Since 2005, the SAT has been comprised of three components: Writing, Critical Reading, and Mathematics The full test consists of 3:45 minutes of actual test material (only 3:20 of which is graded) and is broken down as follows:
1) Writing: 3 Sections
- 1 Essay: 25 minutes (always the first section)
- 25 Fixing Sentence questions; 18 Error-Identification questions; 6 Fixing Paragraphs questions
- 1 25-minute section
- 1 15-minute section (always the last section)
2) Critical Reading: 3 Sections
- 2 25-minute sections: 5-8 sentence completions, 19 passage-based questions each
- 1 20-minute section: 6 sentence completions, 13 passage-based questions
- 2 25-minute sections, 20 questions and 18 questions respectively. The section with 18 questions contains 10 multiple choice and 8 grid-ins
- 1 20-minute section, 16 questions.
Contrary to common belief, the skills that the SAT tests are not particularly exotic. In fact, the SAT is primarily a test of fundamental mathematical, reasoning, and grammar and composition skills. Let me reiterate this: the SAT tests only Math and English skills for which no specialized knowledge is required beyond what students can be reasonably expected to have gained from high school Math and English class. Most of the Critical Reading Passages are at a reading level similar to that of the New York Times, and Math only tests through Algebra II.
The SAT tests these skills in such a way, however, that makes it insufficient to study by simply memorizing information -- you must understand not only rules, but also their underlying principles and how to apply them to material that you have never seen before. Beyond simply familiarizing yourself with the test, then, studying for the SAT requires that you solidify these underlying skill-sets.
Most test-prep guides assume that the Sentence Completion section is a vocabulary test. While this is mostly true, it is also true that this section exists to test your ability to infer the meanings of words from their context, and to spontaneously use the “clues” given in the sentence to figure out the correct answer, even if you are completely unfamiliar with some of the words given as possible answer choices.
What this means: Of course it is in your best interest to learn as many vocabulary words as possible. Make lists, flashcards, whatever helps you to memorize words. When you read for English class, keep a dictionary nearby and look up every word you don’t already know, even if the meaning seems clear given the context. If you encounter it on the SAT, in a situation where the meaning isn’t quite so clear, you risk losing valuable points. For a list of the top SAT that you are less likely to encounter in everyday life, please refer to the entry entitled "Top SAT Words" (March 2009, http://ultimatesatverbal.blogspot.com/2009/03/most-common-sat-vocabulary-words.html).
While a good vocabulary will certainly help you, however, it’s not enough on its own. In order to be successful here, you have to be a flexible thinker, capable of applying your grammatical knowledge and sense of logic to sentences designed to confuse you. To outsmart the test, you need to be able to recognize the key phrases included in the sentence in addition to the literal meaning of the words.
- Single Short Passage (10-20 lines, 2 questions)
- Single Medium Passage (50-60 lines, 5-7 questions)
- Single Long Passage (65-90 lines, 9-12 questions)
- Short Passage 1/Passage 2 Comparison (5-7 questions)
- Long Passage 1/Passage 2 Comparison (10-12 questions)
- Minority/Female Experience
- Social Science
- Prose Fiction
- Literal comprehension
- Vocabulary in context
- Main point
- Tone and Style
- Underlying Assumption
- Relationships between ideas (Passage 1/Passage 2)
- Pronoun Usage
- Sentence Fragments
- Subject-Verb Agreement
- Diction (Correct Word Usage)
- Verb Tense
- Parallel Structure
- Comma/Semicolon Usage