Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Understanding the SAT Exam, Part 2

by Mr. Michael Wagner

In part one of this blog post The SAT exam: understanding what it means, we looked at the background of standardized testing, how it became such an integral part of the college admissions process, and the current standing of the exam.

In part 2 of this series, we look at how to prepare for the exam, how the score is determined, what the score means, and the future of the exam.

laptop coffee and paper pad


Many people believe that there is a short cut to prepare to take the SAT or ACT. That is to invest in a test prep class in the student’s junior or senior year of high school. There is a belief that prep classes are the silver bullet to success of achieving what many believe is a good score. The truth is that test prep classes will mostly just assist a student in developing test taking strategies, including ways to narrow the choices of answers to the best possible guess.

But let’s back up for a moment. Standardized test preparation begins long before the silver bullet class. Standardized test preparation officially begins in the ninth grade. It is when a student begins to take courses in high school. It is the academic course material that students learn over their high school years that will be assessed on the SAT and ACT exams in the Spring semester of Junior year. It is this time that students need to apply themselves to master the academic course material. It is pretty simple—be an engaged student.

We can now fast-forward to the beginning of junior year and preparation for the exam. The SAT exam is formulated on the material that the typical student will learn by the end of junior year. Preparing for the academic aspect of the test means doing your best work in your classes. The other part is the logistics portion of the preparation—the time management element of the exam.

The current exam is roughly 3 hours and 15 minutes, including the section breaks. In 2023 the exam will be offered in a digital format and a restructuring of the exam will reduce the length of the exam to 2 hours and 14 minutes. No matter the length, it is important for students to understand how to manage their time. Students need to practice not only pacing themselves in each section, but also for perhaps the bigger challenge—sitting and staying focused for that length of time.

The best way for students to master the time management skills needed is to take practice exams. This simple but effective test taking strategy provides a simulation of taking the exam on the actual day. It prepares students with what to expect on each section of the exam, assists them in developing strategies for when warning times are announced, helps them cope with waiting if they finish early, and gives them an understanding of the built-in break times. It is this preparation that will aid students the most in getting ready to take the exam.

Practice exams can be found on several sites, including College Board ( and Khan Academy ( Both sites will offer an abundance of test preparation tools to help a student prepare for the exam. Some schools and public libraries also offer practice exams in an in-person setting.

The exam

The SAT exam consists of three sections: a reading section, writing and language section, and a two-part math section. The reading section is 65 minutes long, made up of 52 multiple-choice questions; the writing and language section is 35 minutes long and is made up of 44 multiple-choice questions; then the last section is math, made up of a no-calculator section and a calculator section, totaling 58 questions. The math contains both multiple choice questions and fill in answers, called student-produced responses. The total time for both math sections is 80 minutes (divided into 25 minutes and 55 minutes.)

The total score of the SAT exam ranges from 400 – 1600. The score is the sum of the two scores of the exam: one score is called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and the other score is called Math. Each of the scores has a possible range of 200 – 800. For the first score, the Reading and the Writing and Language sections from the test are combined and for the second score, both Math sections are combined. They are totaled together to arrive at the overall score.

open road highway

The future of standardized testing

While many believe that the latest wave of colleges and universities adopting a test optional admissions policy was a result of the pandemic, there are quite a few institutions that have been offering this option for several years.

The test-optional pendulum swung during the pandemic due to the difficulty many students had in taking the exam. Some schools have decided that the option to submit or not submit scores will continue for years to come. Others, like those within the University of California system, have opted to drop standardized test scores from the admissions process completely (if you would like to see all the schools offering test optional choices visit

However, some schools are returning to requiring test scores to create an admissions process that they believe levels the playing field for students. Over the coming months, it will be interesting to see how many colleges and universities will once again require standardized test scores as a part of the admissions application process.

The standardized testing process can be confusing—and at times overwhelming. We hope these posts have given you an overview of the tests, test-taking strategies, and the changing landscape of standardized tests in the college admissions process.

When considering the options for taking standardized tests, the best course of action is to seek the advice and guidance of a college counseling professional, be it a school counselor or a qualified independent college counselor. Each student’s path is different. Seeking the advice of a counselor will help the student and family choose the right testing strategy to fit their overall plan.

Mr. Michael J. Wagner

Michael Wagner, MAED is a founder and the Knowledge Pilot for Launch Education.  Mr. Mike has assisted hundreds of students around the world on their college pathways.