SAT Test Review Course

For many people, the SAT test is the most important test they’ll ever take. It is only offered seven times each year, and it’s important to register for the exam as soon as possible to expedite the admissions process. There are three sections on the SAT: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. The first two sections are all multiple-choice, while Writing consists of both multiple-choice questions and an essay requirement. Each section is scored from 200 – 800, resulting in a total score between 600 and 2400. In 2012 these were the average scores: Critical Reading – 496, Mathematics – 514, and Writing – 488. Diligent preparation for the exam is a must, and our Mometrix Academy SAT test prep videos can be a big help in your quest for a high score.

SAT Prep Course

SAT Practice Test

Use the free SAT practice test questions below to get a better understanding of the SAT exam. Take advantage of this valuable resource to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

SAT Study Guide

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SAT Content

After years of preparation and warning, it’s finally on the horizon: the SAT. You’ve likely heard about it in increasing detail since middle school, maybe have been studying for it in small amounts for the same amount of time. In fact, by this point in your academic career, you’ve already taken the PSAT, recognized as a precursor to the SAT. We understand the wide array of emotions sweeping over you at this point. You may be relieved that it’s finally drawing so near, ready to face it head-on, or anxious to finally get it over with and wondering whether you’ve prepared enough. If the latter describes you to a tee, you needn’t dwell on it. We at Mometrix Test Preparation are 100 percent committed to making sure you have all the tools you need to be fully ready to not only take the SAT, but excel to the best of your ability.

So where does the SAT come from? The exam enjoys a very long history, having originated in the year 1901 and gone through many different incarnations between the 20th and 21st centuries. The College Board first created the exam as a means of improving the rate of university attendance across the United States by breaking down the various class-related barriers keeping many eligible students from attending their college of choice. The test has come a long way since its beginnings, morphing from a test with a simple scoring rubric and a complete essay format to a largely multiple choice exam with a more precise and numeric grading system.

In 2016, the SAT underwent another major change. Back during the year 2005, the College Board decided to alter the maximum score by raising it from 1600 to 2400, the source for this decision being the new written essay section included in the exam to assess student writing. The College Board also ramped up the test’s difficulty. These changes were reversed in 2016, with the exam being reformatted to suit the curriculum today’s high schoolers are learning, as well as a reversion to the old 1600 score total. We will go over the format of the new SAT exam, as well as how it compares to the old format, later on. We would like to assure you, however, that the SAT’s newest changes are ultimately designed to benefit you.

In this SAT overview, you will receive the full scoop about this important exam—including its formatting, a breakdown of each of its sections, how it’s scored, and how you can prepare for it adequately, among much more. Furthermore, you’ll be able to find SAT study guides and an SAT practice test elsewhere on our site. You can use all of these tools to help yourself study as thoroughly as you need. Read on to learn more.

How Does the SAT Work?

Before we get into extensive detail about the SAT exam, we’d like to go over some of the specifics regarding the exam’s new format. For starters, sentence completion questions—which you may or may not have heard about from older students or even SAT prep classes you’ve taken in the past—no longer feature on the SAT. In fact, the SAT has generally been largely pared down. The amount of sections has received a major trim, reducing to a mere two, and the answer choices you can pick from for each question has shrunk from five to four.

To make up for the reduced quantity of material, the College board has added more complexity to the exam’s two remaining sections. As a result, you will not be expected to memorize and regurgitate material so much as think critically about your answers as you come to them. Not every question you’ll encounter on the exam will be “one and done,” so to speak; rather, several will involve a somewhat lengthy process in order to arrive at the best possible answer. In addition, the test has been made longer to adapt to this new questioning style. When you include the time allotted for the essay portion of the exam, the amount of time you’ll spend taking the test now amounts to nearly four hours—three hours and 50 minutes, to be precise.

Two more additions worthy of note include the fact the infamous SAT essay is now entirely skippable; and wrong answers no longer count against you in terms of your score potential. This means not only can you pass on writing the essay if you don’t feel comfortable working on it, but you can feel free to guess wholeheartedly rather than second guess whether it’s worth it to guess at all! For the sake of thoroughness, however, we will go over how the essay works on the new edition of the SAT exam.

We will now go over what the different sections of the test entail.


Much like the Writing and Reading portions of the SAT exam, the Math section has received a noticeable overhaul. Compared to previous versions of the test, SAT Math has changed in terms of how it’s framed for students. The College Board has paid close attention to how today’s high schoolers are learning and where curriculum focuses lie, and their response to this affects the format of the current SAT. Upon taking the exam, you will find math problems that are a bit easier to approach. Math problems on the new edition of the SAT will be written so they resemble situations you’d come across as you navigate life and higher education. The Math section is specifically geared to measure how well you can utilize mathematical concepts and under which situations they are most appropriate, as well as the scope of your basic problem-solving abilities.

The SAT Math section splits into two additional halves: No Calculator and Calculator. The Calculator portion spans much longer than its No Calculator counterpart, with a time limit of just under an hour—or, more precisely, 55 minutes—and a total of 38 questions. Eight of those questions will fall under the new “grid-in” question format. In comparison, the No Calculator part of the exam spans just under a half hour, or 25 minutes, and features a total of 20 questions. Five No Calculator questions will be “grid-in.” This makes for around 58 questions in all, and 80 minutes to complete it to the best of your abilities. It is worth noting that while you’re free to bring a personal calculator, you must make sure the model you’re using is College Board-approved. You can find out which calculators are okay to bring by visiting the official SAT website.

