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SAT Test Sections

This information refers to the current SAT and is in effect through the January 2016 test date. Get information about the redesigned SAT, which starts March 2016.

Each standard edition of the SAT includes critical reading, mathematics, and writing questions divided into 10 test sections. (Nonstandard editions do not include the 10th, variable, section.)

Critical reading

The critical reading questions are all multiple choice. They can have one of two formats:

  • Sentence completion
  • Passage-based reading with long and short excerpts from works in natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, and literary fiction

The questions assess students' reading skills, such as:

  • Identifying main and supporting ideas
  • Determining the meaning of words in context
  • Understanding authors' purposes
  • Understanding the structure and function of sentences


The mathematics section has two types of questions:

  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Student-produced responses

The questions require students to apply mathematical concepts and to use data literacy skills in interpreting tables, charts, and graphs. They cover skills in four major areas:

  • Numbers and operations
  • Algebra and functions
  • Geometry and measurement
  • Data analysis, statistics, and probability


The writing section consists of two types of questions:

  • An essay
  • Multiple-choice questions

The multiple-choice questions ask students to:

  • Recognize sentence errors
  • Choose the best version of a piece of writing
  • Improve paragraphs

SAT® section by section

The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes long. It is broken into 10 sections:

  • Three writing
  • Three critical reading
  • Three mathematics
  • One variable (unscored)

The first section is always the essay, and the last section is also a writing section. In between, the academic content areas can come in any order.

ContentMinutesTotal Time
Writing (essay) 25 60 minutes
Writing (multiple-choice) 25
Writing (multiple-choice) 10
Critical reading (multiple-choice) 25 70 minutes
Critical reading (multiple-choice) 25
Critical reading (multiple-choice) 20
Mathematics (multiple-choice and student-produced response) 25 70 minutes
Mathematics (multiple-choice) 25
Mathematics (multiple-choice) 20
Variable (unscored, multiple-choice) 25 25 minutes

The unscored section

One of the 25-minute sections is unscored. This "variable" or "equating" section may have critical reading, mathematics, or multiple-choice writing questions. It does not count toward the final score but is used to try out new questions and to ensure that scores on new editions of the SAT are comparable to scores on earlier editions.

Test book variations

Test-takers sitting next to each other in the same testing session may have test books with an entirely different sequence of the 25-minute and 20-minute sections.

Customized Entry Pages


Go to the SAT Downloads and Materials Ordering page to view and print these and other related materials:

  • Educator Handbook for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests
  • Getting Ready for the SAT
  • Getting Ready for the SAT Subject Tests
  • A Guide for Counselors – SAT and SAT Subject Tests, U.S. edition
  • A Guide for Counselors – SAT and SAT Subject Tests, International edition


  • SAT Program for K-12
  • Phone: (888) SAT-HELP
  • International: (212) 520-8600
  • Phones are available between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday. Summer hours (from the end of June through August) are 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). The SAT Program Educator Helpline may be reached by completing this email inquiry form.

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