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SAT Sections In-Depth – Writing, Critical Reading, & Math December 14, 2016

SAT consists of three major sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each section receives a score on the scale of 200-800. All scores are multiples of 10. Total scores are calculated by adding up scores of the three sections. Each major section is divided into three parts. There are 10 sub-sections, including an additional 25-minute experimental or “equating” section that may be in any of the three major sections. The experimental section is used to normalize questions for future administrations of the SAT and does not count toward the final score. The test contains 3 hours and 45 minutes of actual timed sections;[9] most administrations (after including orientation, distribution of materials, completion of biographical sections, and eleven minutes of timed breaks) run for about four and a half hours. The questions range from easy, medium, and hard depending on the scoring from the experimental sections. Easier questions typically appear closer to the beginning of the section while harder questions are toward the end in certain sections. This is not true for every section (the Critical Reading section is in chronological order) but it is the rule of thumb mainly for math and the 19 sentence completions on the test.

SAT Writing

The essay

The purpose of the essay is to test the student’s ability to organize, develop, and articulate a viewpoint based on a prompt based on their own thoughts and experience, historical, and scientific examples. The prompt will come in the form of a paragraph and will ask a question. You will then formulate a viewpoint and support it in your essay. Only 25 minutes are given for the essay, so practice using your time efficiency so that you can produce an essay consistently without getting stuck on the one time it really counts.

A proven format is to use an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. First determine what stance you take on the prompt and formulate a viewpoint, or thesis. Come up with three major points supporting your thesis and the implications of your thesis for the conclusion. It is best to start by brainstorming in bullet points, and then develop them into full sentences once you have chosen and organized your ideas. In those points, make sure to include at least one response in anticipation to a likely counter-argument and at least one example from your experience, history, or science.

These are key tactics to improving your score reliably and effectively. Skipping lines and allowing more space between words than you normally leave can for modifying and editing your essay if you have time afterwards. Erasing and rewriting entire sentences and paragraphs is a waste of time and drawing multiple insertion arrows all over the booklet is messy and not likely to please the grader. If you tend to have your writing flow obstructed by detailed grammar and spelling, put off getting every aspect 100% correct until you get out your ideas and sentences. Varying sentence structure is good as well, but not as important as getting out your ideas and making them cohesive. Go over detailed minutia after you expand your ideas into a full essay so that you don’t waste precious minutes, and budget your time to be able to look over them.

Multiple Choice Questions

The Writing Multiple Choice sections involve improving paragraphs and identifying sentences that may or may not contain linguistic errors. A good way to approach this section is to hear out if it sounds correct. However, there is some training to be done to avoid common pitfalls when listening. Good SAT preparation resources will cover these by concept.

Simply reading a lot will greatly help you identifying errors by listening for errors. However, you may be are short on time, a non-native speaker, or not as linguistically inclined. Language can be more -fuzzy- and less precise – unlike math – than you might be comfortable with. Approaching this section by studying distilled grammatical principles, rather than lots of random reading will likely be much more effective. Identifying the more commonly tested concepts and getting used to the curve ball questions through repeated exposure and practice are examples of such the method. Knowing things specific to the SAT are effective ways to improve your score with little time and effort. For example, the sentence improvement section considers unnecessarily long wording to be errors and uses semicolons to split sentences.

Critical Reading

Reading Comprehension

The SAT Critical Reading sections involve reading paragraphs and answering questions of comprehension, reasoning, and in-context vocabulary. The key to succeeding in Critical Reading section is first to be able to absorb and retain a lot of information, keeping in mind the big picture and logical concepts. The Critical Reading sections do not require special knowledge of any given topic, since all of the necessary information is provided.

Two general approaches exist for reading passages. Some students prefer to take in the entire passage first. Others find this overwhelming and prefer to read the questions first, and then read the passage for -targeted- reading. Either way, being able to focus in on details and seeing the big picture are necessary skills. Summarizing each paragraph’s key idea is a good tactic for students of both styles as well.

The best way to prepare for SAT Critical Reading section is get your hands on as many practice reading passages and solving them. The key is to improve your ability to comprehend higher level reading.

Sentence Completion

Sentence completion questions simultaneously test vocabulary and comprehension of sentence structure. Sentence completion problems involve a sentence with either one or two blanks, which must be filled in with the appropriate words. Starting with the most common SAT words is an excellent place to start studying for vocabulary.

There are many tactics for sentence completion questions. Knowing a lot of vocabulary will help greatly for sentence completion questions. However, even if you do know vocabulary well, the logic and structure of the sentence is what determines the correct answer. There are certain logical patterns to sentences completion questions.

Some sentences have the definition or antonym’s definition of the word in the sentence. Other sentences queue a contrast or an unexpected relationship. Questions with double blanks are best approached by picking one blank and trying each answer choice, eliminating the answers that do not fit for that blank. You then test the remaining answer choices and test them in the second blank. This method is faster because you can focus on one concept at a time, instead of alternating between two.

Sentence Completion is not something that can easily be crammed for, but seeing repeated patterns of question types and structure will allow you to quickly absorb them in a few weeks’ time.


The SAT Math sections are based on logic, algebra, and geometry. Logic is always necessary, algebra is intensely covered, and only the basics of geometry are covered. Area, relationships of lines and angles, and other concepts are tested, but proofs and trigonometry are not necessary. There are multiple choice format questions, where the answers are provided for you and grid-in format questions, where the answers are completely generated by the student alone. If there are multiple ways of expressing the same answer in grid-in questions, they will all be valid. You will absolutely want to write in the booklet to solve problems. Doing so will also make reviewing and checking your answers more quickly as well. Again, the best method to improving math is to practice solving a lot of problems. Identify the topics you tend to miss and use the focused method of studying that topic exclusively in order to pick up patterns more quickly. Failing to convert the answer or read exactly what the question is asking for are common ways students make careless errors on easy questions.

Simply reading carefully can be worth the equivalent score boost as suddenly learning how to solve the hardest few problems. This is an area where studying for the SAT can really pay off. You can use the calculator, but being able to manipulate things on paper or mentally can sometimes lead you to the answer more quickly. Switching from using the pencil to using the calculator can take time away or break the flow of solving a problem, so you will want to become proficient at knowing the shortcuts and quick input methods for your calculator.

Often times, there are questions that can be solved either in a quicker fashion by identifying a key relationship or going through a more time-consuming calculation. If you are struggling with math, it can be very topic-dependent. So it is best to identify the topics, and do many problems of one topic at a time.

Categories: Writing