All questions featured on the SAT will generally fall under four distinct categories:

    Passport to Advanced Math is where you’ll find the majority of the multi-step problems we’ve mentioned as featuring on the Math section. Subjects under this category will include various types of expression-based equations.
  1. Problem Solving and Data Analysis predominantly involves quantitative math. Under this category you’ll find questions relating to percentages and statistics, alongside other related subjects.
  2. Heart of Algebra covers Algebra-related problems—most likely in relation to the Algebra I and II courses you took early on in high school. For this section you’ll want to brush up on the various properties of linear equations.
  3. Additional Topics in Math covers the more complicated forms of mathematical you’ve studied over the course of your high school education, such as trigonometry and geometry.


The SAT Writing section features the standard fare. You will be expected to examine written passages for any and all forms of grammatical errors. Think of this section in terms of the multitudes of essays you’ve had to check over for your English classes. The concept is the same. However, instead of deleting these errors or marking them for your classmates to take care of, you’ll be answering multiple choice questions based on what each specific question is asking you to look for.

The passages on the exam will vary in length—anywhere from a full-fledged passage to a sentence. It’s worth noting the content you’ll see on the Writing exam will span across several different types and topics. You can expect to see not only the written word, but graphics related to it published for the sake of helping you to better understand the passage. Furthermore, passages featured on the exam will cover such subjects as science, nonfiction, the arts, and much more—along with the standard persuasive essays you’ve most commonly had to proofread in the past. If you come across a subject you aren’t as familiar with, there’s no need to panic. All of the information you’ll need is contained within the passage. The full section will contain 44 questions, for which you’ll be given 35 minutes to complete everything.

The SAT Writing section will test over these specific skills:

  1. Standard English Conventions covers the very basics of grammar. As such, questions under this category seek to evaluate your understanding of mechanics and coherent writing.
  2. Command of Evidence focuses on the nuances of writing—mainly how to establish and flesh out a written assertion.
  3. Expression of Ideas will want you to consider the effectiveness of a passage in terms of assertion.
  4. Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science deals with much more topical works. You will be expected to read selections related to science, social studies, and history, then evaluate flaws in the writing.
  5. Words in Context covers diction. To answer questions of this subject, you will have to rely on context clues to determine which word is the most fitting for conveying a certain mood or even simply cleaning up the writing.

In addition to multiple choice questions, you may also encounter the essay. Remember that taking the essay is 100 percent your choice, and choosing to skip it will not impact your score in any shape or form. You may only want to consider taking the essay portion if it is a point of interest for any colleges you’re applying to. The time allotted to you to finish the essay has grown to a full 50 minutes and, like the rest of the Writing section, has received a bit of a revamp.

For one, how you will be expected to develop your essay has changed. No longer will you be expected to defend your stance based on a popular topic. Likewise, personal anecdotes no longer count as evidence for your essay. Rather, you will be presented with a written passage. From this passage, the SAT will present you with a question about the work—namely, about the author’s stance and what rhetorical techniques they are using for this argument. It will be up to you to figure out and convey just how the author is making their case with the help of close reading. Your evidence should only come from the reading selection given to you.


Much like Writing, the SAT Reading section won’t be much different from what you’re already used to. You will have to read an assortment of passages about various subjects, then answer questions about their content on both surface and scholarly levels. You can expect to see passages covering such subjects as science, literature from anywhere in the world, social science, and history. Just like the Writing section, you won’t have to worry about brushing up on any outside materials in order to do well.

Unlike its sibling sections, Reading consists entirely of multiple choice questions. Altogether it spans 52 questions in length with a time allotment of 65 minutes. Questions on the Reading exam will fall under the following topics:

  1. Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science handles the subjects we’ve described above, and will ask you to examine passages and determine what perspectives and skills a reader must use to decipher the work.
  2. Words in Context will involve word choice, either in terms of how the author uses it within their work or through defining words individually.
  3. Command of Evidence deals with your ability to evaluate how authors use evidence to back up and develop arguments.

How Will the SAT Be Scored?

The majority of the exam is scored electronically. The essay comes as an exception to this rule, as it is graded by a pair of professionals. The College Board has crafted careful standards for how the whole of the test should be scored, ensuring your grade will always be as legitimate.

As we’ve stated before, the maximum score you can receive has been reverted back to a total of 1600. The lowest possible score you can earn is a 400. However, there are also scores within your main score—specifically, for cross-tests and subtests. From the subscores, which encompass the knowledge categories featured across every exam section, you can earn scores ranging from 1 to 15. Cross-test scores pull from the same categories and number from 10 to 40. Should you choose to take the essay, your score will fall between 2 and 8. Section scores use the same numbering as cross-test scores. The scores you’ll receive for each section fall between 200 and 800, with the sum of them making up your total, final score.

Generally, you will obtain a full report on your scores within a couple of weeks of your testing date. You’ll be able to view them online. You can also opt to have your scores reported through a telephone call or the mail. Additionally, you also have the option to preemptively send your scores to your school of choice. On the other hand, you can also choose to have your scores canceled if you aren’t satisfied with how well you did and would like to retest.

If you don’t earn the score you want during your first shot at the SAT exam, don’t worry! You always have the option to take a retest, which you can sign up for on the official website.

What’s the Best Way to Get Ready for the SAT?

Whether you’re taking the SAT exam for the first time or retesting, one of the most important things you can do to prepare is familiarize yourself with the test’s contents. The resources on our site are tailor made for you to do this. On this page and elsewhere, you’ll have access to SAT flashcards, a comprehensive SAT study guide, an SAT practice test, and much more. You can use all of these tools to gain firsthand knowledge and exposure to what the SAT holds so you’ll know the exam inside and out, as well as how to tackle each section to the best of your ability.

At Mometrix Test Preparation, we want to help ensure your success in any way we can. Feel free to explore our site as you study!

Good luck!

What's on the SAT? - SAT Test Breakdown

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Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation

Last updated: 03/21/2017
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