SAT Sections: A Full Breakdown of Each

A full breakdown of the SAT sections
June 7, 2024
6 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Looking for advice on the detailed sections of the digital SAT? We’ve got you covered! This article will outline each section of the test and how to properly prepare.

As part of many college applications, students must submit an SAT score that meets the school’s general requirements. The digital SAT is a test administered by the College Board that provides a benchmark for students and colleges to see how prepared they are for secondary education. 

Each digital SAT section covers standard skills and knowledge that students should know by the end of high school. By taking the test, you are saying that you’re prepared for the challenges to come and are ready to begin preparing for your career. 

As such, it’s essential to prepare hard for this exam to score high and prove your readiness! 

What Are the Sections on the SAT?

The test components on the SAT fall under two main categories: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), and Math. The EBRW section is comprised of two tests, one focused on Reading and the other on Writing & Language. The Math section is divided into calculator-allowed and not-allowed parts.

SAT Section Time Allotted (minutes) Number of Questions Skills Tests
Reading and Writing 64 (two 32-minute modules) 54 Reading comprehension, analysis, context, argument deconstruction, Grammar, vocabulary usage, editing, finding the main idea
Math 70 (two 35-minute modules) 44 Algebra I and II, problem-solving and data analysis, advanced math, geometry, trigonometry, complex numbers
Total 134 98 A comprehensive blend of all skills in previous sections

The amount of questions on the SAT totals 154. Let’s explore what these questions and sections involve.

SAT Sections Breakdown

Each section of the SAT has a set number of questions and a set amount of allotted time

SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section

The SAT Reading and Writing Section includes a reading test and a writing & language test. The reading test consists of questions that assess reading comprehension and command of evidence. The writing & language test evaluates grammar, vocabulary, and editing skills

Compared to the other sections, the reading test affords you the most time per question, given the fact that it accounts for the time you need to read the required passages. With 64 minutes for 54 questions, prepare to work at a quick pace.

Other questions on the digital SAT reading and writing test will require you to use rhetoric and synthesis-based skills. These questions may ask you to come to specific conclusions about a passage to apply it to new information or other ideas. Some of these questions include graphs to interpret what you’ve just read. 

When starting a new passage, read the questions first. This way you will know what to look out for the first time you read the passage and won’t have to reread it. 

SAT Math Section

The digital SAT Math Section is divided into two parts: one that allows the use of a calculator and one that does not. The section includes multiple-choice and grid-in responses. The Math Section tests algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, advanced math topics, geometry, and trigonometry.

The first of three topic sections on the digital SAT covers algebra. Expect to be solving basic functions, simplifying them, and plugging answers into a multiple-choice exam page. Although they will be provided within the exam booklet, make sure to familiarize yourself with the geometric formulas that you’ll use in this section. 

The data analysis section of the digital SAT Math test checks your ability to read graphs and interpret the data to answer more multiple-choice questions. You will need to know basic probability and other data-based math skills. 

Finally, the hardest section of the math test is the advanced math section. Students may be least familiar with these sections. Expect to see some higher-level math questions involving challenging concepts like calculus. 

The SAT math section is separated into two parts. The first part requires you to answer 38 questions in 55 minutes. 

Your calculator is your best friend in this section. Make sure you know the ins and outs of how it works and that your calculator is at least sophisticated enough to use trigonometric functions. 

The second part of this SAT section is shorter at 25 minutes for 20 questions. Many students consider this part easier because it is to be answered without a calculator and focuses more on mental math. This is the portion where you should skip questions or just guess the answer!

SAT Optional Essay

The SAT essay is available exclusively in states where it is mandated for SAT School Day administrations. If you are taking the SAT on a school day, you should verify with your school to determine if the Essay will be a part of your exam.

Here is an official list of the states that require the optional essay as part of SAT School Day administrations:

  • Colorado 
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma

The essay is to be written in response to a short passage, within a range of 650 to 750 words. After reading the prompt, you’ll be asked to explain how the writer used evidence and reasoning to provide a persuasive argument.

If you live in one of these states, double-check to see if you’re required to complete this portion on the SAT!

If you want to see how ready you are for the SAT, check out our SAT Readiness quiz

How to Prepare for Each SAT Section

The best study method for your math skills is reviewing the concepts with examples, while the writing section takes rote memorization. A faster reading speed coupled with comprehension does wonders on the reading sections, so challenge yourself with tougher literature. 

To help you prepare for the digital SAT, you can explore preparation guides created by the College Board, take advantage of the study classes and videos offered by Khan Academy, or seek the help of a professional tutor. Students who use them increase their scores by over 100 points on average.  Find an SAT tutor near you to ace your exams!

Preparing for the Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Section

To help improve your score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section on the digital SAT, we’ve broken down the best preparation strategies into several steps. Here's a detailed guide to help you prepare for each section:

Reading Test Preparation

  1. Familiarize Yourself with Passage Types: Expect passages from literature, history, social studies, and science.
  2. Daily Reading Practice: Read a variety of texts, especially those that resemble SAT passages. This will improve your comprehension and speed.
  3. Passage Reading Strategies: Some students read questions first, while others read the passage in detail. Experiment to find the best method for you.
  4. Evidence-Based Answers: Look for direct evidence in the passage to support your answers, a key strategy for the Reading section.
  5. Improve Timing: Practice under timed conditions to ensure you can complete the section within the allotted time.

