The SAT is broken into three sections: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. Most of the test, which lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes, is composed of multiple-choice questions plus one written essay. Out of the ten test sections, one section is always "experimental." The experimental section tests new testing material and can fall under any of the three test categories. This section is 25 minutes long and can show up at any point of the test, but the score is not counted towards the composite score.
The Essay Component
The written essay will always be the first section of the SAT. This section lasts 25 minutes and counts as about one-third of the total writing score. The essay directions ask you to write a persuasive essay answering an assigned question. Your essay is scored holistically, in roughly two minutes, by two different readers -- each reader gives the essay a score of 1 (low) through 6 (high) and the two scores are added together to equal a final score out of 12. Scoring is based upon organization, idea development, sentence structure, vocabulary, grammar and usage. For a high score, make sure to be clear and consistent.
The Non-written Writing Component
These sections test your ability to identify errors in grammar, sentence structure and paragraph structure or organization. Of the two multiple-choice writing sections, one 25-minute section tests your ability to identify sentence errors, improve sentences and improve paragraphs and another 10-minute section on improving sentences. While sections two through seven appear in any order, section 10 will always be a writing section. The scaled score for the writing component ranges from 200 to 800 points. You earn one point for each correct answer, lose one-quarter point for each incorrect answer, and neither gain nor lose points for skipped/blank answers.
The Critical Reading Component
All of the critical reading questions are multiple-choice; however, there are two types of questions: sentence completion and reading comprehension. The sentence completion, or vocab, questions test your ability to determine the meanings and ideas of words. These questions test your vocabulary and reasoning abilities and range in order of difficulty. The reading comprehension questions test your ability to understand a piece of writing and are not arranged in order of difficulty. You are tested on both short (11 to 150 words) and long (400 to 850 words) passages. There are three Critical Reading sections; two are twenty-five minutes long and the other is twenty minutes. The scoring scale and point values are the same as for the writing section.
The Math Component
The two types of questions seen on the math section are multiple choice and grid-in questions. Math questions test your ability to solve geometry, algebra or statistics problems. There are two twenty-five minute sections comprised of both question types and one twenty minute section with only multiple choice. The scoring for multiple choice questions is the same as the rest of the test; since you don't have answers to choose from for the grid-in questions, you do not lose any points for wrong answers.
The Composite Score
Now that you know about the SAT components, it's time to learn how they add up. Raw scores -- the total number of points from each of the three sections added together -- for each section can be converted into "scaled scores." There is a handy conversion chart available to help find scaled scores. However, each raw point is roughly worth 10 scaled points. The total scaled scores for each one of the three sections will range from 200 to 800; the three scores added together produce a final score ranging from 600 to 2400 points.
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images