What is on the SAT® Exam?

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When preparing for an exam, especially an exam as important as the SAT exam, it is essential that you know what you are preparing for. Thankfully, the SAT is not clouded in mystery. The sections on the exam, time permitted for each section, format of questions, and number of breaks allowed is available information.

If you are preparing to take an upcoming SAT exam, this is what you need to know about the type of content that will be tested:

Sections and Order of the Exam

The SAT exam consists of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (divided into two categories: Calculator and No Calculator), and an optional Essay section. It takes three hours to complete the exam or three hours and fifty minutes if you are taking the optional Essay section.

The order of exam is as follows:

  • Reading 
  • Break #1 (10 minutes)
  • Writing and Language
  • Math (No Calculator)
  • Break #2 (5 minutes)
  • Math (Calculator)
  • End of exam (if you are not taking the optional Essay section) or Break #3 (if you are taking the optional Essay section)
  • Essay


The Reading section has 52 multiple-choice questions, and you are given 65 minutes to complete the section.

You will be given a series of passages from literature, history, natural sciences, and social studies. From these passages, you will be required to identify ideas that are either stated directly or implied by the author, understand words in context, decipher the main idea of the entire passage, and locate data given in graphs.

Writing and Language

In the Writing and Language section of the SAT exam, you are given 35 minutes to complete 44 multiple-choice questions.

Similar to the Reading section, test takers are required to be able to understand words in context. Other skills tested in this section are grammar skills, literary skills, and a working knowledge of standard writing conventions.

In the four passages assigned, questions are asked about an underlined part of a particular passage. Most questions ask for the test taker to make a decision as to which (if any) answer choice most improves the passage.


The Math section of the SAT exam is divided into two parts: Calculator and No Calculator. The no calculator portion of the Math section is given first. It consists of 20 questions, and test-takers are permitted 25 minutes to complete this portion of the exam.

After a brief five-minute break, the calculator portion of the exam is administered. In this portion of the exam, test-takers have 55 minutes to complete 38 questions.

The Math section includes questions from four main areas of math: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math. Most questions are multiple-choice questions; however, some questions will require student-produced responses (these are known as grid-ins).

Unlike the ACT exam, the formulas needed to solve all equations are provided on the SAT exam.

Essay (Optional)

The Essay section of the exam requires the test taker to read a passage of text, analyze it, and provide a written response with a time limit of 50 minutes.

Focusing on the author’s use of persuasive elements, reasoning, and evidence, the written response should demonstrate how the author builds his or her argument in the passage given.

While the Essay section of the SAT exam is optional, it is well worth a student’s time to take this portion of the exam, particularly if essay writing is a strength. Providing a written essay will show colleges or universities that a student has the writing skills necessary to excel in a chosen field of study.

Click here to discover What Is on the ACT Exam.

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