New SAT 101 – A 5-Minute Crash Course (Post-March 2016)

new sat 101

The College Board rolled out a new SAT in March 2016 and the changes affected multiple aspects of the SAT test including structure, scoring, and timing etc. According to the College Board, the changes will allow the test to be better aligned with the skills needed for college and career readiness. The new SAT is also designed to be more connected to the current high school curricula.


The total test time for the new SAT is 3 hours (or 3 hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay section). The new SAT consists of three sections:

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (1 hour and 40 minutes)
  • Math (1 hour and 20 minutes)
  • Optional Essay (50 minutes)

The total score of the new SAT ranges from 400 to 1600. It is a combined score from the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. The score of each section is between 200 and 800.

One good news about the new SAT’s scoring structure is that, unlike the old SAT, there will no longer be a penalty for wrong answers. That means students should answer all questions, because even if you guess it wrong, it won’t hurt your score.


Now let’s take a look at each section of the new SAT.


Part I – Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (1 hour and 40 minutes)

The evidence-based reading and writing test is divided into two sections: 1) Reading and 2) Writing and Language.


The reading section has a total of 52 multiple-choice questions and it is a 65-minute section. The questions are based on passages in U.S. and World Literature, History, Social Studies, and Sciences. The reading test will include:

  • one passage from U.S. and World Literature
  • one passage from U.S. founding document or global conversation
  • one passage from a social science topic (e.g. economics, psychology, sociology etc.)
  • two passages from a science topic (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science etc.)

The passages are somewhere between 500 and 750 words. Students are asked to, for example, evaluate hypothesis and interpret the passages with the accompanied informational graphics.
Some sample questions:

  • In the context of the passage, the author uses the phrase “example phrase” to convey the idea of…
  • The author includes the descriptions of the subject in paragraph two to…
  • In passage one, the main purpose of the first two paragraphs is to…


Writing and Language:

The writing and language section has a total of 44 multiple-choice questions and it is a 35-minute section. The questions are based on passages where students are asked to improve information and ideas of the passages, improve word choice, perform critical analysis, and identify and improve passage organization, sentence structure, usage, and punctuation etc. It is important for students to practice identifying problems and fixing them. The passages are somewhere between 400 and 450 words.
There will be one score for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and the score ranges from 200 to 800.
Some sample questions:

  • Which choice below best maintains the sentence pattern already established in the paragraph?
  • The writer is considering deleting the underlined sentence. Should the sentence be kept or deleted?
  • Which choice completes the sentence with accurate data based on the graph?


Part II – Math (1 hour and 20 minutes)

The Math Test has divided into two sections: 1) Calculator and 2) No Calculator. Calculators will be permitted for about 65% of the questions and the remaining questions will need to be calculated by hand. The test has a total of 58 questions and it is an 80-minute section. Out of the 58 questions, approximately 45 questions are multiple-choice while the remaining ones are student-produced responses (that means there is no answer for you to choose from and you need to calculate the answer on your own). The topics of the questions include algebra, problem solving, data analysis, geometry, trigonometry, and other advanced math topics.
Many of the questions structured in a real-world setting and students are expected to understand the problem, determine the data needed, identify the most efficient approach, and solve the problem mathematically.
There will be one score for Math and it ranges from 200 to 800.


Part III – Optional Essay (50 minutes):

The optional essay section tests students’ ability to apply reading, writing, and analysis skills. Students will be given one passage, question, or prompt in which students need to respond to. Students are expected to

  • understand the passage and the importance details and ideas
  • understand the points that the author is arguing and examine the author’s use of data, evidence, and other analyzing and writing techniques
  • develop your claims and arguments based on the data and evidence on the passage

Even though the essay section is optional, some colleges require this score to be part of their application so we recommend students to check with the colleges they’re interested in to find out if this test is needed. If you’re not sure, we encourage you to take the SAT with Essay in case you need to report your score later. The SAT Essay score ranges from 2 to 8.



Even though SAT score is not the only factor determining your chance of admission, there is no doubt that improving your SAT score can increase your chance of getting into your desired schools. With early preparation and smart test-taking techniques, you will be on your way to an excellent SAT score.

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