What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Sections are on the SAT? Plus, how to prepare for them.

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If you’re planning to take the SAT, then you probably know this test plays a crucial role in college admissions. However, studying hard in school isn’t enough to succeed on the SAT; you need to learn the ins and outs of the test. In this post, we’ll help you understand the different sections of the SAT and how to approach each one.


The redesigned SAT features four different sections:

  • Reading
  • Writing and Language
  • Math
  • Essay


The last section is optional, but many top colleges require students to complete it. Read on for information on these sections, how they’re scored, and what you can do to prepare.




Number of Questions: 52

Time Permitted: 65 mins

Score Range: 200 to 800 points, when combined with results of the Writing and Language test


The Reading section of the SAT is designed to assess a student’s reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary. During the assessment, students will read a selection of passages from U.S. or world literature, history, and science. After reading each passage or pair of passages, students will answer a series of questions.


How to Prepare:

Develop a strategy for reading the passages. Some students opt to skim the passage, reading the introduction, conclusion, and first and last sentence of each paragraph. Others prefer to speed-read the whole passage upfront and then look at the questions. By taking a few practice tests ahead of time, you can try out different strategies and find the one that works best for you.


Writing and Language


Number of Questions: 44

Time Permitted: 35 mins

Score Range: 200 to 800, when combined with the results of the Reading test


While the Reading section requires test takers to evaluate content and meaning, the Writing section is focused on correcting errors in words and sentences. The goal is to measure a student’s understanding of vocabulary in context, and knowledge of standard English conventions. Additionally, test takers should be able to show their command of evidence.


How to Prepare:

Strategy is key when preparing for the section, as test takers often report feeling a time crunch. To save time, consider answering questions as you read rather than waiting until you finish the passage. This strategy can be especially effective because questions are listed in the order that material appears in the reading. Furthermore, some students have an easier time answering questions as they go, rather than trying to remember information after the fact.

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Number of Questions: 58 (38 with calculator and 20 without)

Time Permitted: 80 mins (55 minutes with calculator and 25 minutes without)

Scoring: 200 to 800


The Math section of the SAT has two different parts, and one doesn’t let you use a calculator. This realization can be particularly stressful for students who aren’t good at mental math. Both parts of the test feature questions related to algebra, problem solving, data analysis, and advanced mathematics.


How to Prepare:

When it comes to the SAT Math test, practice really does make perfect. If you want to boost your score, consider brushing up on your mental math before the test. Practicing multiplication tables for higher numbers (like 12, 13, and 14) can help save you time on the big day. Additionally, experts advise students to review strategies for solving word problems. For example, some students cross out information that’s irrelevant or underline those words and phrases that are crucial to solving the problem.


Essay (optional)


Number of Questions: 1

Time Permitted: 50 mins


Scoring: Reading, Analysis, and Writing are each evaluated on a scale of 2 to 8

The SAT Essay requires students to read a passage and then write an essay detailing how the author created his or her argument. If you’re thinking of skipping the optional SAT Essay, you might want to think again. Many of the most competitive colleges require this testing component, while others just recommend that students complete the essay. Schools that require or recommend the SAT Essay include:


  • Amherst College
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Harvard College
  • Princeton University
  • Texas A&M University
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • Villanova University
  • Yale University


If you do choose to take the optional Essay, it’s important to understand how the College Board will evaluate your work. Student essays are assessed based on three separate criteria:


  • A reading score, which considers your ability to use textual evidence from the passage in writing your essay
  • An analysis score, which examines your understanding of the author’s argument and looks at your ability to select relevant evidence
  • A writing score, which is based on the strength of your thesis, tone, style, and general usage of language


How to Prepare:

If you want to boost your SAT Essay score, one of the best things you can do is open a bookor a newspaper or magazine. Reading nonfiction can help you get familiar with different styles of writing while expanding your overall knowledge of the world. As a bonus, reading more can help you on the SAT Reading exam, which is mostly geared toward nonfiction.


Consider Your Strengths and Weaknesses


If you want to succeed on the SAT, it pays to take a good hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you have an easy time with math but tend to struggle with language arts and English. Or perhaps you do well in most of your courses but have a tough time taking standardized tests. Luckily, various diagnostic tests exist to help students identify areas where they might be lagging. Once you figure out where you might need extra help on the SAT, you can take the necessary steps to improve your score.


Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.


Want to know how your SAT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.