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What is SAT?





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What is the SAT?

Breaking down the test.

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a standardized test by the CollegeBoard. This test is commonly used as a baseline for academic excellence by college admissions officers in the United States. As a major component of your college application, getting a stellar SAT score will be instrumental in your college application process.

There are four compulsory sections to complete in the SAT Test: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator) and Math with calculator. These four sections are scored out of a total of 1600. The essay is optional though some top universities consider it essential in your application. SAT Essay scores are reported separately from overall test scores.

SAT Reading

(Multiple Choice Questions)

(65 minutes)
(52 questions)

Skills Required
  • Reading passages
  • Interpreting informational graphics
  • Classic or contemporary work of U.S. or world literature.
  • U.S. founding document or an inspired text in the Great Global Conversation
  • Economics, Psychology, Sociology, or other social sciences.
  • Foundational concepts and developments in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Question Types
  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Analysis of History/Social Studies and Science

SAT Writing

(Multiple Choice Questions)

(35 minutes)
(44 questions)

Skills Required
  • Identify errors
  • Improve passages
  • Interpret Graphics
  • Arguments, Non-fiction narratives related to History, Humanities, and Sciences.
Question Types
  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Analysis of History/Social Studies and Science
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions

SAT Math

(Multiple Choice Questions)
(Grid-in Questions)

No Calculator
(25 minutes)
(20 questions)
With Calculator
(55 minutes)
(38 questions)

Skills Required
  • Mathematical Reasoning
  • Application of Problem-Solving
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
Question Types
  • Mathematical Fluency
  • Conceptual Understanding
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Calculator Use

SAT Essay

(Essay Question)

(50 minutes)
(1 question)

Skills Required
  • Reading and Analysis
  • Writing Skills
  • Understanding of the Given Passage
  • Effective Use of Textual Evidence
  • Examining author’s use of persuasive techniques
  • Supporting and developing claims with given evidence
  • Organized and precise with appropriate style and tone

All About the SAT Scoring System

The SAT Scoring

How is the SAT Scored?

The SAT score range is between 400 and 1600 for your total score, and 200-800 for each of your two subscores. One subscore is for Math, and one subscore is your combined Reading and Writing scores to make one “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” score.

What Makes a Good SAT Score?

It is difficult to quantify what a good SAT Score is. However, you should aim to score within the 90th percentile on average as admissions are highly competitive. Every year, each test taker’s score is updated with the most recent year’s percentiles. To get into the Ivy League or top-tier universities however, we recommend that you try to get a score of 1550 and above to get an edge over other university applicants.

SAT Composite ScorePercentile

Section ScoresMath PercentileVerbal Percentile

Required SAT Scores at Top Colleges

Ivy League UniversitiesAverage SAT Scores
Yale University1550
Harvard College1520
Princeton University1520
Columbia University1520
University of Pennsylvania1510
Brown University1510
Dartmouth College1500
Cornell University1480

Top Private UniversitiesAverage SAT Scores
Duke University1540
University of Chicago1540
Vanderbilt University1530
Stanford University1520
Columbia University1520
Northwestern University1510
Carnegie Mellon University1500
Tufts University1490
New York University1450

Learn the differences between these two tests.

The SAT vs. The ACT

A common question we often hear is “What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?” Both tests are accepted by most universities in the US. However, as they have slight differences, it is recommended that candidates should take the test which they would fare better in. Some students even choose to attempt both before submitting the test with the best score.


Should you be unable to decide which test might be more suitable for you, a good way to gauge your expertise is to attempt a full length practice test for both. IvyPrep offers free diagnostic tests for both the SAT and ACT. Upon completion of the tests, a detailed score report would be generated to assist with your decision in which test you should sit for.


Here are some key similarities and differences between the SAT and ACT:

ScoringSAT Reading and Writing (out of 800)
SAT Math section (out of 800)

Essay (Optional - Scored separately - bonus 24)
Composite score of 400-1600
ACT English (out of 36)
ACT Reading (out of 36)
ACT Math (out of 36)
ACT Science (out of 36)

ACT Essay (Optional - scored separately - bonus 12)
Total score (average of all 4 sections)
FormatReading 65 mins
Writing and Language 35 mins
Math (No calculator) 25 mins
Math (w calculator) 55 mins
English 45 mins
Mathematics 60 mins
Reading 35 mins
Science 35 mins
Seconds Per QuestionReading (75)
Writing (45)
Math (75)
English (36)
Math (60)
Reading (52)
Science (52)
Math FormulasProvided
Calculator AllowedIn one sub-testIn entire test
Science SectionNoYes
ReadingQuestions always
in chronological
order and a
number line is
Evidence support
questions here.
Being able to
remember the
locations of details
in reading passages
gives you a greater
advantage on the ACT.
No evidence
English / Writing More focused on
questions about
writing style, language
precision and vocabulary.
More focused on
grammar, punctuation,
and sentence structure,
big idea questions.
MathFocus on Algebra,
along with other
topics such as Data Analysis and Modeling.
Wider range of
Mathematical concepts—such as
logarithms, graphs
of trig functions, and matrices
Science- No Science Section -
Scientific data and passages
present in Reading
and Writing sections.
Comfort with
scientific terms and
experience gathering
scientific data from
charts and graphs
will give you a
greater advantage
on the ACT.
EssayRead a passage
and explain how
the author uses
certain strategies
to build an
argument and
persuade an

For those who are
good at critically
analyzing texts
Analyze three
perspectives on an
issue and present
your own.

For those good at
logic and debate.