By Sean Alexander

The math portion of the SAT can seem overwhelming, but if you know what math topics are covered, it can make studying easier. You can focus your efforts on the types of questions that will be covered, so you won’t waste your valuable study time. Take a deep dive into the subjects, structure, and breakdown of SAT math question types you'll find on the test.


4 Math Subjects You Can Expect To Find on the SAT

The types of math SAT questions you’ll encounter on the test fall into one of the following categories:

    Algebra and Functions

    Questions about algebra and functions test your skill with algebraic expressions, and your ability to solve quadratic equations, linear equations, nonlinear equations, and inequalities and to analyze functions. Questions may include finding the slope or intercept of a line, determining the range and domain of a function, or using substitution or elimination to solve a system of equations. You’ll also see questions about interpreting and analyzing graphs and tables representing functions.

    Numbers and Operations

    Questions that fall under numbers and operations test basic arithmetic skills, number theory, and properties of numbers. You can expect questions where you need to perform basic operations with integers, fractions, and decimals. You’ll also have to use properties of exponents or radicals to simplify expressions. Some questions will require you to use prime factorization, divisibility, and least common multiples to solve problems.

    Statistics and Probability

    These types of SAT math questions focus on your ability to interpret and analyze data and apply basic probability concepts. You’ll need to be able to use graphs, tables, and charts that represent data to calculate central tendency or variability data. In some questions, you may have to calculate the probability of simple and compound events.

    Geometry, Measurement, and Basic Trigonometry

    Although geometry has been de-emphasized on the SAT, these questions make up about 10 percent of questions. Geometry concepts may include identifying geometric figures, angle measures, and calculating perimeter, area, or volume. You should expect to encounter questions that require you to apply the Pythagorean theorem. You’ll also have questions about measurement and basic trigonometry concepts, such as basic trigonometric ratios.

    Breaking Down the Types and Distribution of Questions

    Math is covered in the final two sections of the SAT. In both math sections, there are two basic question formats: multiple choice and grid-in.

    Multiple-choice questions have four answer choices. Grid-in questions present bubbles for each digit in up to four places on the answer sheet. There are also bubbles for fraction lines and decimals. Grid-in questions will always have a positive answer without variables.

    You’re given 25 minutes for the first section, which contains 15 multiple-choice questions and five grid-in questions. You aren’t allowed to use a calculator during this section.

    The second section is longer, at 55 minutes. You can use a calculator to answer the 30 multiple-choice questions and eight grid-in questions.

    Tips To Prepare for the Math Section of the SAT

    Begin preparing for the SAT well before you plan to take it. You can’t cram for the math section of the SAT and expect to do your best. As part of planning ahead, you should take as many advanced math classes as possible. Ideally, you should try to be on track to take pre-calculus in 11th grade.

    However, taking advanced math alone isn’t enough preparation for the SAT. To do well, you need to understand the format and types of questions you’ll be expected to answer. While the SAT covers topics you’ve studied in high school math, it applies them in novel ways.

    Determine Your Baseline

    Before you start studying for the SAT, take a practice test to get a first-hand sense of what math is on the SAT and of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Focusing your study time on your biggest weaknesses will provide the best return on your investment.

    Using the results of your first practice test, analyze which questions you missed and the categories they’re in. This will give you a clear idea of which categories you need to study the most.

    Fill Any Gaps in Your Knowledge

    After you review the solutions to the questions you missed, note any concepts you don’t understand. This will provide you with a roadmap to develop a study plan. Consider working with a good tutor to gain a comprehensive understanding of your areas of weakness. Once you’ve mastered the topics, you can focus on increasing your speed.

    Take Practice Tests

    Taking practice tests should be a key element in your testing strategy. In the beginning, you should just work through tests without a time limit so you can familiarize yourself with the process, including using the answer sheet.

    After each test, thoroughly review the solutions to the questions you missed. After you take several tests, you’ll start to notice a trend in the questions that you miss. At this point, you can start keeping a notebook with the missed questions and their solutions. Break down the problems in your notebook into incremental steps to help you identify the steps that are giving you problems. Try to find additional problems for practice that are similar to the types of math problems you missed. A reliable tutor can help you work through the process.

    Finally, you’ll start taking time tests. You should try to simulate the test-taking environment as much as possible. Look for a quiet location and work through the tests in the order you’ll take them on test day.

    Get the Best SAT Math Score With the Best Online Tutors

    Working with experienced, professional tutors like the ones at Alexander Tutors can help you get your best possible score on the math section of the SAT. Whether you need extra practice in complex equations or you just need help overcoming math anxiety, we can work with you to achieve your goals. Our tutors are highly qualified and have years of experience. Reach out to connect with one today.


    • Sean Alexander

      COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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