New SAT vs. Old SAT Format

As you probably know, as of March 2016, the SAT is in a new format. The New SAT is substantially different from the old version of the exam. The test design has been simplified—there are now five sections instead of ten. While both versions of the exam have an essay section, the essay is now optional. Every component of the SAT, including the essay, has a new format and a shift in the skills it focuses on.

In this post, we’ll show changes to the overall exam and individual aspects of the exam in a series of charts.

Test Format: New SAT vs. Old SAT


Test Component Old SAT New SAT
Total test time 3 hours, 45 minutes 3 hours, with an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay section
Sections 10 sections: one essay section, three reading sections, three math sections (calculator permitted), two writing/language sections, one unscored experimental section 5 sections: Critical Reading, Writing and Language, Math with Calculator, Math without Calculator, and an optional Essay section
Section order Essay first, all other sections in random order Fixed section order: Reading first, writing/language second, math without a calculator third, math with a calculator fourth, optional essay at the end
Scoring A 600-2400 point holistic scale A holistic 400-1600 point scale  for the mandatory four-section test; a three-component scale ranging from 2/2/2 to 8/8/8 for the optional essay
Score reporting One holistic score is given for the entire exam One holistic score is given for the entire exam, a separate score is given for the optional essay, and subscores are reported with a 200-800 score range for the four mandatory sections, and a 2/2/2 to 8/8/8 score range for the optional essay


Math: New SAT vs. Old SAT

Section Components Old SAT Math New SAT Math
Total time 70 minutes 80 minutes
Sections 3 (calculator use permitted) 2 (one with calculator use permitted, one with no calculator)
Grading scale 200-800 points 200-800 points
Questions 54 questions total

44 multiple-choice

10 fill-in-grid

One 16-question section

One 18-question section

One 20-question section

58 questions total

20 no-calculator questions

38 calculator questions

45 multiple-choice questions

13 grid-in questions


Skills covered Numbers and operations, 11-13 questions

Algebra and functions, 19-21 questions

Geometry and measurement, 14-16 questions


Data analysis and statistics, 6-7 questions

Heart of Algebra, 19 questions

(linear equations, systems of linear equations, and inequalities)


Problem Solving and Data Analysis, 17 questions

(ratios, proportions, percentages, units, quantitative data, probabilities)


Passport to Advanced Math, 16 questions

(equivalent algebraic expressions, quadratic equations, exponential functions, other nonlinear equations and functions)


Additional Topics in Math, 6 questions

(basic trigonometry, geometry)


Reading: Old SAT vs New SAT

Section Components Old SAT Reading New SAT Reading
Total time 70 minutes 65 minutes
Sections 3 1
Grading scale 200-800 200-800
Questions 67 questions total, all multiple-choice

Two sections with 24 questions

One section with 35 questions


52 questions total, all multiple-choice
Skills covered Sentence completion based on the overall meaning of the sentence, 19 questions


Passage reading comprehension, 48 questions

Passage reading comprehension



Writing: Old SAT vs New SAT

Section Components Old SAT Writing New SAT Writing
Total time 50 minutes 35 minutes
Sections 2 1
Grading scale 200-800 200-800
Questions 49 questions total, all multiple-choice

One section with 35 questions

One section with 14 questions

44 questions total, all multiple-choice
Skills covered Correcting errors in sentences, 18 questions


Improving the writing style of sentences, 25 questions


Improving the writing style of paragraphs, 6 questions

Improving the writing style of passages, 24 questions


Correcting errors in passages, 20 questions


Essay Format: New vs Old SAT

At an overview, you can see that the new version of the exam is certainly simpler and more “user-friendly.”Still, this does not necessarily mean that the new SAT is easier in every respect. Some basic trigonometry has been added to the Math section and geometry is now being downplayed in favor of other math skills that often require more complex calculations (advanced algebra, probability, etc.). Reading and Writing have eliminated shorter readings in favor of questions based exclusively on longer passages. Although the New SAT essay is optional it’s also much more challenging, requiring test-takers to carefully analyze a written piece rather than independently expressing their own opinions on social issues.All in all, the New SAT is easier in some ways and harder in others. It’s easier because it has fewer sections and more straightforward organization. Most students will also find certain portions of the New SAT a bit harder academically, but these changes can be a blessing in disguise. The New SAT is designed to help college applicants fully prepare for current expectations from universities as higher education itself continues to grow and change.

Section Components Old SAT Essay New SAT Essay
Total time 25 minutes 50 minutes
Essay format Personal opinion Textual analysis
Grading scale 2 to 12 points A score range of 2/2/2 to 8/8/8
Skills covered Expressing and supporting personal opinions

General academic writing skill


Reading comprehension
Rhetorical critique
General academic writing skill
Optional No Yes



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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