The SAT is a 180 minute, mostly* multiple-choice, exam that covers 4 sections: reading, writing and language, math without a calculator, and math with a calculator. Spoiler alert: there are 154 questions on the test.

*Some questions are called “grid-in” questions because you do not have answer choices to pick from, and instead, enter your own answers on a grid. These questions make up about 22% of the math section but are not found in any other section. Learn more about these in the Math section at the end of this blog.

Here’s how the questions break up by section, and how much time you have to answer them:

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime
Reading5265 Minutes
Writing & Language4435 Minutes
Math (without a calculator)2025 Minutes
Math (with a calculator)3855 Minutes
TOTAL154180 Minutes

The test used to be 50 minutes longer when the optional essay was still available, but it has since been removed from the test altogether. Sorry, we know you were probably excited for a four-hour test, unfortunately now it’s only three. While you wipe your tears about that news, let’s get into what to expect from each SAT section.

SAT Reading:

The SAT reading section is the first – and arguably most resented – section of the test. You’ll have 65 minutes to answer 52 questions based on 5 passages: 1 work of fiction, 2 historical/social science pieces, and 2 scientific texts on concepts like biology or chemistry. That’s a lot of numbers, so focus on this: the SAT reading section aims for you to comprehend a number of challenging texts by answering a series of questions that target different elements of the passage.

Likely, if you’re studying for the SAT, you know how to read. So what makes this section of the test so difficult? Well, to put it as professionally as possible, the passages are boring. Trying to stay focused on a number of passages – that offer the same entertainment as watching paint dry – is more difficult than you may think. This is the first section of the test, so you haven’t built up any test stamina yet, which can make this section seem so long, but somehow it’s still easy to feel stressed about finishing in time.

Ok, so now you know not to expect any Harry-Potter-level literature on the test, but what can you expect?

Fiction Writing:

The fiction, or “literary narrative,” passage will always be the first one you see. Likely, this will be an excerpt from a longer story – contemporary or classic. This passage may not include the scientific vocabulary you will see in other works throughout the test, but that doesn’t mean this portion is easy.

Fiction writing leaves lots of room for descriptors and fluff text that can distract you from the main idea of the passage. To do well on this type of passage, make an effort to highlight any information that you think is actually valuable to the main message of the text. This will help you answer the follow-up questions more efficiently.

Still feeling stressed? I hate to sound like your mom here, but reading truly is the best way to prepare for this style of writing. Learning to recognize the key elements of fiction – like characters, themes, and tone – will help you complete this portion quickly.

Historical/Social Science Texts:

Before you start sweating, this portion of the reading section is not going to test you on your knowledge of historical events but follows the same goals of the other passages as it aims for you to understand important concepts from the text. You do not need to spend time studying history to ace the SAT, but because of this section, you may want to spend that time focusing on expanding your vocabulary.

Because these passages are usually sourced from historical documents or speeches, the language used within them can be a hurdle for some test takers. For this passage specifically, context clues are your best friend! These can be slow to read if you’re unfamiliar with the language; the more time you spend deciphering text, the less time you’ll have to answer questions.

If you want to be more prepared for this text style, deja-vu here: read! Familiarize yourself with historical writing. Read some passages that follow this style and focus on growing your ability to pull out the important information, like the main idea, despite the complicated language. If it’s the vocabulary you’re worried about, check out this flashcard deck to start your practice.

Science Passages:

Similar to the history passages, the intention of scientific writing within the SAT reading section is not to test you on your scientific knowledge. In addition to comprehending the passage itself, these passages may also include visuals like graphs or data that you’ll need to consider.

You know, I'm something of a scientist myself - Meming Wiki
Keep this mindset for these passages, just avoid turning into an evil green goblin (not a spoiler, the movie came out in 2002, people).

Though this tip is valuable across the entire reading section of the SAT, it’s most prevalent on the scientific passages: even if answers are technically correct, if they are not directly stated in the text, they are not the correct answer. Answer questions only with the information the passages give you and omit anything you may know about the topic outside of the text.

To prepare for these passages, (I promise I’ll only say this one more time) read example versions of the text. More specifically, read in an annotating style so you can best pull out the important information. This also includes your comprehension of graphs and charts. Additionally, practice identifying the who, what, when, and where of these types of passages – most of the questions will focus on these elements.

