graduateshotline logo
Last Updated: December 25, 2022

SAT Format and Syllabus

SAT is conducted multiple times every year by the College Board with the intent of measuring what a student has learned in school and what they will need to succeed in college/university. They believe that memorizing words and facts is not the right way to go about measuring skills. Due to this, they have accumulated topics that are relevant from the high school syllabus to assess the degree to which one has grasped these basic concepts.

The format and syllabus of the test have undergone various changes in the past few years. In 2021, College Board decided to do away with the Subject Tests and the Optional Essay test. In 2024, SAT will undergo further changes which include conducting the test exclusively online. Presently, the SAT is divided into three main sections. The first two sections of the test are based on English Language and the third is based on Mathematics, thereby condensing a lot of topics into what is seemingly relevant for higher education. It is not a test measuring IQ but is a standardized test focusing only on giving colleges insight into a student's capabilities.

The test pattern and syllabus have been explained in detail on this page to help students understand what they need to know before taking the test.

SAT Structure

The test is conducted both in paper-pencil and online format. The administration in the online format is subject to the availability of a computerized facility where the exam is being held. The test is 3 hours long. Each section is provided a stipulated amount of time within which, and only within which, they are allowed to attend the questions in that section. Candidates are NOT permitted to jump across sections. The SAT has 3 sections-
  1. Reading Test
  2. Writing and Language Test
  3. Math Test
There is an additional 15-minute break time included in between the test, which is broken down into two parts. The first break is after the Reading Test. The break is 10 minutes long. The second break is 5 minutes long and is after the Math calculator part.

SAT Content

The 3 sections will always be presented in the order of Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics. The Mathematics section is technically divided into 2 sections- one where candidates can use a calculator and one where the use of a calculator isn’t permitted.
SectionContentNumber of
Time Allotted
Reading Test
  • Literary passage from a fictional work
  • U.S Founding Document or a text from the Great Global Conversation
  • Passage from Economics, Psychology, Social Science, Sociology, etc.
  • Scientific passage based on Physical Science
  • 5265 minutes
    Writing and Language Test
  • Narrative non-fiction passage
  • Argumentative Passage
  • Informative/Explanatory passage
  • 4435 minutes
    Math Test
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math
  • Additional Topics
  • 5880 minutes

    Reading Test

    There are 5 passages in this section and each is 500-750 words long. There are 4 individual passages and 1 pair of passages. There are a total of 52 questions in this section and the time allotted is 65 minutes, which means that the students have about a minute to answer each question. These are multiple-choice questions with four options.

    Although there is no way to predict the passages that might be a part of the test, College Board specifies the genres of these passages. As mentioned in the table above, the passages will be from any of the above categories with at least one passage from the US literary works, one passage on the US founding document, and 2 on science. The others including the paired passages can be a mix and match in any of the above categories.

    Students are only required to base their answers on the evidence provided in the passages. There will be 10-12 questions on each passage. Some passages will also have a graph or a chart related to the passage and there will be data interpretation questions based on this information. The types of questions that are asked can be divided into the following categories:
    1. Deciphering the main idea of the passage. Students will have to choose the option that best describes the main idea of the passage or select the appropriate title of the passage.
    2. Interpreting the data given in the graphs/charts associated with the passage. The passages that have graphs and charts will have questions about analyzing the information hidden in them.
    3. Figuring out the tone and/or mood of the passage. Students will have to select the option that best describes the author's mood or tone in the passage.
    4. Implication of a line or couple of lines in the passage. The students might be asked what the author means or implies by the given set of lines in the passage.
    5. Meaning of a certain word in the passage. Students will have to select the option that describes the meaning of a word in the passage. The word can have multiple meanings, but students have to select the meaning that describes the meaning in the passage.
    6. Finding out the supporting details in the passage. Students will have to find supportive ideas that support the main idea of the passage.

    Writing and Language Test

    The writing and language section of the SAT has 4 passages that are each 400-450 words long. Each passage has 11 multiple-choice questions for a total of 44 questions and students have 35 minutes to finish this section. This means that there are approximately 35 seconds to answer a question. Some passages are easy while others are tougher to understand. It is important to manage time in this section and work on the easier questions first.

