Adam Groden By: Adam Groden
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. If you want to begin studying, check out the best SAT prep courses.

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 College Board, 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.

The SAT is composed of two main sections:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Mathematics

These two sections are further split into four subsections, which contain a total of 154 questions. Each section contains a slightly different number of questions.

You will sit for a total of 3 hours when taking the SAT, and will have a time limit for each section of the exam.

Below, you can see the breakdown of each subsection of the exam:

Section Number of Questions Time Limit
Reading 52 65 minutes
Writing & Language 44 35 minutes
Math (With calculator) 38 55 minutes
Math (Without calculator) 20 25 minutes
TOTAL: 154 180 minutes

The SAT is designed to test your knowledge of common high-school subjects and to predict your success in a college setting. You will be tested on two main subjects:

  1. Reading and Writing
  2. Math

These sections and their relevant subsections often require you to draw on many different skills to answer the questions.

SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section Breakdown

The SAT Reading section is always the first section you will complete on the exam. It is composed of five passages that you will read and answer multiple-choice questions about. The five passages are:

  • 1 fiction passage
  • 2 historical/social science passages
  • 2 scientific texts

The fiction passage will present you with a literary narrative that you will have to draw conclusions from and may be an excerpt from a classic work of fiction or something contemporary.

The historical passages will contain documents or speeches that you will have to evaluate and be able to identify key information.

The scientific texts will not test you on your knowledge of biology or physics, but rather will present you with a passage often accompanied by graphs or data charts that you must be able to draw conclusions from.

The SAT Writing portion of this section is similar to the Evidence-Based Reading section, but the passages are much shorter. You will be given 1-2 paragraphs per passage to read and evaluate, then answer 11 questions about each one.

SAT Math Section Breakdown

The Math section of the SAT is also split into two separate parts: math with and without a calculator. This is the only portion of the exam that contains both multiple-choice and “grid-in” answers, in which you will fill in your answer on your bubble sheet.

The Math sections will test you on several different topics, including:

  • Algebra
    • Linear equations
    • Graphing
    • Linear functions
  • Data Analysis
    • Statistics
    • Ratios
    • Data tables
  • Advanced Math
    • Non-linear graphs and functions
  • Additional Topics
    • Geometry
    • Trigonometry

Each section of the SAT 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.

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, which you can find in our SAT Test Dates guide.

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)

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. There are a lot of options out there to help you become as prepared and confident as possible, such as our SAT practice test.

Many students also opt to enroll in an SAT prep course, which can greatly help them improve their scores and give them personalized support as they study.

It’s also a good idea to review logistics for the test ahead of time. College Board provides a list of what to bring and do on test day to make sure your exam day is smooth and stress-free.

Ultimately, whether you decide to take the SAT or ACT (or neither) is up to you. These days, most schools do not have a preference as to which test scores you submit in your application.

The main difference between the two exams is the format and time limits. The SAT and ACT contain similar material, but may be presented slightly differently. For a more complete breakdown of the differences between the two exams, you can check out our article on the ACT vs. SAT.