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What is the SAT Exam?

What is the SAT Exam?

4 min Read|September 26 2023
|Written by:

George Christofi


Every year, millions of students around the world take the SAT exam in the hope of gaining admission into a US university. As one of the most popular admissions exams in America, this is an exam that people around the globe study for each year.

While a difficult exam, it is one that several people reach the upper bounds of, especially those that prepare well. The SAT follows a similar format every single year, ensuring that students that effectively prepare are able to move through the exam without running into any unforeseen concepts or circumstances.

In this article, we’ll outline exactly how you should prepare for the SAT, touching on what’s likely to come up in each section, how you can study ahead of time, and the best tips to help you boost your final score. Let’s get right into it.

What is the SAT?

The SAT, standing for Standardized Admissions Test, is a three-hour exam where students will have to work through a large number of multiple-choice questions. It is marked electronically, with a test sheet being filled out by students during the exam with a pencil.

The exam is used to determine university admissions, with colleges around the US using the SAT as their primary method for distinguishing between different applicants. Alongside extracurricular activities and the personal essay, the SAT is potentially the most important part of the admissions process.

Due to this, students from around the US and beyond that have their sights set on going to college take the exam every single year.

Out of a total of 1600, the average SAT is 1051, with Ivy League schools often needing at least 1550+ in order to be considered as a competitive application. The only other potential test that students could take to get into college in the US is the ACT, but this is much less popular than the SAT.

Average U.S. SAT Scores by Year


How is the SAT structured?

Within the SAT, you’ll have to face a total of 154 multiple-choice questions, stemming from three different content areas. While there are three sections, two of them are grouped into one section, meaning there are technically 2 overarching sections. Each of these two sections gives a total of 800 points, meaning that you’ll be able to score a top mark of 1600.

The three sections you’ll have to answer questions on in the exam are:

  • Reading - In this section, you’ll have 65 minutes to answer a total of 52 multiple-choice questions.
  • Writing and Language - In this section, you’ll have 35 minutes to answer a total of 44 multiple-choice questions.
  • Math - In this section, you’ll have 80 minutes to work through 58 multiple-choice questions.

Each section tests a range of different skills, meaning you’ll have to study a lot of different content to be in for a chance of reaching the very top of the grade scale.

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SAT Reading

The reading section is often known as the most finickity section, with this including multiple-choice answers that are very similar in nature. In this section, students will have to read through extended articles of text based on:

  • History - Historical documents from either global circumstances or the founding documents of America.
  • Social Sciences - Economics, sociology, psychology, and any other subjects that fit into this category.
  • Nature Sciences - Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, often focusing on specific phenomena or interesting findings in these communities.
  • Literature - Whether it be contemporary US literature, world literature, or classic literature, this almost always comes up in the exam.

After reading through each section, they then need to answer specific questions about their content, testing the student’s comprehension of increasingly difficult passages.

SAT Writing and Language

This section specifically tests the student’s ability to understand specific rules of English grammar and vocabulary in context. Additionally, students will have to edit passages and make informed decisions about how to place content, where to place content, and how certain linguistic decisions would change the meaning of a line.

This is the shortest section of the SAT, with students usually speeding through the multiple-choice questions. The specific text that students have to proofread, edit, and comment on often relates to similar passages as the first reading section, touching on humanities, science, history, social studies, and business.


Finally, the math section is the longest section on the SAT, acting as an entire section by itself. Within this section, students will have to answer 20 non-calculator questions before then moving on to 38 Calculator-allowed questions.

Within this section, students are tested on basic algebra, algebra II, geometry, and trigonometry. Alongside this, the Math section aims to put students’ problem solving and data analysis skills to the test, combining a range of basic and advanced skills.

Final Thoughts

Taken by students all over the globe, the SAT is a well-established exam that the vast majority of Americans will take at some point in their life. As one of the primary methods for students to access American higher education, this is a necessary barrier to overcome.

As tests go, the SAT is very formulaic, with very similar things coming up every single year. With this in mind, you’ll be able to prepare ahead of time and perform as well as possible. One of the best ways to secure a top grade on the SAT is to work with an online SAT tutor. At TutorChase, all of our tutors have achieved top marks on the SAT, studied at an Ivy League school, and tutored for years.

With this combination, they’ll be able to guide you through the SAT and ensure you have the very best chance of succeeding on exam day. Get in contact with us today, and we’ll find the perfect tutor for you.

Best of luck with the SAT!

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

George Christofi

Written by: George Christofi

Oxford University - Masters Philosophy

George studied undergraduate and masters degrees in Classics and Philosophy at Oxford, as well as spending time at Yale. He specialises in helping students with UK and US university applications, including Oxbridge and the Ivy League. He writes extensively on education including on schools, universities, and pedagogy.

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