SAT Test Sections and Timing

SAT Test Sections and Timing

There are 10 sections on the SAT, but the situation is not as complex as “10 sections” sounds, because there are only three topic areas: math, reading, and writing.

Here’s a breakdown of the sections organized by topic area. You don’t need to memorize this information. The key is to get a little bit familiar with the test format so that it doesn’t distract you and you can focus on answering the questions in each section.

Section Length Question Type
Critical Reading Two 25-minute sections
One 20-minute section
19 Sentence Completion
48 Reading Comprehension
Math Two 25-minute sections
One 10-minute section
44 Multiple Choice
10 Student Produced Response
Writing One 25-minute section
One 10-minute section
One 25-minute essay
18 Identifying Sentence Errors
25 Improving Sentences
6 Improving Paragraphs
Experimental One 25-Minute Section Critical Reading, Math, or Writing
(Does not count towards your score)

Here’s what you need to know:

Total length: Overall, the test is roughly 4 hours.

Short sections: As you can see in the middle column of the table above, there are number of fairly short sections. You can’t skip from one to another. Much as a football or basketball game is broken up into timed periods, on each section you have a timed period to answer the questions in that section, and then you move on to the next section. If you happen to finish a section early, you can check your answers and relax for a moment before the next section.

Writing is first: the first section is always an essay and it’s required. (On the new SAT, which we’ll talk more about, the essay is always last and it’s optional.)

Even though other sections are categorized with the essay as “writing,” to most people those other sections feel quite different from the essay section, since those sections are multiple choice.

“Experimental” section: As you can see in the last row of the table above, there’s an “Experimental” section. Though it might sound unusual by that name, is just a section like the other ones. It doesn’t affect your score. The purpose of the experimental section is help the makers of the SAT develop future tests, not yours. When you’re taking the SAT, you should simply treat all sections the same and you don’t need to bother wondering which section is Experimental.

“Question Types”: This part you do want to remember, although you don’t need to memorize it on this page, because we’ll come back to it over and over in this course. As you can see in the right-hand column of the table above, there are a bunch of “question types” on the SAT. It helps to get familiar with the question types, because you can learn tricks and techniques for the different kinds of question on the SAT. This course is organized by question type. For example, “Identifying Sentence Errors” is a question type listed in the table above. If you revisit the Main Page of this course (e.g., by clicking “Main” in the top menu), you’ll see that there is a section of the course entitled “Identifying Sentence Errors.”

This changes in Spring 2016: In Spring 2016, the SAT is undergoing a change in format. We’ll talk about that in more detail. If you’re taking the SAT in the fall of 2015, you can ignore the “new SAT.” If you will take the SAT in Spring 2016, be aware that the sections and questions will be similar to what we have just discussed, just slightly different. And if you don’t know when you are taking the SAT, we’ll discuss that as well. Let’s move on!

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