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

You may have heard that your SAT score is one of the key factors to determine where you will be heading for college. We always hear how important it is to achieve a SAT high score, but how should we study for the test? To get you started on your SAT journey, we would like to give you an introduction of this internationally recognized college admission test.


Background of SAT:

The SAT is one of the most widely used college admission tests among colleges and universities in the United States. Many colleges use a combination of SAT score and high school grades to assess and predict a student’s academic performance in college. It tests students the three skills that they learn everyday in the classroom: critical reading, writing, and math. The test is comprised of ten sections with three sections under each area in addition to one unscored section. The unscored section is used to evaluate future test questions and can be in any of the three areas. The total time for the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes with 3 breaks of 5 minutes each.


Part I – Critical Reading (70 minutes)

The critical reading section has a total of 67 multiple-choice questions and is divided into two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. Out of the 67 questions, 48 of them are passage-based reading and 19 of them are sentence completions. The maximum score of the critical reading section is 800. Your SAT score is based on your raw scores, which you get 1 point for each correct answer, 0 point for leaving it blank, and -0.25 points for each incorrect answer.

Passage-based reading:

Each passage has a length between 100 and 850 words. Students are asked to read each passage and answer questions such as identifying the main idea of the passage, determining writer’s position on the subject, evaluating the writer’s tones and techniques, analyzing the arguments etc.

Sentence Completion:

Each sentence has one or two blanks. Students are asked to read the sentence, understand the meaning, and choose the answer that fits the meaning of the sentence the best. Having a strong vocabulary and a clear understanding of sentence structure are important if you want to to do well on this section.


Part II – Writing (60 minutes)

The writing section has two types of questions: essay and multiple-choice. The essay portion is 25 minutes and students are asked to write an essay to communicate the point of view and support the view with reasoning and examples. The multiple-choice section is 35 minutes and has a total of 49 questions. Out of the 49 questions, 25 of them are sentence improvement, 18 of them are sentence errors identification, and 6 of them are paragraphs improvement.


Students are provided with a short quotation or statement about an issue and students will need to create an essay response to the assignment. This section tests students on their ability to read and understand issues quickly, develop a point of view, and support the position with different reasoning, examples, and experience. Each essay is reviewed by two qualified readers and each reader will give a score from 1 to 6 with 12 being the maximum total score for this section.


The sentence improvement, sentence errors identification, and paragraphs improvement questions test students on their ability to identify and correct errors in grammar and sentence structure, improve the effectiveness of a sentence, improve word choice, and develop and organize paragraphs in a logical manner.



Part III – Mathematics (70 minutes)

The mathematics section has a total of 54 questions and is divided into two 25-minute section and one 20-minute section. Out of the 54 questions, 44 of them are standard multiple-choice questions and 10 of them are student-produced response questions.  Similar to the critical reading section, the maximum score of the math section is 800. Your final score is converted based on the raw scores, which you get 1 point for each correct answer, 0 point for leaving it blank, and -0.25 points for each incorrect answer.

For all three sections, students are tested on four general categories: algebra and functions (19 – 21 questions), geometry and measurement (14 – 16 questions), numbers and operations (11 – 13 questions), and data analysis, statistics, and probability (6 – 7 questions).

Student-Produced Responses:

The 10 student-produced responses test students on their ability to solve the problems without answers provided. It is important for students to be familiar with the answer sheet and understand how to enter the answers on the grid so they don’t need to waste time on figuring out the format during the test.


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. According to a recent article on Business Insider, the average SAT score of the incoming freshmen at the top ivy league schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton is as high as 2255. With the maximum total score being 2400, the competition to the best universities is more intense than ever. However, with early preparation and smart test-taking techniques, you will be on your way to an excellent SAT score.


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