Sat Format

The SAT Reasoning Test is one of the staples of standardized testing. Many choose between it and the ACT, but taking one does not automatically teach you about the other; they’re pretty different, so if you’ve only taken the ACT or if you have not yet tested for college, you should familiarize yourself with the SAT format.


As with any test you might take at school, you begin by finding your seat. The proctor passes out the materials, you verify information, everyone reviews the rules, and then the test begins. Calculators are stowed beneath the desk during non-Math sections.


Every sitting of the SAT begins with the 25 minute essay portion. You will open your booklet, read the prompt, and begin. The essay is scored as a first draft, so focus on solid grammar and content over absolute perfection. You may want to go to the College Board site and find sample essays before going into the test room for the first time.

Multiple Choice

Before addressing the sections, it is important that you understand all the tests are set up differently. That is, your neighbor may be working on Math while you are working on Reading. All tests have the same number of sections, with one that goes unscored. However, the order of the sections is randomized.

The writing score includes multiple choice questions that involve grammar and mechanics, as well as idiomatic writing in addition to the essay.

Critical Reading

Critical Reading includes passages and vocabulary intensive sentence completion questions. Some of the passages come in pairs and ask you to compare and contrast ideas or writing styles.

There are three Reading sections: Two last 25 minutes and one lasts 20 minutes.


On the SAT Math section, you may use a TI-89 graphing calculator and other advanced calculators. On the ACT, these devices are grounds for score cancellation.

Math also has three sections. One 25 minute section and the 20 minute section are both entirely multiple choice. The other 25 minute section has multiple choice and grid-in questions.


The entire testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes, but most centers also include frequent breaks. When I took the SAT, the entire experience lasted about five hours.


The raw score is calculated like so:

For every correct answer, you gain 1 point.

For every incorrect answer, you lose 1/4 of a point.

For every skipped question, you do not gain or lose points.

For every incorrect answer to a grid-in math question, you do not gain or lose points.

Scores are then scaled based on the mean for the test.

Each section has a score calculated out of 800. Most colleges only consider your score out of 1600, which is your combined Critical Reading and Math score. Your Writing score is generally used for English class placement. The total score combines all three sections and is taken out of 2400.

The SAT is fairly simply once you get in the room and start, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the whole process. The best way to prepare is to practice and, of course: Eat a solid breakfast, relax, good resting makes for good testing, and all that fun stuff!