Overview of the 2016 SAT sections
The 2016 SAT is, broadly speaking, an evaluation of verbal skills and of mathematical ability, but it is important for students to understand how the test is structured. The macro-level organizational scheme of the SAT includes what the College Board refers to as "sections" and "tests." The SAT is divided into two large sections that are called "Evidence-Based Reading and Writing" and "Math." Each of these sections is scored from 200 to 800, for a total score of 400-1600. There are three total tests within these sections: Reading (for which students are given 65 minutes), Writing and Language (35 minutes), and Math (80 minutes). The Reading and Writing and Language tests together constitute the score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, and the Math section score is drawn entirely from the Math test. The essay test is optional and scored separately, on a 2-8 point scale in each of three areas: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Students are given 50 minutes to complete the essay.
The SAT Reading Test consists entirely of multiple-choice questions that require students to infer correct answers from several different types of reading passages. Some of these passages are primarily narrative, while others are largely informational. Subjects covered include U.S. and world literature, history and social studies, and science. Test-takers can also expect to see paired passages that require drawing conclusions from two different sources and passages that include informational graphics (e.g. charts and tables). The difficulty level of reading passages ranges from relatively simple to highly complex.
The SAT Writing and Language Test is also a series of multiple choice questions derived from reading passages. Successful performance comes from the ability to choose answers that reflect writing skills such as optimal sentence construction, correct grammar, best word choice, and accuracy, with the overall goal of improving the test passages' quality of writing. Reading passages on the Writing and Language Test are drawn from the humanities, history and social sciences, career-related issues, and science. The difficulty level of reading passages that appear on the SAT varies within a given test, but is consistent across multiple test administrations.
The SAT Math Test emphasizes three areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. Heart of Algebra asks students to solve and create equations, while Problem Solving and Data Analysis is oriented around proportional reasoning (e.g. ratios, percentages, and data analysis). Passport to Advanced Math features complex equations and functions, and there is also a brief segment on Additional Topics in Math such as geometry and trigonometry. Question types include multiple choice and gridded response, the latter of which require test-takers to write out a numerical answer and fill in the corresponding circles. The Math Test is divided into calculator and no-calculator portions.
The SAT Essay is given after the completion of all other tests. Students are asked to read a passage several paragraphs in length, and then write an essay analyzing the argument, including use of facts, reasoning, and techniques of persuasion. Reading passages are taken from historical documents and published writings in sources such as newspapers and magazines, and will not be known in advance to test-takers. The SAT essay is focused on analysis of the reading passage; students do not argue for or against the positions being advanced. This portion of the SAT is, once again, optional.
The 2016 SAT's Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section (the Reading Test and Writing and Language Test) replaces the Critical Reading section on the recently discontinued version of the SAT. Important revisions in this section include a focus on contextual understanding rather than strict definition of vocabulary and using evidence to support answer choices, in addition to drawing on more primary historical sources and writings from a larger number of academic disciplines.
The 2016 SAT Math section has been updated to include only "the math that matters most," according to the College Board. Every effort has been made to relate many of the math problems to everyday situations, although abstract math skills such as algebra and geometry remain important. This section of the SAT is also inter-disciplinary, and often includes statistical problems from the social sciences.
The 2016 SAT Essay is analytical rather than argumentative, reflecting the importance of textual analysis in college courses.