SAT Overview

The SAT changed considerably in March 2016. Here is an overview of the exam so you can know what to expect and decide if the SAT is the right test for you.


The SAT consists of four required sections and an optional essay.

Section 1: Reading (65 minutes; 52 questions)

Section 2: Writing– multiple-choice grammar (35 minutes; 44 questions)

Section 3: NO-Calculator math (25 minutes; 20 questions)

Section 4: Calculator Allowed Math (55 minutes; 38 questions)

Optional: Essay (50 minutes)


Test Content

SAT Reading tests:

  • vocabulary
  • command of evidence / ability to find proof in the passage
  • analysis of charts & graphs
  • comprehension of college-bound text
  • ability to find details and draw appropriate conclusions

SAT Writing tests: 

  • ability to edit writing and correct grammar & usage errors
  • analysis of charts & graphs
  • understanding of main ideas & effective evidence
  • skill with editing the ideas and organization of another writer

SAT Math tests:

  • skills and concepts from Algebra I & II, geometry, and basic trigonometry
  • ability to work without a calculator
  • capacity for producing a response without multiple choice options
  • understanding of relevant verses non-relevant data in a word problem
  • basic, intermediate, and HARD math


Students receive two scores on the current SAT:

  1. Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (combination of sections one and two)
  2. Math (combination of calculator and no-calculator sections)

The essay receives numerical evaluations which are NOT part of the total SAT score.

Scores on each section range from 200 to 800, so when combined the total possible score is 1600.

The best way to compare SAT and ACT scores is to use the official concordance tables provided by the test corporations. You can see a 2016 version here. Here are a few quick conversions:

  • Average (50%) total SAT score is 1020-1050 which is the same as a 20 on the ACT
  • 75% SAT is 1200 – 1230 which is the same as a 25 on the ACT
  • 90% SAT is 1310 – 1340 which is the same as a 28 on the ACT
  • 95% SAT is 1390 – 1410 which is the same as a 30 on the ACT

Final note: The SAT has been publishing two percentiles on student score reports: SAT user percentile and a national representative sample percentile. In other words, comparing student to other student who took the test (user %) and comparing to students who did and did not take the test (national sample %). While you will want to use your national representative sample number because it is higher, the user percentile is the accurate one that will allow you to compare your scores to scores of other test takers — SAT or ACT.