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Lucas Fink

The SAT Format

If you haven’t taken a full practice SAT test yet, you really should. And if you have taken one—or, ideally, more—you might already have a pretty good idea of what you’ll see on your SAT. But unless you’ve been a prep machine, there’re probably some details that have escaped you.


Why is the SAT format important?

Okay, you got me: there are more important things to know than the order of the sections, their lengths, and which questions come at which points in each. This shouldn’t be you’re biggest concern. First, you should be studying some SAT strategies and commonly tested material.

But, if you’ve already got that learning process underway, why not go into the SAT as a total expert on it? Knowing the exact format of the SAT can give you some extra confidence on that critical Saturday morning, which just might translate into a couple more answers.


SAT format breakdown by section

There are ten sections of the SAT, most of which are 25 minutes long. The order isn’t totally fixed, as it is on the ACT, but there are some things you can know in advance about what comes when. Here’s the breakdown:


It’s a long test—about four hours—so remember that building stamina is important.


Consistencies within SAT sections

You can be sure of a few other things about the SAT format, counting only the scored sections (not the experimental one).

  • You’ll see two sets of paired passages on the test: one long and one short.
  • There’ll be one set of 10 non–multiple choice, grid-in questions in the second half of a math section.
  • The final writing section will have 14 improving sentence questions.
  • Every reading section will start with sentence completion questions.
  • All sets of similar questions that don’t relate to a passage will be roughly ordered from least to most difficult.


Differences between testing supervisors

Generally, proctors (the people who watch over you taking the test) stick to the standard SAT format, but you might get one that slightly alters the break timing or placement. They’re not supposed to, but it’s not unheard of, either.

Other than that, all of the above is going to be true on the day of your SAT. Don’t worry about memorizing anything—this is just for a bit of context, so you can picture what to expect a little bit better.


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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