SAT Exam Syllabus

The SAT is an important part of the college admissions process, and smart students know that it’s a good idea to actively prepare for it. The SAT tests many of the concepts taught in high school curricula across the US, including topics related to mathematics, English grammar and composition, and reading comprehension. 

The SAT is designed to test your student’s problem-solving and critical thinking skills across these areas. Preparing for the SAT requires discipline, focus, and dedication, but with the right approach, your child can succeed on the test and achieve their college goals.

SAT Syllabus

The SAT has three mandatory sections and one optional section. Each section is timed, and no two sections have the same number of questions or the same amount of time allotted.

Mathematics Section

The SAT Mathematics has 58 questions and has a time limit of 80 minutes. This section includes questions on problem-solving, data analysis, algebra, geometry, and advanced equations.

Reading Section

The reading section has 52 questions and has a time limit of 65 minutes. This portion of the test includes questions based on passage analysis. These passages may come from American or world literature, history, social studies, or social science. Passage questions will test primarily for comprehension.

Writing and Language Section

This part of the SAT is the shortest, with 44 questions and a time limit of 35 minutes. The Writing and Language portion of the SAT includes questions based on standard English conventions, grammatical accuracy, word usage, and the expression of ideas.

The total testing time for the SAT is 3 hours. There are breaks between each section, and these breaks are monitored to ensure that no cheating occurs.

How To Ace Each Part of the SAT

In order to do their best on the SAT, students need to understand the sections in detail. Here, we will discuss each section in further detail and explain exactly what students need to know for each part of the SAT.

Making The Most of Mathematics

Most of the questions in the math section are multiple-choice, and students will have five options to choose from. Some of the questions in the math section will require test takers to grid-in their answer, meaning that students will need to write the answer in a special grid on the answer sheet. There are 13 grid-in questions. Five of these are in the no-calculator section, while eight are in the calculator section. 

This section’s questions will ask students to solve problems and perform calculations, as well as to understand and interpret mathematical concepts. To succeed in this section, it is important to have a solid understanding of mathematical concepts and to practice solving problems in a variety of formats. It is also important to be able to perform calculations quickly and accurately.

To prepare for the math section of the SAT,  students should do the following:

  • Review basic math concepts, including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
  • Practice solving math problems under timed conditions to improve your speed and accuracy.
  • Familiarize yourself with the types of questions on the SAT, including multiple-choice and grid-in questions.
  • Use test-taking strategies, especially the process of elimination, plugging in answers, and substitution, to help you solve difficult problems.

Additionally, the math section has some slightly different rules than the language arts portions of the exam. Specifically, you are allowed to use scratch paper, which is provided, and a calculator, which you must bring yourself. 

SAT Calculator Policy

The SAT calculator policy is very important to understand because the way your student thinks about their calculator can actually help them on the exam. Students are not allowed to use most graphing calculators because they have built-in algebra systems, which would defeat the purpose of some of the questions. A scientific calculator is recommended; test takers should check the College Board’s approved calculator list ahead of time to make sure their calculator is allowed.

Comprehending the Reading Section

The reading section of the SAT is primarily based on five passages. The passages are drawn from a variety of sources and are generally between 500 and 750 words in length. The questions will ask you to understand the main idea, details, and themes of the passages, as well as to make inferences and draw conclusions based on the information presented. 

To succeed in the SAT reading section, it is important to read actively and critically, taking note of key details and themes. It is a good idea to practice vocabulary and comprehension skills through reading a variety of materials, including books, articles, and news stories. 

It is also important not to get stuck on one passage; this portion of the SAT doesn’t just test your student’s ability to understand a passage, but also their reading skills. Can they read each passage quickly and thoroughly? Can they understand unknown words based on context clues and the way they are used in a passage? These are certainly skills to work on as they study for the SAT. Students should also do the following for SAT reading readiness:

  • Improve vocabulary by studying word lists and reading widely.
  • Practice reading comprehension skills by reading passages and answering questions about them, or think like a test writer and come up with their own questions.
  • Be able to identify the who, what, when, why, where, and how of anything they read, including stories, news articles, and more.
  • Use strategies such as identifying the main idea and active reading to help they understand the passages.
  • Familiarize themselves with the types of questions on the reading section.

Is There A Vocabulary Section on the SAT?

Before 2016, the SAT had a number of vocabulary-specific questions. These sentence completion questions have been entirely phased out in order to make the test more equitable and a better assessment of students’ reading ability and knowledge of the English language. This means that today, there is no single vocabulary section on the SAT. Instead, the approach to vocabulary is highly contextual and is integrated throughout the language arts sections of the exam.

Vocabulary on the SAT is now part of a category called “Words in Context,” which makes up about 20% of the combined Reading and Writing score. To do well with these questions, it pays to study Greek and Latin roots thoroughly. 

Understanding how to use the process of elimination is also valuable for these questions; even if students aren’t sure about what some of the words mean, they can eliminate choices and make the solution easier to find.

Do Well on the Writing Section

The writing portion of the SAT is also passage-based, although these passages ask for different analysis than the reading section’s passages.  At least one passage is narrative, while the others are either argumentative or explanatory. All four passages are nonfiction, and are between 400 and 450 words. The questions will ask syour student to edit and revise the passages for errors in grammar, usage, punctuation, and clarity. 

There are two types of questions in the writing section. One type of question tasks students with improving the expression of ideas. This section will ask test takers for developmental improvements, organization and sequence improvements, and improvements in effective language use. 

The other type of question is straightforward editing. They will be tasked with recognizing and correcting errors in English grammar conventions like sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

To succeed in this section, it is important to have a strong understanding of English grammar and usage rules. It is also important to practice their editing and revision skills by reviewing and correcting written material.  Your student can also do the following as they prepare for the writing section of the SAT:

  • Review grammar and sentence structure rules.
  • Practice writing essays on a variety of topics and receiving feedback from a teacher, tutor, or mentor.
  • Develop their ability to analyze and evaluate arguments presented in the writing prompt.
  • Revise their own writing to practice using clear and concise language to communicate ideas.

What Happened to the SAT Essay?

The essay is currently being phased out as even an optional portion of the SAT.  The only way to even have the option of writing the essay is if your student attends one of the small number of schools who offer it during SAT School Day testing. No colleges now require the SAT essay, so your student does not need to worry about it or prepare for it.

How To Prepare for the SAT

Just like with any course of study, having a syllabus is only one step on the road to success. Knowing what to study is not the same thing as actually studying, after all. While many students choose to self-study with practice tests and workbooks, it is often very helpful to take SAT prep courses or have a private tutor. Again, think  of the SAT like any other course of study. Would you learn more from a class that was entirely self-directed, or from a class that was developed and led by experts in the field? 

When your child takes a prep course for the SAT, they get more than just academic help for the test itself. The course will help them prepare with test-taking strategies, guided practice, personalized advice, and more. They will learn about how to approach the exam’s time management and how to deal with common pitfalls like test anxiety.

If you want to know more about the best way to prepare for the SAT, Prep Expert’s free webinar is the perfect overview of what a comprehensive SAT prep program can do for your student’s test scores.