What Skills Does the SAT Test?

How many skills does the SAT test you on? On the surface, you might say there are three: reading, writing and math. And in a way, you’d be right. Those are three scores you receive, after all. But there’s a lot more to it, really.

Here are five other skills that the SAT makers are assessing you on whether you realize it or not.


Skill #1: Stress management (performance under pressure)

This one’s a no-brainer. Clearly, doing well on any test means dealing well with test anxiety. And it can be incredibly hard to keep yourself from getting all nervous and fidgety. You can’t force yourself to stop, but you can practice taking the SAT enough times that the pressure becomes more manageable.


Skill #2: Time management

Having twenty-five minutes or under on each section of your SAT means there’s no time to waste. You have to answer the questions quickly—but not too quickly. It’s crucial to devote just enough time to the questions which you can answer correctly and not get stuck spending ages on questions that you’re not going to get. That’s why you should do each section in order. Don’t skip to the last questions first.

It’s also why outlining is absolutely necessary for high-scoring essays.


Skill #3: Reading and following directions

The SAT makers love testing how closely you’re paying attention to the question, especially in the math sections and with paired passages in critical reading. The wrong answer choices often have traps in them—answers giving the value of x when the question asks for y.


Skill #4: Scanning for information

A lot of SAT Reading Comprehension questions will ask you about information that you need to find in the text in order to answer accurately. Being able to scan the reading quickly and mentally highlight the relevant pieces saves you a lot of time. And if you make a mistake while doing it, you’ll end up looking at a wrong answer choice. Data tables and graph are just the same—stay focused, find Waldo, and don’t get stuck wading through all the other, unnecessary details.


Skill #5: Creative solutions

In high-level math questions, there’s often more than one way to solve the problem. Thinking outside of the box to answer a question can save you a lot of time, since the brute force math is a bit tedious at times. A lot of the time, this just means being test savvy enough to plug numbers in from the answer choices (or from your own head) to find variables. Sure there’s SAT geometry, but you’ll to apply your formulas “outside of the box”. It’s a lot more than being able to punch in numbers into your prized SAT calculator.

Other kinds of creative thought are also rewarded in non-math sections, like in the essay. Being able to tie the topic of the question into a number of different sources will really pay off, and that’s mostly just about approaching your example materials in new, interesting ways.


Practice all of the SAT skills

Most of these skills can be improved with practice, so keep them in mind when you’re preparing for your SAT. That’s especially true for reading the directions and managing your time… master those and you’ll see a real increase in your scores.



  • 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.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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