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Test Prep: The SAT’s New Experimental Section

What is the fifth section?

If you took the SAT recently, you might have noticed an additional, fifth section added to the test. Don’t panic! This is the SAT’s new experimental test section. Previously, this section wasn’t available to everyone and only showed up for students who didn’t take the essay portion of the test. However, since late 2019, this section has made its way to everyone’s tests.

Why five sections?

This additional section of the test is used to prepare new test questions for future tests. This section is used to gauge several different things, including fairness, difficulty, and wording. This helps future tests to become more balanced and truthfully representative of the kind of information colleges are looking for in potential students. While it may seem unfair to have fake questions thrown into the test, advisors on the College Board believe this to be one of the truest ways to record accurate data that would otherwise be impossible to obtain, and this data is essential in developing well-rounded, operational exams for the future.

How does it work?

The fifth section generally comes with varying academic sections. One student could have a Writing ∧ Language section, another Reading, while another has Math. The new section has a time frame of twenty minutes and usually comes after a stretch break.

Test ComponentTime
Section 1: Reading Test65 minutes
First Break10 minutes
Section 2: Writing and Language Test35 minutes
Section 3: Math Test - No Calculator25 minutes
Second Break5 minutes
Section 4: Math Test - Calculator55 minutes
Third Break2 minutes
Section 5 (not included in every administration)20 minutes
SAT Essay (optional50 minutes
Via the 2019 - 2020 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual

Does it count?

Your first inclination may be to blow the section off as optional, but that’s probably not your best choice. The College Board isn’t very forthcoming about whether this section counts, and detailed information on it is limited. While developers have stated that there are some questions which do not impact a student’s score, that may not be the case for every question in the section. It is possible that scored questions are interlaced with experimental questions.

In a reply to an interview with the Washington Post, the College Board said, “Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items.”

What should I do about it?

Ready yourself for this section like you would any other section of the test. Give the questions your all. No one really knows which questions are experimental and which aren’t, so it’s in your best interest to answer them all to the best of your ability.

This is a lot of work, and you’ll probably need extra help studying. Five sections on an already-monumental test would be difficult for even the most polished student! That’s why we’re here to help. We take getting students into their dream colleges seriously. Applying for college is one of the most important decisions in a young adult’s life, and Bridging Gap is here to make sure it goes well.

Enroll in a test prep program to make sure your skills are sharp, and you’ll be ready to tackle the SAT’s new fifth section!