By Zimaya Hugh

SAT Test Structure

The SAT Test is designed for USA universities and colleges to select fresh students. Every year millions of people take part in the exam over the world. Normally, 7 times in USA and 6 times at international sites per year. So students can prepare the test flexibly.

The test is to check students' knowledge learned in high school and problem solving skills in three areas: Critical reading, Mathematics, and Writing. It consists of 3 question types:
  • Multiple-choice
  • Student-produced answers (mathematics only)
  • Essay
The answer sheet is machine-scored, except the essay is read by human raters.

The test takes 3 hours and 45 minutes with 10 separate sections:
  • Three sections of critical reading (70 minutes)
  • Three sections of mathematics (70 minutes)
  • Three sections of writing (60 minutes)
  • One unscored section (25 minutes, is reading, mathematics, or writing)
SAT is the most important test of high school students who are apply for USA universities and colleges, because they all accept SAT score as an objective measurement to decide if the admission is offered. Of course, SAT cannot replace GPAs and high school transcripts, but SAT scores allow colleges to fairly compare applicants with same scale.

In some cases, you have to take SAT:
  • If you apply for scholarship opportunities.
  • Your college requires an admission test.
Comparing with other admission tests, SAT provides students with comprehensive performance feedback.For example, some colleges require writing assessment for admission. The SAT score automatically meets with such requirements.

Basically, SAT is a English focused test. Although there is a math section, its content just reach junior level, 9-10 grade. (For the nature of this website: English Test Vocabulary, we don't involved with math section in detail.)

For all SAT test taker, behaviors statistics is as:
  • On average, students answer 50 to 60 percent of questions correctly.
  • 80 percent finish nearly the entire test.
  • Almost all students complete at least 75 percent of the questions.
Practice to be familiar with the SAT test format is the first step to prepare your SAT exam.

SAT Test Structure

The general SAT test consists of 3 parts

SAT Critical reading
In SAT test the critical reading has only one question type: multiple choices. However, there are two possible formats:
  • Sentence completion
  • Passage-based reading and reasoning
As for the second format, the questions test abilities of students such as:
  • Identifying main and supporting ideas
  • Determining the meaning of words or phrases in context
  • Understanding writer’s purposes
  • Understanding the structure and syntax
In addition to multiple-choice questions, the mathematics section has questions that need student make or calculate response. In general, the math questions require you to apply mathematical concepts, knowledge, and skill in understanding and interpreting tables and charts. We can summarize its content to 9 or 10 grade math levels. So it’s not difficult for high school students who are applying for colleges. The questions may in four major areas:
  • Numbers and operations
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Data analysis and probability
The SAT writing section to test your both writing knowledge and skill, not just ask you write an essay. So it actually includes some questions of multiple-choice in addition to writing essay.

The multiple-choice questions check your syntax and vocabulary level, like
  • Recognize sentence errors
  • Choose the best version of writing
  • Improve paragraphs or sentences
Test Sections
The SAT test is three hours and 45 minutes long. It is organized into 10 sections:
  • Three writing sections
  • Three reading sections
  • Three mathematics sections
  • One unscored (maybe any 25-minute section)
The first section is always essay writing, and the last section is also a writing section. In middle, the other sections can come in any order.
  • Writing (essay) 25 minutes
  • Writing (multiple-choice) 25 minutes
  • Writing (multiple-choice) 10 minutes
  • Reading (multiple-choice) 25 minutes
  • Reading (multiple-choice) 25 minutes
  • Reading (multiple-choice) 20 minutes
  • Mathematics (multiple-choice and calculate) 25 minutes
  • Mathematics (multiple-choice) 25 minutes
  • Mathematics (multiple-choice) 20 minutes
  • Unscored (multiple-choice) 25 minutes
Here we have to explain more about the unscored section. In the whole test, one of the 25-minute sections is unscored. This variable section may have reading, mathematics, or writing (only multiple choices). This section does not count toward your real score but is used to develop new questions. However, you don’t know which section is unscored when testing. So you have to answer all ten section with equal attitude.

SAT Critical Reading

Question type and format
At SAT critical reading sections, there is only one question type: multiple-choice. If we breakdown these questions, we can see two formats:
  • Passage-based reading 48
  • Sentence completions 19
Totally there are 67 questions that should be finished in 70 minutes, two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section.

In the view of question content, they are in three groups:
  • Reasoning 42–50
  • Comprehension 4–6
  • Vocabulary 12–16
Passage-based reading
Reading passages fits the general high school students and are taken from different fields, including:
  • Natural sciences
  • Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Literary fiction
To help you read and refer to question, passages often have line numbers or numbered elements at test paper. Reading passages can be any English materials theoretically, and are selected from various sources. Some attributes are as following:
  • Length range from 100 to about 850 words
  • Have narrative, argumentative, or expository elements
  • Possibly paired with other related passages
Commonly your job is to:
  • Decide the meanings of words from context
  • Show understanding of part or full passages, such as the main idea
  • Identify cause and effect in passages
  • Make inferences among full context
  • Understand logic of analogies or arguments
  • Analyze the author's assumptions and techniques
The Sentence-completion questions are relatively simpler than passage-based reading in most cases, because they focus on single sentence. They test abilities of students about:
  • Knowledge of the meanings of words, namely vocabulary
  • Knowledge of making sentence, namely grammar and logic
Each sentence-completion question gives you a sentence that has one or more blanks, with each blank indicating that something should be placed in. You have to choose the word or phrase to complete the sentence. Your selection must be best fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

SAT Writing Section

Question format and type
In SAT writing, there are two question formats: direct essay writing and multiple-choices. Usually the writing test has 50 questions and costs 60 minutes, is organized as

