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What is on the SAT?

Disclaimer: This article is for the 2005 SAT. Click here to learn about the new, 2016 SAT.

A quick overview of what is on the SAT test

Who decides what is on the SAT exam?

There is a group called the SAT Test Development Committee. Composed of college professors and high school teachers, this committee designs the SAT exam and it is their goal and intention to make what is on the SAT as fair and equally challenging to all students no matter their race, their gender, or in what part of the country they grew up.

Arguably no test is perfectly able to achieve these goals, but that is what they set out to do and each question is pre-tested before it appears on an official SAT test.

How do they organize or structure what is on the SAT?

There are 8 types of questions in the sections of critical reading, writing, and mathematics.

Sections of the SAT Test Question Type Number of Questions
Critical Reading Sentence Completion (vocabulary in context / logic based)
Passage-Based Reading (100 to 850 words)
Writing Identifying Sentence Errors
Improving Sentences
Improving Paragraphs
Essay Writing
1 essay
49 + essay
Math Multiple Choice
Grid-ins (Student Produced Response)

The Time Allotted for Each Section on the SAT

Critical Reading 70 minutes
two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section
Writing 60 minutes
one 25-minute multiple choice section and one 10-minute multiple choice section
Math 70 minutes
two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section
TOTAL 3 hours and 45 minutes
Note: There is also a variable section in one of the categories above for 25-minutes. It will not count toward your final score, but you will not be able to predict which it is, so you need to do your best on all parts.

A Few Examples of Problems on the SAT

(answers at bottom of blog)

Critical Reading:

Example 1: Hoping to ________the dispute, negotiators proposed a compromise that they felt would be ________ to both labor and management.
(A) enforce..useful
(B) end..divisive
(C) overcome..unattractive
(D) extend..satisfactory
(E) resolve..acceptable

Example 2: After observing several vicious territorial fights, Jane Goodall had to revise her earlier opinion that these particular primates were always ________animals.
(A) ignorant
(B) inquisitive
(C) responsive
(D) cruel
(E) peaceful


Example 1: Select which would improve the underlined part of the sentence:
Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book and she was sixty-five years old then.
(A) and she was sixty-five years old then
(B) when she was sixty-five
(C) at age sixty-five years old
(D) upon the reaching of sixty-five years
(E) at the time when she was sixty-five

Example 2: Identify the sentence error, if any:
The other delegates and him immediately accepted the resolution drafted by the neutral states.
(A) The other
(B) him
(C) immediately
(D) drafted by
(E) no error

Example 3: An essay

example of SAT essay problem


Example 1:
All numbers divisible by both 4 and 15 are also divisible by which of the following?
(A) 6
(B) 8
(C) 18
(D) 24
(E) 45

Example 2:
If the length of a rectangle is increased by 30% and the width of the same rectangle is decreased by 30%, what is the effect on the area of the rectangle?
(A) it is increased by 60%
(B) it is increased by 30%
(C) it is unchanged
(D) it is decreased by 15%
(E) it is decreased by 9%

Example 3:
The square of x is equal to 4 times the square of y. If x is 1 more than twice y, what is the value of x?


Problem at top: A
Critical Reading: 1=E, 2=E
Writing: 1=B, 2=B, 3=essay, not explained here
Math: 1 = A, 2 = E, 3 = 1/2

Preparation to do well STEP #1: Know what is on the SAT test

Remember that the first thing that all students need to know is exactly what is on the SAT test. From there, it is all about reviewing, practicing, and gaining confidence so you can go into the test strong.

Read the next blog to see more about what will appear on the SAT Math Section of the exam.

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!

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