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What is the SAT?

The SAT is one of the most well-known standardized tests in the world. It is used by colleges and universities throughout the admissions process as a criteria for admission.

But what does it really entail, and what do you need to know to do well?

Summary: Our team provides an overview of the SAT below. To start practicing, visit our SAT practice test hub.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is used by many colleges and universities as an entrance exam and is usually taken by juniors and seniors in high school as they prepare for undergraduate study. The SAT is owned and developed by CollegeBoard, a private company.

Today, many colleges and universities, while still accepting the SAT, are no longer requiring students to take the test to apply. This all depends on your school of choice, so it’s important to pay close attention to the requirements of each school you plan to apply to.

Beginning in the spring of 2024, the SAT is switching to a digital format. This new digital SAT includes the following changes:

  • Taken online
  • Shorter exam
  • Adaptive
  • Formatting changes

Start preparing for the exam by taking one of our free SAT practice tests.

How Many Questions are on the SAT?

The old SAT (written SAT) contains 154 total questions. The new SAT (digital SAT) contains 98 total questions.

The digital SAT is adaptive. This means that questions you are shown will be easier or harder based on how you answered the previous question.

How Long is the SAT?

The old SAT (written SAT) is 180 total minutes. The new SAT (digital SAT) is 134 total minutes.

The digital SAT is more streamlined and shorter than the written SAT.

What is on the SAT?

The SAT is designed to test your knowledge of common high-school subjects and to predict your success in a college setting. In general, you will be tested on math, reading, and writing.

Review the tables below to see what is tested on the written SAT and on the digital SAT.

Old SAT (Written SAT) Overview

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Limit
Reading5265 minutes
Writing & Language4435 minutes
Math (With calculator)3855 minutes
Math (Without calculator)2025 minutes
Total:154180 minutes

New SAT (Digital SAT) Overview

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Limit
Reading & Writing Module 12732 minutes
Reading & Writing Module 22732 minutes
Math Module 12235 minutes
Math Module 22235 minutes
Total:98134 minutes

SAT Reading & Writing Section Breakdown

The SAT reading and writing section contains 2 modules. Each module consists of 27 questions and a 32-minute time limit.

Each module will cover questions from these 4 topics:

  1. Information and Ideas
  2. Craft and Structure
  3. Expression of Ideas
  4. Standard English Conventions

These questions will be multiple-choice.

All passages in the reading and writing sections will be between 25 and 150 words. The CollegeBoard has gotten rid of long reading passages.

Additional information from CollegeBoard.

SAT Math Section Breakdown

The Math section of the SAT is also split into two separate modules. Each module consists of 22 questions and a 35-minute time limit.

Each module will cover questions from these 4 topics:

  1. Algebra (13-15 Questions)
  2. Advanced Math (13-15 Questions)
  3. Problem-Solving and Data Analysis (5-7 Questions)
  4. Geometry and Trigonometry (5-7 Questions)

75% of the questions will be multiple-choice. The remaining 25% will be student produced responses. For these questions, you will be required to provide your own answer.

You will be permitted to use a calculator on all questions on the math portion of the exam. You will also be given common formulas.

Additional information from CollegeBoard.

How is the SAT Scored?

Each section of the SAT (math and reading/writing) is scored separately, with scores ranging from 200 to 800. Your final score will be the sum of these two scores, with the highest possible score being 1600.

The average SAT score is 1060, but different schools have different expectations and score requirements for entry. If you’d like more insight into what makes a “good” SAT score, you can check out our article on what is a good SAT score.

Registering for the SAT

Before you can take the SAT, you must first register and create a College Board account. It is important that you register at least five weeks ahead of your desired test date. To register, you’ll need:

  • A photo ID
  • A clear photo of yourself
  • A form of payment
  • Ability to print your admission ticket

College Board offers test dates throughout the year.

The total cost to sit for the exam is $60, but there are also a number of add-ons you must consider, including:

  • Late registration fees ($30)
  • Cancellation fees ($25-$35)
  • Test center change fee ($25)
  • Additional score reports ($12 per report)
  • Rushed score report ($31)
  • Archived scores ($31)
  • Hand score verification ($55)

Preparing for the SAT

Whether this is your third time taking the SAT or you’re just beginning to think about taking the exam, it can be a stressful period. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Practice Exams: Make sure to utilize practice exams. These will help you become more familiar with the exam before you take the real thing. Visit our SAT practice page to begin.
  2. Answer Explanations: In unison with the practice exams, make sure you are reviewing the answer explanations. These will help you learn key concepts.
  3. Narrow Down Problem Areas: Find the areas of the exam that you really struggle with. You may find that you struggle with the math section but are solid on the reading and writing section. You can then focus your time on math.
  4. Give Yourself Time: The most important thing to do is give yourself enough time to prepare and study. If you are cramming before the exam, odds are you will not perform as well.
Adam Groden
Adam is our ACT and SAT expert. He has 30+ years of experience and runs his own test prep company.