Last Updated On: May 17th, 2020

In the previous SAT Tips blog, we wrote about fear of the SAT. Fear often comes from what we don’t know. One of the ways to vanquish the fear is to get acquainted with the test. So we’re going to provide an all-encompassing perspective on the test, so that you know what you’re dealing with.

There are three sections of the SAT: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. The titles “Critical Reading” and “Writing” are semi-misnomers, though, because the Critical Reading sections contain other questions that don’t deal with extensive critical reading, and the Writing sections feature questions in which writing isn’t involved. At any rate, here’s the breakdown:

The Critical Reading (we’ll abbreviate this as “CR”) sections begin with a batch of problems called Sentence Completions. You’ll be given a sentence with one or two blanks and must choose among five answer choices, each with one or two words. The word, or words, must make sense when inserted into the sentences. The rest of the sections—and the majority of CR—consists of several reading passages. You must answer questions pertaining to those passages.

How to study for CR: The key to doing well on CR is to study vocabulary words. The more vocabulary you know, the better you’ll do on the CR sections.

The Math sections consist of multiple-choice math problems, with the exception of ten problems with no choices—you simply read the question, come up with the answer yourself, and fill in the answer in a grid on your Scantron sheet. Topics cover mostly Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, and Geometry (but no proofs and no trigonometry). You’ll see some topics that are often covered in Algebra 2, such as arithmetic/geometric sequences and series, combinations, and permutations, but the majority of the test deals with Geometry and lower. You’ll also see a little sample of Pre-Calculus—the highest level of math on the SAT—but only problems that deal with functions. Calculators are permitted and should definitely be used; you’ll a huge amount of time if you do so. In fact, we don’t know of anybody who doesn’t use one on the SAT.

How to study for Math: Review your Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry, the topics mentioned in Algebra 2, and functions.

The first Writing Section is the only section in which you must write. You’ll be given a topic (called a prompt) and have 20 minutes to write about it. There will be several blank sheets of paper in your test booklet for you to do that. The prompt will be general enough so that everyone will be able to write about it. The other Writing sections consist of multiple-choice questions in which you must find the mistakes (if any) in sentences, choose correctly-worded versions of sentences, and choose the correct way of changing sentences in reading passages. All these questions pertain to grammar.

How to study for Writing: Practice writing short essays on various topics. Learn grammar rules.

So the long-term plan for SAT success is as follows: Work on your vocabulary and write practice essays. These will be ongoing tasks. Also, learn the required math and grammar. Once you’ve completed those things, take practice tests. Taking enough practice tests will make you comfortable and familiar with the test.

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