11 questions each, asking you to identify and correct the errors in the passage. This section covers standard grammar conventions and rhetorical skills. For this section, brush up on your knowledge of commas, semicolons, and sentence arrangement.

SAT Writing and Language Section Strategies


There are two math sections on the SAT: Math without Calculator and the longer Math with Calculator. Both sections contain mainly multiple-choice questions with a few free-response questions at the end. These free-response questions are also called grid-ins because you enter your answers in the grids provided on the answer sheet. 

The three areas of focus on the SAT Math sections are Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. There are also a few questions under the category “Additional Topics in Math,” which covers geometry, properties of shapes, and proportional reasoning. 

The SAT math questions tend to be wordy. This may make the questions confusing for some students; however, the extra information can be helpful to solve the problem.

The SAT provides a formula sheet for you to use on both math sections. 

SAT Math Formulas to Know for Test Day
SAT Math Strategies
Types of Math Questions on the SAT Test

How is the SAT Scored?

The SAT’s scoring system is a bit complicated. The Math sections are combined for one score out of 800. The scores of the Reading and Writing and Language are combined for one score out of 800. Then your Math and combined Reading and Writing and Language scores are added together for one composite score out of 1600. 

For example, if you got a 520 on the Math section and a 490 on the Reading and Writing and Language section, your composite score would be 1010. 

You can learn more about how the SAT is scored here and view a sample score report here

One interesting thing to note: since on the SAT your Reading and Writing and Language scores are lumped together, the Math section makes up ½ of your SAT score, not ⅓. The Math section is 50% of your SAT score. 

This is something to consider if you find yourself a stronger reader or a stronger mathematician.

When Can I Take the SAT?

The SAT is offered seven times throughout the year. Register for the SAT by visiting their website and creating a College Board account. You’ll need a photo ID, payment method, and photo (that meets certain requirements) to register.

Many students take the test at least twice because your score almost always increases on the second try. We recommend taking your first test in the winter or spring of your junior year and your second test in the summer or fall so there is plenty of time to get your scores back before college applications are due.

When Should I Take the SAT?

The College Board announced three 2020 test dates so far: March 14, May 2, and June 6. Get more details in this post

How Do I Study for the SAT?

Studying for the SAT is not about memorizing formulas or tricks. It’s about learning the content that the SAT tests. If you fully understand the concepts behind the test questions and can apply your knowledge to new situations, you’re on track for a great score. 

We put together a list of the best SAT prep companies for every budget to help you get started on your search. At the top of the list is our Olive Book SAT course. The content of our online SAT prep course covers every section of the test and is designed to help you connect with the material through relevant questions and animated explanation videos.

Developed by veteran SAT tutors and high school teachers, the SAT course teaches you the concepts you need to know to own the test. And since it’s online and self-paced, you don’t even have to work around someone else’s schedule! Visit www.olive-book.com to enroll.

Get a better score. Get into a better school.

Olive Book’s free online ACT and SAT courses are all you need to boost your score. Check them out:

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