Questions on the SAT Reading Section:

Although the SAT reading passages seem like they may not have much in common, the types of questions you will see spread across all the passages in the reading section boil down to about 7 different styles.

1. Main Idea Questions:

These questions focus on the big picture of the passage and often read like this:

  • The primary purpose of the passage is to…
  • This paragraph primarily serves to…

2. Detail Questions:

Detail questions are similar to main idea questions but have a smaller scope. Often, they will reference a specific portion of the text they want you to focus on.

  • The quote in lines 36-39 primarily draws attention to…
  • The third paragraph (lines 40-48) indicates the speaker’s perspective that…

3. Purpose Questions:

Purpose questions focus on the “why” of something in the text. They often look like this:

  • In line 68, the description of the cat’s fur primarily serves to…
  • The primary purpose of the statements in line 42-46 is to…

3. Vocabulary in Context Questions:

These questions can be tricky because they aren’t just asking you to define a term, they are asking you to define a term within the context of the passage.

  • In line 4, “figure” most nearly means…
  • In line 18, the author uses the word “beast” to convey the narrator’s sense of…

4. Author’s Intent Questions:

These questions focus on what an author is trying to convey to the reader through tone or style.

  • The author’s tone in the underlined portion of the passage is best descried as…
  • Which of the following statements would the author likely agree with?

5. Evidence Questions:

As you answer other questions, the SAT may ask you where you found the evidence for your answer in a previous question. The answer options are likely a series of quotes or line numbers.

  • Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?

6. Data Comprehension Questions:

Some passages include graphs or data tables and you’ll be asked to interpret what they mean. Those questions could look like this:

  • According to figure 2, how many students attended the school in 2017?
  • According to the graph, the largest temperature increase happened in what year?

SAT Writing and Language:

The SAT Writing and Language section is designed to test you on two main ideas: how well you can revise and edit text to fix weaknesses in its expression and correcting errors in sentence structures, usage, and punctuation. Despite the name, this portion of the test is completely multiple choice, you aren’t actually writing anything.

This section allows 35 minutes to answer 44 writing questions. This is the only section of the SAT where you have less than a minute to answer each question (about 48 seconds per question). In a similar fashion to the reading section of the SAT, the writing and language section does require you to answer questions based on passages, but these are significantly shorter – around 4-9 paragraphs on the reading section vs. 1-2. on the writing section.

You can expect to read 4 passages in the writing and language section of the test, each with 11 follow-up questions. The topics of these passages are far less structured than they are on the reading section, but you can expect to see at least 1 that is narrative in style, like story writing, but all 4 passages are considered nonfiction. The other three passages can be argumentative, persuasive, informative, or explanatory and focus on topics like these:

  • Careers: discussions on medicine, technology, or business.
  • Social Studies: topics like historical events, politics, psychology, or sociology.
  • Humanities: expect these to focus on art, poetry, music, or authors/artists.
  • Science: revolve around earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.

Some passages on this portion of this test may be accompanied by graphs or charts, so be sure to be comfortable interpreting them.

Questions on the SAT Writing and Language Section:

Even though the questions on the writing and language section of the test fall into the two categories mentioned above – expression of ideas and conventions – there are 4 main types of questions to expect from this section.

1. Development Questions:

Development questions revolve around big picture stuff, like topic sentences and thesis statements, as well as references to graphs and charts. They might read like this:

  • Which choice provides the best supporting examples for the main idea of the paragraph?
  • Which choice most accurately and effectively represents the information in the graph?

2. Organization Questions:

These questions focus on logical sequence and propper sentence structure. Some concepts these questions cover are ordering information or the placement of transition words. Here are some examples:

  • To make this passage most logical, paragraph 1 should be placed:
    • Where it is now.
    • After paragraph 2
    • After paragraph 3
    • After paragraph 4
  • The writer wants to add the following sentence to the paragraph. […] The best placement for this sentence is immediately:
    • Before sentence 1
    • After sentence 1
    • After sentence 2
    • After sentence 3

3. Effective Language Use Questions:

A huge misconception about the SAT is that they like fancy and wordy text; the SAT actually favors concise language. These questions focus on correcting text by eliminating woridness or combining sentences to improve the flow. Those questions can look like this:

  • James wanted to buy the blanket, but he didn’t want to pay the money the seller was asking for it.
    • but the cost of the blanket was too high
    • but he was looking to buy a blanket with a lower price.
    • but it was too expensive.

