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ACT / SAT Experimental Section: What Is It and What Do I Do?

If you are taking the SAT or ACT soon, you might have heard about an experimental fifth section of the test that you may need to take. This can come as a surprise to students who have prepared for these tests, because, as far as they know, each test has only four sections. This blog gives a brief overview of what the experimental section is, how it works, and why it’s included in the tests.

What Is the Experimental Section?

The experimental section is a 20-minute section at the end of the SAT or ACT. On the SAT, this section will appear after the calculator math section for students who are not taking the optional essay section. When it shows up on the ACT (which is not every single test), the experimental section will appear after the science section for students who haven’t opted to take the essay. The experimental section could be a shortened version of any of the four sections on the test (SAT: reading, writing, no-calculator math, calculator math; ACT: English, math, reading, science). 

Does the Experimental Section Count Toward My Score?

According to College Board, any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest questions. This means that, theoretically, any questions in any section may be scored (operational) or un-scored (pretest). However, we are very confident that the experimental section does not count towards your score, and most in the testing industry agree. That said, it is still best to treat all five sections as though they are being graded and do your best.

What Is the Experimental Section Used for?

The experimental section can be used for a variety of reasons. Historically, experimental sections have been used to test out new types of problems, gauge the difficulty of problems, or try new question formats. A particularly important use of the experimental questions is to analyze question responses to ensure test fairness across all demographic subgroups. So, it’s important treat this section like any other part of the test to provide the test makers with an accurate idea of how students will answer those questions on an actual test.

How Seriously Should I Take the Experimental Section?

We recommend treating the experimental section like any other section of the test: focus, use your timing strategies, content strategies, and any other tips from your tutor. While a fifth section of the test may seem exhausting, it is only 20 extra minutes. If you got through the rest of the test, you can get through this part, too. The key is to not stress about it too much – you’re prepared! 


The experimental section of the ACT or SAT will be an additional 20-minute section that some students will see at the end of the test. This section is not counted toward the student’s score, though it does provide the test makers data about potential future test questions. 

We know that the entire testing process can be confusing. If you have any questions about the experimental section or any other aspect of the test, please reach out to us at here.