1 Essay (25 minutes)
49 Multiple-choice (35 minutes, one 25-minute section and one 10-minute section)
The multiple-choice writing questions can be broken-down in detail as
  • Choose the best version of writing 25
  • Identifying sentence errors 18
  • Improving paragraphs 6
The essay is always the first section on the SAT test. You have 25 minutes to write an essay on the answer sheet, using a No. 2 pencil. The essay hopefully test a student's ability of:
  • Developing a point of view on given issue
  • Supporting a point of view using reasoning and examples
  • Following the conventions of Standard Written English
As all essay tests, you cannot write with whatever you favorite. Instead, you have to follow the given assignment, which is a short quotation or statement on a special issue. For most SAT test takers, there should be no difficulty to understand the issue, because it is selected to:
  • Be easy understand without technical or specific knowledge
  • Be accepted by general test-taking population, including ESL
  • Enable students to react and respond quickly in a variety of ways
Here is a sample essay prompt and assignment:

Even scientists know that absolute objectivity has yet to be attained. It's the same for absolute truth. But, as many newspaper reporters have observed, the idea of objectivity as a guiding principle is too valuable to be abandoned. Without it, the pursuit of knowledge is hopelessly lost.Assignment: Are people better at making observations, discoveries, and decisions if they remain neutral and impartial? Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

The multiple-choice questions in writing sections are designed to check students' abilities of:
  • Communicating clearly, good vocabulary and no wordy
  • Improving existing sentence
  • Recognizing sentence-level errors
  • Syntax elements and structures for complex sentence
  • Clearly express multiple ideas with in paragraphs or sentence
  • Improve coherence of ideas within and among paragraphs
The multiple-choice writing questions are presented in three formats:

Choose the best version
This question type gives a sentence in which part, or all, of the sentence is underlined. You then see five options to replace the underlined section. The questions try to check the knowledge of:
  • Syntax, specially the sentence structure
  • The conventions of Standard Written English
Identifying sentence errors
This question type gives a sentence with four portions underlined. You need to select which of the underlined part is wrong, or, if no errors in your view, to select choice " No error." The questions try to check the knowledge to:
  • Recognize syntax faults
  • Recognize right sentences by conventions of Standard Written English
Improving paragraphs
This question type gives a passage and asks questions about it. The questions are commonly involved with more than one sentence and you will be asked to improve sentence structure or word choice. The questions try to test the ability to:
  • Edit and revise sentences
  • Organize and develop paragraphs in logical manner
  • Apply the conventions of Standard Written English.

SAT Test Scores

You take SAT test and receive scores in a SAT score report. Notice that you get three scores for reading, writing, and math respectively. As a matter of fact, some universities and colleges have special requirements for individual score, e.g. the reading score.

The SAT score report actually contains more useful information about your exam, including a comparison with scores of test-takers in last year's college-bound senior class.

Score reports also include a breakdown of each scores to help you know own strength and weakness. Online score reports are accompanied with other tools to assist you to prepare to retest, apply to college, and choose a major. Besides, the College Board also offers useful group reports for analysis of school wide and district wide SAT performance.

How is the SAT scored? An implied question is: Why the SAT score is comparable? You probably ask this question sometime or somewhere, because millions of students the exam at various test centers and multiple dates. The answer is not plain or simple. Basically SAT scoring is a two-step process.

A raw score is calculated
The fundamental raw score rule is:

One point is added for each right multiple-choice answer.

For each wrong multiple-choice answer, 1/4 point is subtracted
  • No points are subtracted for student-produced responses in math.
  • No points are subtracted for blank answers.
Combine scores you get and loss. If the resulting score is a fraction, it is rounded to the nearest whole number. 0.5 or more is rounded up; less than 0.5 is rounded down.

The unscored section will be ignored when counting score.

Convert raw score to scaled score
Your raw score then will be converted to 200-800 point scaled score by a statistical process called equating. This is a simple number to number mapping based on complex statistical analysis. Equating adjusts for differences in difficulty among test editions, and guaranty a score on any edition reflects the same ability. It means each 770 at any edition (any time or any place) should represent same level.

So, finally you will see SAT scores are between 200 and 800. 800 means perfect; 200 means nothing, although it seems a large number.

Essay score
In general, SAT test sheets are scored by computer. But the essay is an exception. Human qualified raters will read each SAT essay and mark it. For raters, each essay is considered as a whole work, the total impression that the essay creates decides how many marks the essay will be granted.

When raters read any essay, they take into account many aspects of essay. If you are hunting for high score, you should pay attention to:
  • Complexity of thought: Good idea and structure
  • Substantiality of development: Good reasoning and logic
  • Facility with language: Good grammar and vocabulary
Essay scoring procedures
Technically, each SAT essay is scored:
  • Independently by two qualified raters
  • Each rater marks from 1 to 6; final score is combined ranging from 2 to 12
  • 0 means no essay has been written on assignment
If the two raters' scores differ by more than one point, the assay needs to be read by the third rater. This scenario doesn’t happen usually. Less than 5 percent essays call for a third reader.

The College Board doesn’t collect raters to some certain places to score essays. All essays are scanned and sent to raters through Internet. The raters are also supervised online. The College Board manages a big pool of essay rater from across the country. Every rater has been trained to be mindful of the conditions under which students write the essays.

Essay scoring criteria
Raters must keep lots of criteria in mind when scoring essays, including:
  • Using the Essay Scoring Guide, a general rule you can see at SAT official site
  • Reading the essay quickly to gain an impression
  • Reading the entire essay again, then scoring immediately
  • Reading supportively, looking for and rewarding what is done well
  • Ignoring the quality of handwriting
  • Judging an essay by its quality, not by its length
  • Considering each aspect of writing equall