The SAT Experimental Section Explained and How To Ace It

Good morning 7EDU readers and welcome back to Monday's blog post. Let us get up from bed and start the morning off right with a good ol' reading by yours truly.

Last week, parents and students got more information on the type of SAT, ACT and GPA scores their child would need to get into some of the top U.S schools, but also the best time to take their SAT for the highest score. If you haven't taken a look yet, go ahead and give those two blog posts a read before continuing.

Today we will be dissecting and analyzing the SAT experimental section - a portion of the SAT examination that has quietly undergone modification for its administration by the College Board throughout the years.

The original SAT experimental section is a portion of the SAT test where a student's academic performance does not impact or count towards the test-taker's score record. By having this particular section in the SAT college entrance exam, test supervisors of the College Board are authorized to collect and gather information on potentially new test questions in a carefully monitored examination environment.

In previous years before the 2016 redesign, the College Board silently implemented the SAT experimental section without test-takers realizing which of the nine multiple choice sections included the pilot questions. With the 2016 structural modification, many students and parents anticipated and believed that the College Board had completely removed the experimental questions - as it was not present in free sample practice tests provided by the organization.

When students worldwide took the examination in March and May, the College Board followed ACT Inc. by administering the exploratory questions as the final portion of the SAT exam.

The New vs The Old

With the redesign of the SAT in 2016, students and test-takers should easily be able to indicate when they have reached the experimental portion of their examinations.

The SAT will begin with the essential sixty-five minute reading section, the thirty-five minute writing and language section, the twenty-five minute math-no calculator portion, followed by a fifty-five minute math with calculator section.

If your child has registered for the fifty-minute SAT essay section, the written essay will be the last and final part of the test.

If your child did not register for the SAT essay, an unexpected twenty-minute portion of the exam will be the undoubtedly experimental section.

With the previous SAT test structure, students were taking five other twenty-five minute sections. It was difficult to figure which of the portion was the pilot with operational questions that were meant to pre-test for future SAT exams. While test-takers can infer which of the old SAT sections was the experimental, there was no concrete way to be positive and know.

So what should you be expecting with this SAT redesign and new experimental section?


If your child is planning on registering and taking any of the SAT test dates, students should be prepared to come across the experimental portion of the SAT at the final section of their examination. Anticipate for the portion to be for a duration of twenty minutes.

Within the College Board Advising and Admissions Handbook, here is a crucial part of the manual:

"To allow for pretesting, some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items."

"Pretest items" are not factored into a student's SAT exam score whereas "operational" items are.

So what does this mean for your child? No one is one hundred percent sure which exact portion of the SAT exam will include the operational questions. In all likelihood, the College Board may have been vague about the experimental section in hopes of reducing the number of students not trying - or skipping altogether - the pilot material for future examinations.

All students who have registered and signed up for the SAT essay should expect to not see the experimental portion at the end of their examination. However, the operational questions may be embedded into the other sections of reading, writing, and math.

For the parents and students who did not register for the SAT essay, test-takers should anticipate to see some sort of experimental portion at the end of their particular examinations. The questions may or may not contain both scored "pretest" and unscored "operational" items, as quoted above in the SAT Advising and Admissions Handbook.


While it can be easy for students taking the SAT without an essay to presume the experimental portion, ignore, and blow off the end portion of their test, we advise against this methodology.

The College Board's statement declares that the test throughout contains pretest and operational items, and without knowing for certain which questions are scored and which are not - your child's academic performance should be at its finest for all segments.

Provided with all of structural changes and lack of solid evidence on whether or not the final section of the SAT has "operational" questions, it is highly recommended that your child put in an equal amount of work to all sections.

The best strategy in this scenario is to properly prepare and study for the SAT test, treat each portion no differently from the other, and placing equivalent amounts of dedication on the entire exam.

Another recommendation for your child is to practice incorporating twenty-minute sections into their own practice SAT exams. This will help stimulate the exam experience on their test date and prepare your brain for a longer duration of focusing.

Thank you all for reading our blog post today, and gained some new knowledge about the SAT experimental section. 7EDU Impact Academy specializes in college preparation services that ranges from counseling, tutoring, one-on-ones, to full-on courses. If you would like to learn more, call us at (408) 216-9109 or email us at

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The SAT Experimental Section Explained and How To Ace It
7EDU Impact Academy 7 July, 2021
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