Sample SAT Questions and Strategies By Section

Take a look at sample SAT questions and evaluate your level of readiness for the big test.

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Though the SAT test is only one part of the college admissions process, it’s certainly an important one. According to The New York Times, 1.55 million graduating high school students took the SAT - a 1.2% increase over 2009.

If you’re planning on going to college, it’s a good idea to sign up for them in the beginning of junior year ; the question is, how ready are you for the test? In this article, we’ll give you an idea of what to expect from each section and share some official practice SAT questions from the College Board, as well as a few strategies on how to approach the test.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that students tend to score slightly higher on math than reading, but this largely depends on the individual person’s strengths.

What Do The SATs Cover?

The SATs consists of three subjects: math, reading, and writing (which also includes a 25-minute essay). Each subject is scored out of 800 points, with a 12-point scale for the essay. Read more about essentials of the SAT here.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that students tend to score slightly higher on math than reading, but this largely depends on the individual person’s strengths. In each of the three categories, a 500 is about the 50th percentile of students across the nation.

Tips and Strategies: Math

The math section of the SAT features two types of questions: multiple choice and “student-produced response” (which is a technical way of saying “fill in the blank”). The questions cover basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability.

The best way to approach the math section of the SAT is to not over-think it. Read the directions carefully, identifying the question and any important information to solve the problem. You can sketch problems out in the booklet, so feel free to draw diagrams and write out your work. A list of commonly used formulas will be listed at the beginning of the section as well.

Though the SAT doesn’t penalize for answers left blank, it subtracts ¼ point for wrong guesses, so make sure your guesses are educated. In the math section, you can sometimes narrow down your choices to the only logical answer. Keep in mind that all figures are drawn to scale; this can also help your guesswork.

Here are a couple of sample questions from the math section:

1. A special lottery is to be held to select the student who will live in the only deluxe room in a dormitory. There are 100 seniors, 150 juniors, and 200 sophomores who applied. Each senior's name is placed in the lottery 3 times; each junior's name, 2 times; and each sophomore's name, 1 time. What is the probability that a senior's name will be chosen?
(A) 1/8
(B) 2/9
(C) 2/7
(D) 3/8
(E) ½

2. Let the function f be defined by f(x) = x2 – 7x + 10 and f(t + 1) = 0, what is one possible value of t?

Tips and Strategies: Writing

In addition to a 25-minute argumentative essay, the writing section includes several multiple-choice questions testing your ability to edit grammar and the usage of individual sentences and whole paragraphs. The only way to study for the writing section is to practice, practice, practice! Grammar can be tricky, but the more practice questions you answer and understand, the more patterns you’ll be able to recognize.

As for the essay, make sure you first read the prompt carefully. Then, take a few minutes to decide whether you agree or disagree, and come up with a few examples to defend your position (feel free to jot down notes). When you’re ready, begin writing the essay, making sure to develop a centralized and well-supported point of view.

The essay question can vary from politics to reality TV, so there’s no foolproof way to study for it. The best thing to do is read the prompt, take a deep breath, and respond with a compelling argument.

Here’s an example of a multiple choice writing question, along with an essay prompt:

3. Looking up from the base of a mountain, the trail seemed more treacherous than it really was.
(A) Looking up
(B) While looking up
(C) By looking up
(D) Viewing
(E) Viewed

Essay Prompt:

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present. Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation.


Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Tips and Strategies: Reading

Like the writing section, the reading section of the SAT includes two kinds of multiple-choice questions. One is sentence completion, which gives a sentence with a variety of fill-in-the-blank options. The other type of question is passage-based reading, which presents a short passage with some contextual information and asks a series of questions based on the content and meaning of the passage.

For passage-based questions, your most important resource is careful reading. Pick out key words or phrases in the passage and make sure to get a good idea of its overall meaning; if you don’t understand a word or two, skim over it. Many of the questions on passages ask questions that can be answered with a single quick reading of the passage, but if you come upon a trickier question, refer back to the passage. If you scan it for some key words related to the question, you should be able to find the answer quickly.

The sentence completion questions take less time to answer than passage-based ones, but each question increases in difficulty. Make sure to budget your time effectively. Approach answers you’re unsure of as you would with the math section: narrow it down to the reasonable answers, and then make an educated guess.

Here are two examples of sentence completion SAT reading questions:

4. Because King Philip's desire to make Spain the dominant power in sixteenth-century Europe ran counter to Queen Elizabeth's insistence on autonomy for England, ------- was -------.
(A) reconciliation . . assured
(B) warfare . . avoidable
(C) ruination . . impossible
(D) conflict . . inevitable
(E) diplomacy . . simple

5. There is no doubt that Larry is a genuine ------- : he excels at telling stories that fascinate his listeners.
(A) braggart
(B) dilettante
(C) pilferer
(D) prevaricator
(E) raconteur

Answer key:
1. D
2. 1 or 4
3. E
4. D
5. E

All sample questions come from The College Board.

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