SAT Sections 101 | 5-Minute Rundown

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If you’re going back and forth between the SAT and ACT, let us help make your research a little easier. Here’s a quick 5-minute rundown of the different SAT sections you’ll face on test day.

Besides the sections themselves, here’s a primer on what the SAT itself measures.

SAT Evidence-Based Reading

The SAT’s first section covers Evidence-Based Reading.

Students must answer 52 questions within a 65-minute timeframe. The questions are based around 5 different passages of varying length. Each passage provides the necessary information to answer 9-10 associated questions.

In general, passages are pulled from the following genres:

  • Literary narrative
  • Science
  • History / Social Studies

One of these passages will be a dual passage. A dual passage means that students actually read and compare two shorter passages together.

In terms of passage order, the literary narrative passage always comes first. After that, the remaining passages can come in any order.

As far as the questions themselves, the Evidence-Based Reading section asks students questions that focus on the most important aspects of each passage.

While “”most important”” sounds a bit vague, in general, here’s what students need to identify and examine in each passage:

  • Main ideas
  • Author’s purpose
  • Inferences
  • Literal comprehension

SAT Writing & Language

The SAT’s second section covers the Writing & Language portion.

Students have 35 minutes to answer 44 associated questions. Similar to the Reading section, students are examining passages tied to various topics.

However, here the questions are placed throughout the passages, instead of all at the end. To succeed in this section, students need to have both knowledge and a strong understanding of effective writing principles.

Expect half of the 44 questions to cover grammar and punctuation rules.
The other half covers general writing strategies, such as writing introductions & conclusions, transition words, and analyzing evidence.

Writing Strategy questions cover the following topics:

  • Ordering (sentences within a paragraph)
  • Words in Context
  • Introductions
  • Conclusions
  • Evidence/Examples
  • Transition Words
  • Concise Writing

Punctuation questions often test:

  • Commas
  • Semicolons
  • Colons
  • Long Dashes
  • Apostrophes
  • Parentheses

Grammar topics include:

  • Prepositions
  • Idioms
  • Pronouns
  • Modifiers
  • Parallelism

SAT Math (No Calculator)

Unlike the ACT, the SAT includes two different Math sections.

The overall sections breaks down into the following subsections:

  • No Calculator Permitted,
  • Calculator Permitted

The good news is the No-Calculator is shorter overall, with only 20 questions to finish in 25 minutes. The first 15 questions are regular multiple-choice format.

The final 5 questions are grid-in questions. For these questions, students must write in their own answers.

Here are frequent algebra topics to go over:

  • Fractions
  • Single Equations
  • Simplification
  • Substitution
  • Percentages
  • Inequalities

Geometry questions cover:

  • Triangles
  • Circles
  • Volume / Area

Advanced Algebra topics include:

  • Factoring
  • Polynomials
  • Systems of Equations
  • Translating Words into Math
  • Fractions
  • Ratios
  • Functions
  • Substitution
  • Imaginary Numbers
  • Square Roots

SAT Math (Calculator)

The second SAT Math section is longer.

Here, students can use a calculator to answer 38 questions in 55 minutes. Just like the No-Calculator Math section, questions here are arranged by increased difficulty.

The first 30 questions are multiple-choice format. The final 8 questions are grid-in format again. In terms of content, the Calculator section is similar to what students see on the No-Calculator section.

Here’s an idea of what you’ll be tested on, as well as how many questions for each area:

  • Geometry – 3-6 questions
  • Data Analysis & Problem Solving – 16-18 questions
  • Algebra – 10-13 questions
  • Advanced Math – 5-8 questions

The Calculator section is heavier with respect to data analysis, usually through charts and graph-related questions. It also tests a lot of algebra.

Students rarely encounter significant geometry or trigonometry questions. However, many of the questions can be quite wordy, so be ready for that on test day.

The Essay

The final SAT section of the optional essay.

If you take the SAT essay, your essay score will appear in a separate section of the final score report. You don’t have to worry about it negatively affecting the other major sections.

In the Essay section, students have 50 minutes to do the following tasks: read and analyze a passage, write a response that examines how the author forms his or her persuasive argument and defends it.

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