The SAT is the basic qualification for admission to a North American university (United States and Canada) for a Bachelors degree. All students intent on attending a North American university are required to sit the SAT. Certain UK universities will consider SAT scores for entry requirements. The SAT is a standardized aptitude test which tests a student’s abilities in the English language and mathematics. The SAT consists of four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Mathematics (with calculator), Mathematics (no calculator). There is also an optional essay section, which most US Universities require. The examination lasts for three hours without the essay and three hours and fifty minutes with the essay.

The Reading Test

Students are required to read five passages and answer the accompanying multiple choice questions. The test always includes:

  • One passage from a literature text.
  • One passage, or a pair of passages, based on a US founding document, such as the US constitution or a speech by Martin Luther King for example.
  • One passage based on a humanities subject, such as economics, psychology, sociology or another social science.
  • Two natural science based passages, such as biology, chemistry, physics or Earth science.

Passages may include diagrams or tables of information that students will be asked questions on. Questions vary from finding the meaning of a word in context, to finding evidence in the passage to buttress a theory, examining hypotheses and considering implications.

The Writing and Language Test

Students are given texts, parts of which are underlined and are subject to editing. There are options to choose from in order to correct the underlined parts and the first option may be ‘no change’, which means that the sentence should remain as it is. Some questions include correcting the syntax, the grammar, the vocabulary or the punctuation of the phrase whereas others require that students pick the option that bests supports a claim or is in key with the tone of the passage. There may also be charts or tables provided in a particular passage, but they do not assume any prior mathematical knowledge.

The Mathematics Test

This section includes questions from three main areas of study such as Algebra (including linear equations and systems), Problem Solving and Data analysis (including quantitative analysis), and Advanced Maths (including manipulation of complex equations). The section may include a variety of questions from other topics such as trigonometry, geometry and more. The questions are designed to equip students with the skills they will need in college and in their later careers. Students are allowed to use a calculator throughout the test, although some questions are designed in such a way that the use of calculator is not needed.

The Essay

Students have 50 minutes to complete the essay. Although this section is optional, many Universities do require it. Students are required to read a passage, explain how the writer explores the argument and use information from the text to support their claims. The passages provided vary but do have certain features in common. To begin with, they are argumentative and they are written for a wide audience, so do not expect to see jargon that is not explained. Also, the authors use elusive arguments in order to address complicated issues, including either political, artistic or civic debates. Finally, the texts used are always from published works.


Each section is marked out of 800, with the lowest being 200. The scores from all the sections are added up and the examinee is given a grade out of 1600. The essay is marked separately.

Click here in order to view full sample tests from the Collegeboard.


What scores do I need? The answer to that question depends on which university you wish to apply to. If you are contemplating about applying to an IVY LEAGUE university, or one in the higher echelons then you should be looking for a minimum score of approximately 1350. If your native language is not English then you may be given a more flexible score as far as the Verbal section is concerned, though you will definitely need to take the TOEFL test and attain a score of at least 105/120; or alternatively an IELTS test with a commensurate score of 7/9.

Our results have been excellent with students attaining places at world-renowned universities such as Brown University, Georgetown University, University of California – Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, New York University, and Columbia University, to name just a few of the recent destinations of AGF Tutoring students. As a student or parent it is most interesting and informative to learn from the experiences of previous students, and this can be arranged through the network of students who have graduated or are currently studying in the US or Canada.

Table of Synopsis

SectionsStructureNumber of QuestionsTime Limit (minutes)Details
ReadingFive passages (one after the other)5265Passages from historic or scientific texts-can include data tables or graphs
Writing and LanguagePassage-based punctuation and grammar corrections4435Sentence corrections include syntax, grammar, punctuation, context, style, meaning and coherence.
MathematicsArithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Some Algebra5880Multi- step questions, set of extended thinking grid questions.
EssayPassage Analysis150600-700 word passage provided and students asked to analyze writer’s methods and techniques of supporting an argument.