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Background of SAT

If you’re wondering what the letters S-A-T stand for, they do not stand for anything!
This wasn’t always the case: when College Board introduced the SAT in 1926, the exam was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test.  Since then, it has been through changes both in name and content. In 1990, it was renamed the Scholastic Assessment Test.  Soon, the College Board settled for SAT as an empty acronym and changed the name of the test to SAT I: Reasoning Test. Finally, the Roman numeral was dropped. Now the test is known as the SAT Reasoning Test, popularly called the ‘SAT’.


According to College Board, ‘more than 2 million students in 175 countries and territories take the SAT every year’. Most colleges in the USA require an undergrad applicant to submit either the SAT or the ACT score. In many other countries, several colleges either accept or require SAT scores for undergraduate admissions. While admissions committees do consider other factors: including grades, transcripts, essays, extra-curricular activities, and contribution to the community, the SAT score is a critical criterion to get into a competitive undergrad school.

Updated SAT in 2016

In 2016 we got big changes in the SAT. The content and the test structure of the New SAT are very different from those for the SAT administered till January 2016. So at least for a while, we can expect everybody to call the test the ‘New SAT’.

A quick overview of the New SAT structure:

Section Test   Duration Number of Question
Evidence-based Reading and Writing Reading 65 Minutes 52
Writing and Language 35 Minutes 44
Math Math Calculator not allowed 25 Minutes 20
Calculator allowed 55 Minutes 38
  Total 230 Minutes 154

SAT Scoring
You get a whole range of scores on the NEW SAT

  One Composite (Total) Score 400-1600
  Two Section Scores
1 Evidence-based Reading and writing 200-800
2 Math 200-800

SAT: Sections, Tests and Durations

The New SAT is 3 hour 50 minutes long, excluding breaks. Test takers are allowed two breaks — one 10-minute and one five-minute break — during the test. The exam consists of two sections and one optional essay. The two sections are (1) Evidence Based Reading and Writing and (2) Math.

The Evidence Based Reading and Writing section comprises two tests – a Reading Test and a Writing and Language Test. The Math Test comprises two sections – a “calculator not allowed” section and another “calculator allowed” section.

The sequence of the tests/ sections may vary; tests/sections have to be answered in the order they appear and in the time allotted. You cannot go back to a test/section after the time allotted for that particular test/section is over, and you cannot move ahead to the next test/section before time is called, even if you have completed all questions in the previous test/section.

The 65-minute Reading Test has 52 Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs); the 35-minute Writing and Language Test 44 MCQs. The 25 minute Math Section on which use of calculator is not allowed contains 15 MCQs and 5 Grid-In questions that do not have any answer options. The 55 minute Math Section on which use of calculator is allowed contains 30 MCQs and 8 Grid-In questions.

The final section is the optional essay. The duration of the essay section is 50 minutes.

Every correct answer is worth one raw point. Skipped questions are not scored, and neither are wrong answers. There is no longer any penalty for wrong answers.

The number of correct answers in each test is the raw score for the test. You will get a raw score for the Reading test, for the Writing and Language test, and for the Math test. The raw scores are converted into the scores you see. Select questions contribute to the Subscores and the Cross-Test scores.

SAT – Difficulty Levels

Questions on the SAT come in 3 levels of difficulty– easy, medium and hard– questions from each level account for 1/3rd of the total questions. The Math questions are arranged in a rough order of difficulty. The questions on the Reading and Writing section do not appear in any particular order of difficulty.

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