About the new SAT®

What Subjects Are Tested?

There were three mandatory parts to the “old” SAT®: critical reading, math, and writing, which includes an essay. Each section is scored out of a total 800 possible points, for a total possible score of 2400 points. In the new SAT®, from spring 2016 and beyond, there are two mandatory parts, called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, plus one optional section, the essay. The evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section are both scored out of 800 possible points for a total of 1600 possible points. The essay is scored separately. Even though the essay is optional, it is recommended that students take the essay, since it can show colleges that the student is willing to do extra work and has a proficiency in English and composition.

How is the SAT® scored?

The current SAT® adds one point to the score for every question answered correctly. If a question is left blank, it does not count toward the total score. An incorrect question subtracts 0.25 points from the total score. In other words, on the current SAT® if a student answers 10 questions, and of those 10 questions, five are correct, three are blank, and two are wrong, the student’s total score is: +5 correct, 0 blank, -0.5 incorrect, which results in a total of 4.5 points. If that method seems complex, the new SAT® is more simple. Only right answers count toward the total score. For example, if a student answers ten questions, and of those 10 questions five are right, three are blank, and two are wrong, 5 total points are awarded: the only questions that matter are the ones that are correct.

The Math Section

On the math section of the current SAT®, there are two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. A non-graphing calculator is allowed at any time when a student is working on a math section. The test covers a wide variety of question types pulled from many areas of high school-related math. These include pre-algebra (such as percentage problems and fractions), algebra (solving for a variable), geometry (pythagorean triples, coordinate planes, and more), and even some simple trigonometry. The New SAT®’s math section is divided into two sections. One part allows calculator use. It is made up of 37 questions and lasts 55 minutes. The second part is the “no-calculator” segment and is made of 20 questions. The “no-calculator” segment lasts 25 minutes. In terms of subject matter tested, the New SAT® has a narrow focus. It deals with fewer questions types and goes into more detail on them. The New SAT® emphasizes “the heart of algebra,” which includes questions about analyzing and solving equations, rearranging and interpreting formulas, and creating equations, inequalities, etc that express the relationship between quantities or help students solve problems. These types of questions make up 35% of the total new SAT® math questions.

The New SAT® also focuses on “problem solving and data analysis,” and accounts for 28% of the math questions. In these questions, the student uses percentages, units, and ratios to create and analyze relationships; rearranges and interprets formulas, and describes relationships shown graphically. On the new SAT®, 27% of the math questions are problems in more advanced math. These include using the structure of expressions to re-write them, and working with polynomials, quadratic equations, and similar higher-level equations. The last 10% of the questions in the New SAT® math are a cross-section of work with trigonometric functions, using theorems to investigate lines, angles, triangles, and circles, and making calculations of area and volume. On the no-calculator section, students must answer 15 multiple choice questions and five student-produced response questions, working the problem without a calculator and then writing the answer manually in a grid.

Critical Reading Section

On the current SAT®, the critical reading section is scored out of 800 points. Students receive three scored critical reading sections on the current SAT®. Two will be 25 minutes long and have 24 questions each, and one will be 20 minutes long and have 19 questions. There are three different types of questions that appear in the critical reading sections. First are a handful of sentence completions. In these problems, students are given a sentence with a word or two missing and asked to fill in the missing piece or pieces. There are also long and short passages accompanied by questions. Short passages sometimes stand alone and sometimes appear together (for the dual short passages, students read a paragraph or two and answer a few questions that may relate to one or both passages). All questions are related to passage comprehension and may concern the author’s opinion, the author’s use of vocabulary in context, etc. Sometimes short passages are related to other short passages. (for those, students must read two passages, usually about the same topic, and answer questions comparing them). These are called “paired” passages.

Evidence-Based Reading

On the New SAT®, beginning spring of 2016, the critical reading portion is replaced by Evidence-Based Reading, a single section that is 65 minutes long and contains 52 questions. Students will read 4 single passages and one paired passage, each in specific content areas. One passage is taken from US or World literature, two passages (or one passage and one paired passage) comes from history and social science, and two passages (or one passage and one paired passage) is a science passage. Questions are pulled from 4 categories, words in context, command of evidence (in which students explain why they chose the answer they selected), analysis of history/social science, and analysis of science. There are also graphics with quantitative information that must be analyzed along with the text to reach conclusions or make predictions in the history/social science and/or science passages. Specific questions will ask students to identify things that the author stated explicitly, things that the author implied, and identify the author’s point of view. Some questions will ask students to determine central ideas, relationships between ideas, and summarize key points. Students will also need to analyze arguments, assess reasoning, and determine the purpose behind the author’s use of certain words or evidence.

The Writing Section

On the current SAT®, the writing section covers one 25-minute section, one 20-minute section, and one 25-minute essay. Writing questions require students to identify errors in sentences and improve sentences.

When students are identifying errors, they are asked to select the incorrect part of the sentence (if any). In improving sentences, students are asked to choose an answer that will improve the underlined portion of the sentence. One of the answer choices is always the option to leave the sentence as it is, which indicates that it is correct as written.Identifying sentence errors questions primarily cover subject-verb agreement, verb agreement, pronouns agreement and pronoun case. Improving sentences covers topics more related to diction, like parallelism, dangling participles, run-on sentences and incomplete sentences, as well as logical comparison and unnecessary punctuation.The essay portion of the current test is mandatory. It makes up 30% of the writing score and is scored by two graders, whose scores of 1-6 are combined for a total possible score of 12. Students are given 25 minutes to read a prompt and write an opinion essay based on their own knowledge, experience, and any historical, scientific, or other examples they can think of.

Writing and Language test

In the New SAT®, the writing portion is known as the Writing and Language Test. It is 35 minutes long and contains 44 questions. Eleven questions are evenly divided between four passages. The passages cover four different areas: one passage is about careers, one passage comes from the topic of history/social sciences, one relates to science, and one is drawn from the humanities. There is also at least one graphic provided for analysis. Students are tested on their knowledge of effective use of language in expression of ideas, organization and logic, as well as effective language use. Some of the questions will require adding or revising information using appropriate sentence structure, connecting ideas, interpreting quantitative information, ensuring logical flow of ideas, choosing concise structure, and using proper word choice and tone. Questions will also test proper grammar, punctuation, and style use, as well as a student’s ability to determine the meaning of a word used in context.

The (optional) Essay

Starting in spring of 2016, the essay is the last section administered and it is optional. If students choose to take the essay portion, they are allowed 50 minutes to write an essay analyzing an argument that is given. Students should not write opinion or argumentative essays, they should merely explain the argument presented.

Students will first read a 650-750 word passage and then write an essay about it. They must show their comprehension of the meaning, styles, methods, and evidence the author uses to support his or her argument. They must also write their analysis in a logical, coherent manner.Students are scored from 1-4 on three different criteria: reading (how well author’s argument is understood), analysis (how well the argument is evaluated), and writing (how well language is used in the essay).


With all this information, you are now ready to learn some specific strategies to help improve scores on the SAT®, or to learn about the differences between the SAT® and the ACT®.