“but it was too expensive” is the correct answer.

  • The councilman argued that the new budget made necessary cuts. He argued that these cuts would ensure the city’s financial health for years to come.
  • Which choice most effectively combines the senences at the underlined portion?
    • cuts such
    • cuts, these
    • cuts that
    • cuts and these

“cuts that” is the correct answer.

4. Grammar & Mechanics Questions:

These questions ask you to correct errors like incomplete sentences, punctuation, or usage agreement. Here are a couple examples:

  • He slipped out the door and into the night and no one has heard from him since.
    • night no one
    • night, no one
    • night, and no one

“night, and no one” is the correct answer.

  • Raul acted on instinct – after all, he hadn’t spent much time preparing for this sort of thing, and quickly declared the contest to be over.
    • thing – and
    • thing and
    • thing,

“thing – and” is the correct answer.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Get 1-on-1 SAT Help from a Test Geek Tutor

SAT Math:

Everyone’s favorite part! This section of the SAT is split into two parts: math without a calculator, and math with a calculator. Math without a calculator has 20 questions to answer in 25 minutes, and math with a calculator has 38 questions to answer in 55 minutes. As mentioned earlier, these sections include “grid-in” questions that are not multiple choice; these questions are found at the end of each section. There are 5 grid-in questions on the no-calculator section, and 8 on the calculator section. That means grid-in questions make up 22% of the math questions, so make sure you practice using them before test-day!

UCPG 3 - Testive
Here’s what a grid-in answer looks like.

While these might be named the math sections of the test, and there is an ample amount of math questions, the SAT also uses this section to test you on your reasoning skills. The multiple choice questions within each math section will get more difficult as you move through the test, with the last multiple choice question on each portion being quite hard. Overall, this section is worth 800 points, so it warrants a healthy amount of preparation.

Questions on the SAT Math Sections:

Among these two sections of the test, SAT math covers 4 main topics with its questions. Showing example questions for each topic would get a little complicated because the topics are so broad, so we’ll explain with words instead. But, if you’re looking for practice, check out these free resources and practice tests.

1. Heart of Algebra Questions:

Heart of algebra makes up about 30% of the math questions you’ll see. This includes all things linear – linear equations, linear graphing, linear functions and linear inequalities. Even though the content in this category is the “easiest,” it’s not uncommon for students to struggle on it because most of this material is taught in middle school, and by your junior year of high school, it’s expected to be a little rusty on it.

2. Problem Solving & Data Analysis Questions:

This section is made up of stuff that most students have spent the least amount of time covering during math class. This category is also about 30% of the questions on the math sections, and focuses on statistical surveys, rates, ratios, models, and data in tables.

3. Passport to Advanced Math Questions:

Another 30% of the questions, this category has the hardest questions for most students. This portion is the uglier cousin to the heart of algebra questions; it includes things like algebra without exponents and non-linear graphs and functions.

4. Additional Topics Questions:

Additional topics only makes up 10% of the questions, but it’s the catch-all for every other math topic that the other categories don’t cover, which makes it broad and relatively difficult. These topics could include geometry, trigonometry, and complex numbers. Even though the least amount of questions are dedicated to these topics, you should still be spending some time familiarizing yourself with them to be fully prepared.

The SAT is Getting Shorter

Since the effect Covid-19 had on the accessibility and flexibility of the SAT, College Board made the decision to transition the test to an entirely virtual format. Along with this major change, the SAT is getting shorter in questions and almost an hour shorter in time in 2024.

So, if you’re prepping for the SAT now, this most likely won’t affect you (unless you’re really getting a head start). Because most students don’t take the SAT until their junior year of high school, we can expect the first set of students to experience the new test to be the class or 2025. If you’re interested in reading more about the changes to the format of the test, check out the full rundown here.

Final Thoughts

So, how many questions are on the SAT? Well, 154, but if you’re read this far down, you probably recognize that it’s much more complicated than just a set number of questions. Preparing for the SAT is more than just knowing the material, but also understanding how it will be asked of you, how much time you have to answer, and how often the test will ask certain questions. Now that you’re an expert, go hit those books!

Aenne Thom
Aenne is a marketing associate at Test Geek who loves to find the most creative way to problem solve. In her free time, she likes to make a mess in her kitchen and calls it baking.

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