The SAT: What's What?

Wondering what's up with the SAT? Read on, and find out!

The Critical Reading section

When your parents took the SAT, there was a "Verbal" section on it. Now, it's called Critical Reading. Why? The entire section consists exclusively of critical reading questions designed to test your reading skills at the sentence, paragraph, and passage level.

This 70-minute portion of the test includes two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. The questions include paragraph-length critical reasoning problems, sentence completions, and reading comprehension passages. The topics of the given texts represent a wide range of subjects, including science, literature, humanities, and history.

The Math section

The Math section of the SAT now includes some Algebra II. This section also includes five-choice, multiple-choice and student-produced responses. It's the same length as the Critical Reading segment, with two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute portion. (And yes, you can use a calculator!)

The Writing test: part one

The Writing section consists of two parts: an essay and a multiple-choice section. The essay portion is always the first part of the SAT and allots you 25 minutes to answer an essay question that asks you to agree or disagree with a point of view. A good essay will support your chosen position with specific reasons and examples from literature, history, art, science, current affairs, or even your own experiences.

Essays are graded on a scale of 1 to 6 by two independent readers, and the two scores are combined to form an essay sub-score that ranges from 2 to 12. If the two scores vary by more than 2 points, a third reader also scores your response. The evaluators are high school teachers and college professors who teach composition. To ensure that essays are scored in a timely manner, they are scanned and made available to readers on the Internet for grading purposes. (If you view your score report online, you can access this scan, which can help you understand your score.)

The Writing test: part two

The Writing section also includes 35 minutes of multiple-choice grammar and usage questions. Some of these questions ask you to improve given sentences and paragraphs. Others present you with sentences and require you to identify mistakes in diction, grammar, sentence construction, subject-verb agreement, proper word usage, and wordiness.


The highest possible score on the Writing section is 800. (Your essay counts for about a ninth of that score.) Scores on the essay and multiple-choice section are combined to produce a single score. A Writing sub-score is also assigned. The highest possible scores on the Critical Reading and Math sections are 800 each, making 2,400 a perfect score.

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