Hey Carnegie Prep: I’ve heard that there is an extra, experimental section on the SAT exam. What is it, and how should I approach these questions?

You are absolutely correct. As of 2019, the SAT now contains a 20 minute long “experimental” section for students who take the test with the essay AND those who take the test without the essay. Prior to the March 2019 exam, the experimental section was only offered to randomly selected students who were not taking the test with the essay portion. This change means that every student taking the test will now, most likely, encounter the experimental section.

Before we talk about how to tackle this section, you should know what the experimental section is and why it exists.

Do you ever wonder how the College Board comes up with the SAT questions? Since the exam is offered multiple times a year, the testmaker has to find ways to ensure that each exam has an approximate similar level of difficulty. One of the ways the testmaker ensures this is by giving groups of students an “experimental” section that does not count towards their score. In these sections, the testmaker is essentially using students as guinea pigs for future sittings of the test. The College Board takes the results of these sections and does a deep examination of the resulting statistics. Sometimes a question may be answered correctly by almost all of the students — a sign that it might be too easy a question — or vice versa. By answering the experimental section, you are essentially paying it forward to future test takers.

Keep in mind that YOU might be that future test taker.

After the statistics are in, these newfangled questions might be edited or scrapped entirely. Only the College Board knows.

Remember, these questions DO NOT count towards your score on the exam you are taking.

So how will you know you are facing this section?

The College Board now says that the 5th section, right after calculator math, will be a 20 minute experimental set of questions. You might notice that these questions are a little wacky. Maybe they are out of step with what you have studied on practice tests, maybe they seem too easy or too hard, maybe they feel vague or confusing — the good news is that you don’t have to worry about them, and they don’t count towards your score.

Which brings us to the ultimate question. How should you tackle these questions?

Our advice is to simply do your best. Just like you are trying your hardest on the other sections of the exam, do the same thing in section 5. Don’t let these questions shake your positive mindset on the day of the test. And remember, the person you may be “paying it forward to” might just be a future you.


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