    The genres of the passages are listed in the table above. College Board states that there will be at least one non-fiction narrative passage and others will be based on the other categories listed above, like argumentative passages, informative passages, and persuasive passages. The topics of the passages can range from history, social studies, science, career, etc.

    The passages in this section are full of grammatical errors and the questions will ask students to improve the passages. Students are only required to base their answers on the evidence provided in the passages. Some passages will also have a graph or chart with additional information relating to the passage. The types of questions that are asked can be divided into the following categories:
    1. Using the correct word in the passage. These questions ask the students to replace an existing word with a more appropriate word from the options given.
    2. Changing the order of sentences to make the passage more effective. In these types of questions, students are required to rearrange the order of sentences to make the passage clearer.
    3. Changing the format, or structure of a sentence or a group of sentences. There would be a sentence or a group of sentences that would have to be rewritten to improve the sentence format, to remove redundancy, or run-on sentences.
    4. Rephrasing a sentence to reflect the intent in a meaningful manner. The options will have different ways to state the information and the student has to select the option that best describes the meaning based on the passage context.
    5. Finding the errors in the passage. There will be punctuation, verbs, and other grammatical errors that the student will be asked to find in a particular part of the passage and select the option that describes it. Some questions will ask to correct the information in the passage based on the graph/chart provided with that passage.
    6. Stating the evidence. Rephrasing or formatting the passage is not enough in many cases. Students will also have to select the reason why they are choosing to go with that option.

    Math Test

    The math section in the SAT tests students' knowledge of basic Math concepts that they will need to excel in college, irrespective of the field they choose to go in. Students have 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete the 58 questions in this section. This section has 78% multiple-choice questions and 22% grid-in questions.

    The Math section can be divided based on three different criteria:
    CriteriaDivisionNumber of
    TopicsHeart of Algebra19
    Problem Solving and Data Analysis17
    Passport to Advanced Math16
    Additional Topics6
    Calculator UsageCalculator allowed38
    Calculator not allowed20
    Question TypesMultiple-choice questions45
    Grid-in questions13
    The topics included in the Math section:
    1. Heart of Algebra- covers the basic algebra concepts of linear equations and inequations. The questions will require students to create linear equations, solve them and make connections between the algebra and graphical representations.
    2. Problem Solving and Data Analysis- include questions based on ratio and proportion, percentages, measurements, and conversions. In addition, there are inferencing questions based on graphs, tables, and statistics.
    3. Passport to Advanced Math- has questions on advanced topics like complex linear equations, quadratic equations, solving linear and quadratic equations together, non-linear expressions, and making connections between algebra and graphical representations.
    4. Additional Topics- includes all additional topics, not covered in the above topics. These include geometry and its theorems, trigonometry and ratios, calculating complex numbers, and two variable equations.
    Using calculator in Math section:

    The SAT Math section can be divided into two parts based on the usage of the calculator. The first part does not allow the use of a calculator. The second part allows the use of a calculator. Students have to bring their scientific calculator, there are no calculators available at the testing site. A breakdown of both parts is shown below:
    TypeNumber of
    Time Allotted
    Calculator allowed3855 minutes
    Calculator not allowed2025 minutes
    Some tips shared by the College Board on the use of a calculator are: Types of questions in Math section:

    The majority of the questions in the Math section are multiple-choice questions. Only 13 out of 58 questions are grid-in questions where the student has to circle the exact answer in the grid. There are no options provided. These questions are present at the end of each calculator allowed/not-allowed part. The student has to attempt these questions before the allotted time for the particular part is over. Below is the breakdown of the number of questions:
    Total Questions
    Calculator allowed30838
    Calculator not allowed15520
    Preparing for Mathematics Section

    Some Things to Keep in Mind

    Find out more on SAT from SAT FAQ page.

    2023-24 SAT Test Dates


    SAT Prep - Tips

    PSAT as a Stepping Stone to SAT

    SAT Math