Writing and Language Test Preparation

  1. Grammar and Rhetorical Skills: Focus on key grammatical rules and rhetorical skills, as the test evaluates your editing ability and understanding of language.
  2. Conciseness: The SAT favors concise answers. When unsure, opt for the straightforward choice to avoid complexity.
  3. Practice with Official Materials: Use official SAT practice tests to become familiar with the question types and format.
  4. Revision Practice: Regularly revise different texts to identify common errors and learn effective sentence and paragraph improvement.
  5. Process of Elimination: For difficult questions, eliminate obviously incorrect answers first to increase your chances of selecting the correct one.

General Tips

  • Consistent Practice: Regular practice with real SAT questions is key to understanding the test's format and improving scores.
  • Analyze Mistakes: Review your answers to understand mistakes, identify patterns, and focus on areas for improvement.
  • Stay Calm: Practice relaxation techniques and maintain a positive attitude to stay focused during the test.

By incorporating these strategies and dedicating time to practice, you can significantly improve your performance in the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section.

Preparing for the Math Section

The Math section of the digital SAT is comprised of three subsections: Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, and Problem Solving and Data Analysis. To achieve a high score in the SAT Math section, strategic preparation is critical. Here's a focused guide to help you master this critical component of the SAT:

Understand the Test Structure and Content

  • Familiarize Yourself with the Test Format: The SAT Math section is split into two parts: one that allows the use of a calculator and one that does not. The non-calculator portion consists of 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes, while the calculator-allowed portion has 38 questions with a 55-minute time limit.
  • Know the Math Topics Covered: The SAT Math section tests a variety of mathematical skills across four main content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math. Ensure you're comfortable with each of these areas.

Key Strategies for Preparation

  1. Master Formulas and Concepts: While some formulas are provided, it's important to have a strong grasp of common formulas and math facts to save time and reduce reliance on the formula sheet.
  2. Practice with High-Quality Materials: Use official SAT practice tests and materials to familiarize yourself with the question types, format, and difficulty level of the Math section.
  3. Learn from Your Mistakes: Carefully review your practice test answers to understand your errors. This will help you identify patterns and areas where you need further study.
  4. Improve Your Timing: Practice under timed conditions to master your ability to complete questions more quickly and efficiently.
  5. Use Effective Problem-Solving Strategies: Develop a systematic approach to solving math problems, such as reading the question carefully, identifying and organizing necessary information, and choosing the best strategy for solving the problem.
  6. Check Your Work: Always review your answers, especially if you have extra time. Double-check your calculations and ensure you've answered the question as asked.

Additional Tips

  • Practice Regularly: Consistent practice is key to mastering the SAT Math section. Dedicate time each day to work on math problems and review key concepts.
  • Stay Positive and Manage Stress: Maintain a positive mindset and use stress management techniques to stay calm and focused during both your preparation and on test day.

By following these strategies and dedicating time to thorough preparation, you can significantly improve your performance in the SAT Math section, which is known to be the most difficult.

8. How Long is the SAT Section Where It’s Not Allowed to Use a Calculator?

The no-calculator section of the SAT is 25 minutes long. Whereas the calculator math section is 55 minutes long. 

SAT Sections FAQs

Now you have a comprehensive understanding of the digital SAT components, take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions. 

1. How Do I Balance All of My Work?

If you’re dealing with schedule issues and balancing your SAT and final exam study time, the best advice is to start early. Though most students take the SATs in their junior year, you can schedule your test date at any time. 

If you’re looking to squeeze it in somewhere convenient, a good suggestion would be to try to take the exam during the summer between your junior and senior years of high school. Since you’ve probably finished your busiest year of high school, it’s a good time to start preparing and knock it out for fall college application deadlines

2. How Long Does the SAT Take?

Not including the breaks between sections, the SAT should take around three hours, not including breaks. If you finish early, take the time to go back and rework some of the more difficult questions that you were unsure about. 

Usually, the exam instructor will write down the start and stop time-based on a clock in the exam room. Instructors will not typically move on until the time has run out or all students are finished and ready to move on. Testing usually starts around 9 am.

3. How Many Sections are on the SAT?

There are two sections on the SAT: reading and writing, and math.

4. Which Section of the SAT Is the Hardest?

The math section is considered the hardest section of the SAT because it requires critical thinking, excellent problem-solving skills, and good mental math! You’re given a limited amount of time to answer these questions, and some involve complex topics. 

5. What Is the Easiest Section on the SAT?

The writing and language section of the SAT is considered the easiest because it’s what students have the most experience with through school. It is difficult to study for, so students often improve their scores through practice alone. It is also the shortest section of the exam!

6. Does the SAT Have 5 sections Now?

No, the SAT still only has two sections. Some students do a third section, the optional essay, depending on their state and if it’s required. 

7. How Long Is Each Section of the SAT?

The reading section of the SAT is 65 minutes, the writing and language section is 35, and the math section is 80 minutes. The optional essay is 50 minutes. 

Final Thoughts

The digital SAT structure is broken down into two main sections: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math. In total, you have 134 minutes to complete each section. While each section comes with its challenges, following our tips for how to prepare will set you up for success. 

As overwhelming as the SAT is, remember it does not determine your future - you do. By dedicating enough time and effort to your studies, you’ll be launching yourself into a bright future!

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