From Quora: My Answer to "How come the content on the SAT is easy (9th–10th grade stuff), yet it’s so hard to score high?"
The SAT math content is 10th to maybe-first-month-of-11th grade material. Maybe 9th or 10th grade for honors/advanced students (Like me). The math is hard because they use tricks to make easy or moderately hard questions look really hard, so some students don’t even try to solve some. Some questions are just genuinely difficult and intended to separate the truly excellent from the merely very good.
Perhaps the main reason it’s hard to score high on the SAT math is that the test is timed. As many people have noted, practically any high school student could get the right answer to more than 90% of the questions, given sufficient time. The ACT is even worse in that regard - you get less time per math question, even though they’re generally easier questions.
The reading sections of the SAT and ACT are very detail-oriented. The SAT has more analytical questions than the SAT, although this difference isn’t as great as it was in the past (the SAT has basically done everything it can to copy the ACT format without being sued when aking the “new SAT”). The ACT gives you less time per question than the SAT does in its comparable reading sections. On both tests, you are to choose the “best” answer, which is usually one backed by straightforward evidence on the ACT, but which can require you to make some inferences on an SAT question. Since the harder reading questions on either test usually have two throwaway answer choices and two that actually look correct, you have to figure out which answer is better. Usually, you have to ask “Is this answer appropriate to the question?” For example, if it’s a “main idea” question, but one answer seems to focus too much on details, the other “good” answer is probably the right one.
The SAT “writing” section is basically identical to the ACT “English” test. They involve editing passages presented to you with multiple choices as to what should be in underlined portions of the passage. The only reason anyone finds this hard is that he or she doesn’t know the rules of grammar and punctuation as used in “SAT-Land” or “ACT-Land,” or he or she doesn’t bother to read some of the “editor’s choice” questions that read something like “Which choice would be best if the author was trying to emphasize the health benefits of ice skating?” and simply picks a sentence ending that looks nice and is grammatically correct, but doesn’t express the correct idea.
The SAT has tried to compete with the ACT “science” test by adding some graphs and charts to interpret. Basically, the only reason someone might get SAT graph questions wrong on the English or math sections is the same reason someone might get a wrong answer on an ACT science question - probably trying to answer the questions too quickly, or misinterpreting a chart of graph (either not understanding it, making a math miscalculation, or making an unsupported inference from a chart or graph, even if the inference is probably true).
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.