SAT & ACT Basics


Scoring and Format
  • The test is scored on 1600-point scale, primarily comprised of a Math (800 points) and a combined Reading/Writing section (800 points).

  • The SAT no longer has a penalty for incorrect answers.

  • A written essay is optional. Scored separately. Not included in 1600-point scale.

  • The primary test is about 3 hours. The essay adds 50 minutes.

  • The SAT is administered on paper. Computer based testing is several years away.

  • Two Math sections

    • ​One prohibits the use of a calculator- 20 Questions/25 Minutes

    • Second section- 38 Questions/55 Minutes- with use of calculator

  • The test features word problems based on real-world scenarios, applying mathematical logic to situations in the sciences and social sciences.

  • Some advanced math concepts including algebra II and trigonometry but extensive Algebra I content.

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
  • Critical Reading and Writing sections are combined into one 800-point score.

  • Sentence Completion questions are eliminated. The new test focuses on "real-world" vocabulary not "SAT words." Students will decode meaning based on context.

  • Reading questions will frequently ask students to cite the passage to support answers.

  • One passage in every new SAT will use a "Founding Document" (such as the Declaration of Independence) or related, important historical texts (such as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address).

The Essay
What does this mean?
  • Three years of administration of this new test suggest that students are finding the SAT more challenging in Math and more straightforward and less challenging in Read/Writing section than in the past.

  • SAT is now used by State of Connecticut to measure readiness for high school completion. Public High Schools will now administer the SAT to Juniors during school hours in March and April of 2020. There is no fee for this exam and it may be used for college admissions (however, the in school test does not include the optional essay).

  • The changes highlight the importance of Juniors developing a colleges admissions testing plan to guide them through this evolving landscape.

The ACT has made some minor changes to its format. The most notable addition is paired passages in the Reading section - which are similar to the SAT.

The ACT Essay

This is the section that has changed the most on the test, although it is still optional, and the essay score is not incorporated into the student’s overall composite score.  The essay section will now be 40 minutes instead of 30 minutes, and it will ask students to analyze situations, evaluate different arguments, and effectively develop the  ideas.  Students will be asked to evaluate three perspectives on a complex issue, and create an argument supported by reasoning and experience.  Students will have to read and analyze the different points of view presented in the prompts and incorporate these points of view into his or her essay.  The scoring of the essay will also change.  Essays will now be scored separately in the following four categories:  ideas and analysis, organization, development and support, and language use.  The essay will still be scored by two different readers in these 4 categories on a 1-6 scale, so each student will receive a combined score of 2-12 in these 4 categories.  This score will then be translated into the composite 1-36 scale. 


The ACT has introduced sections of the reading test that contain two short passages which address the same or similar topics.  The first questions relate to the first passage.  The second set of questions relate to the second passage.  The third set of questions address both passages.  The timing is still 35 minutes and there are still 4 passages (prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science in that order) with 10 questions each, for a total of 40 questions.

  • Students analyze a given text and refer to that passage to support their claims.

  • The essay score will not factor into students' Reading/Writing scores. Instead, the essay is reported separately—similar to the ACT.

  • The essay is similar to a rhetorical analysis, which students may have been familiarized with in an English course.


In the science section, the timing (35 minutes) and the number of questions (40) has not changed.  The science section used to always consist of 7 passages.  These passages were broken down into different categories: 3 research summary passages with 5 questions per passage (15 total), 3 data representation passages with 6 questions per passage (18 total), and 1 conflicting viewpoints passage with 7 questions.  While some students will receive a test with this format for the science section, other students will receive a test with 6 passages instead of 7.  On this redesigned science section, there will now be 12-16 data representation questions (instead of the predictable 15), 18-22 research summary questions (instead of the predictable 18 questions), and 6-8 conflicting viewpoint questions (instead of the predictable 7 questions).