The SAT is a predominantly multiple choice test, with the only exceptions being a written essay and ten student-produced math questions. In total, the SAT asks 67 Critical Reading questions, 54 Mathematics questions, and 49 Writing questions. Altogether, these add up to a total of 170 questions (plus the essay). The questions typically increase in difficulty level throughout their sections, with the exception of passage-based Critical Reading questions, which chronologically follow their accompanying passage(s).
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Of these 170 questions, 160 are multiple choice and have five lettered answer choices, A, B, C, D, and E. The remaining 10 are student-produced Mathematics questions, also referred to as "grid-ins." To answer these grid-in questions, students write their solutions on a special section of the answer sheet. The grids for each response allow for up to four digits. Students can also write in a decimal point or fraction bar.
Despite variations in difficulty level, each multiple choice question is weighted equally towards a student's score. A student's raw score, based on the number of his/her correct, incorrent, and skipped answers, is converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800 for each section through a process called equating. This process takes into account the scores achieved by all test-takers on a given date.
For the essay, which is graded by two readers, students receive a subscore between 2 and 12. The essay prompt typically includes a quote or short excerpt, often related to a philosophical or social issue, followed by a question. This question asks the student to develop a point of view and support it with examples from his/her reading, studies, experience, or observation.
There is a 0.25 point deduction for wrong answers on multiple choice, so students benefit from taking a strategic approach to which questions they answer and which ones they skip. Many SAT tutors suggest that students guess if they can confidently eliminate at least one choice among the five possible answers. Students can also be strategic about how much time they spend on each question, taking into consideration the difficulty level of each and how they can gain the most points.
Students receive their scores about three weeks after taking the SAT. College Board score reports present each student's correct and incorrect answers by section and question type. Students may also pay an additional $18 for College Board's Question and Answer service, which gives a detailed report of the student's answers to each question. The Question and Answer service is only available for tests taken in October, January, and May.
Starting in March 2016, the redesigned SAT will feature multiple choice questions with four answer choices (A, B, C, and D) instead of the current five. The new SAT will have rights-only scoring, meaning there will be no more penalties for wrong answers. Critical Reading and Writing will be scored together out of 800, and the maximum composite score will be 1600.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.