You’re ready to start prepping to ace the SAT Math test. So, what’s your first step?
Knowing exactly what’s on the test!
Once you’re familiar with the math you can expect on the SAT, you can build a strategic test prep plan. In this guide, we’ll provide an in-depth answer to the question: What math is on the SAT?
An Overview of the SAT Math Sections
There are two math sections on the SAT. They are the third and fourth sections of the exam and include a combined total of 58 questions.
The first math section is 25 minutes long, asks 20 questions, and does not allow calculator use. The second math section is 55 minutes, consists of 38 questions, and does allow calculator usage.
Both sections begin with multiple-choice questions with four answer choices. The first section concludes with five gridded-response questions, while the second math section closes with eight grid-ins.
Check out the table below for a quick summary of the two SAT Math sections:
Calculator Usage | Time Limit | Multiple Choice Questions | Grid-In Questions | Total Questions | |
Section 1 | No | 25 mins | 15 | 5 | 20 |
Section 2 | Yes | 55 mins | 30 | 8 | 38 |
Real-World Application
The good news about SAT Math is that you aren’t tested on every single math topic. Instead, SAT Math focuses on the type of mathematics you might use in the real world. Questions require the problem-solving and modeling skills people use in their college classes, careers, and daily lives.
For this reason, many questions require several steps. And in some cases, you’ll answer multiple questions about one scenario. This process mirrors the real-world mathematics people use to solve everyday problems.
What the Math Test Measures
In addition to real-world application, the SAT Math test measures conceptual understanding, mathematical fluency, and calculator use.
To solve SAT Math questions, you must analyze the scenarios presented, determine the concepts and steps required to solve them, and then correctly apply a mathematical solution. Throughout this process, you’ll demonstrate your knowledge of math concepts, operations, and relations.
You’ll show your ability to identify and use the most effective, efficient mathematical strategies. At the same time, you’ll prove that you understand the relationship between various mathematical strategies and how to use them in context.
Finally, the SAT Math test measures your calculator skills. As you get into more advanced mathematics after high school, you must know how and when to use calculators. For some SAT Math questions that allow calculator use, it’s better not to use a calculator. Students who strategically choose when to use a calculator typically finish faster than students who rely too heavily on their calculators.
So, let’s summarize. The SAT Math test measures:
- Understanding of math concepts and operations
- Real-world application of math concepts
- Number sense
- Mathematical fluency
- Understanding of the relationship between strategies and operations in context
- Calculator skills/strategy
- Problem-solving and analytical abilities
SAT Math Topics
Now you have a big picture understanding of the SAT Math test. But you’re likely wondering about the specific SAT Math topics.
Questions focus on three main areas:
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
These three areas are called SAT Math Suite subscores, and they are each reported on a scale of 1 to 15. Let’s take a closer look at each of these SAT Math topics.
Heart of Algebra
There are 19 “Heart of Algebra” questions on the SAT Math test. These questions evaluate your knowledge and skills in linear equations, inequalities, equations, and systems of equations.
To answer these questions successfully, you must be able to:
- Create, solve, or interpret linear expressions, equations, or inequalities
- Build linear functions that model a linear relationship between two quantities
- Create, solve, and interpret systems of two linear equations
- Understand the relationship between algebraic and graphical expressions
- Make connections between linear equations and real-life scenarios (identify the real-life meaning of a term, variable, or feature of an equation)
Problem Solving and Data Analysis
The SAT Math test includes 17 “Problem Solving and Data Analysis” questions. These questions test your ability to apply your math skills to real-world problems and scenarios.
To answer these questions successfully, you must be able to:
- Solve single- and multistep problems using ratios, rates, proportional relationships, and scale drawings
- Solve single- and multistep problems involving measurement quantities, units, unit conversion, and percentages
- Use exponential, quadratic, or linear models to describe how variables in a scatterplot are related
- Select the graph that represents described properties or use graphs to identify a value or set of values
- Compare exponential and linear growth
- Make inferences, justify conclusions, and analyze data collection methods based on provided reports, graphs, and/or text summaries
- Analyze shape, center, and spread for a given set of data or statistics
- Use two-way tables to summarize categorical data and relative frequencies, and determine conditional probability
Passport to Advanced Math
You’ll encounter 16 “Passport to Advanced Math” questions on the SAT. These questions require you to solve and manipulate more complex equations.
To answer these questions successfully, you must be able to:
- Create and solve quadratic or exponential functions or equations that model real-world situations
- Create equivalent expressions with rational exponents and radicals
- Solve quadratic equations with rational coefficients
- Add, subtract, multiply, and simplify polynomial expressions
- Solve equations with variables in the denominator of a fraction
- Solve a system with one quadratic equation and one linear equation
- Rewrite and interpret rational and nonlinear expressions
- Understand and graph the relationship between zeros and factors of polynomials
- Interpret statements using function notation
- Rearrange formulas or equations to isolate a single quantity or variable of interest
In addition to these three topic categories, there are six miscellaneous questions categorized as “Additional Topics in Math.” These questions typically focus on geometry and trigonometry. They may test your knowledge of theorems, lines, angles, volume, area, triangles, circles, and trigonometric functions.
SAT Math Format
In addition to knowing what’s on the SAT Math test, it’s helpful to understand SAT Math format. You don’t want to waste time understanding structure and directions—you need to get straight to answering the questions. So, let’s examine the format of the SAT Math test.
After you complete the Reading section, followed by the Writing & Language sections, you’ll dive into mathematics. First, you’ll work on the 25-minute No Calculator section. You’ll take a short break, then move on to the 55-minute Calculator section. (Remember, just because you can use the calculator doesn’t mean you should use the calculator for every question on this section.)
Both sections kick off with multiple-choice questions that include four answer choices (15 multiple choice questions in the No Calculator section and 30 multiple choice questions in the Calculator section). There is only one correct answer to each multiple-choice question. You aren’t penalized for incorrect answers, so you should provide an answer to every question.
Both sections conclude with grid-in, or student-produced response, questions (5 grid-in questions in the No Calculator section and 8 grid-in questions in the Calculator section). In the Calculator section, some grid-ins are part of an Extended Thinking question, in which multiple grid-ins relate to one question/scenario.
Throughout both sections, you’ll have access to the reference information here:
You can save yourself a bit of time by memorizing this information instead of frequently flipping back to the reference page. However, only about 10% of SAT Math questions involve geometry, so memorization isn’t essential. Still, you should be comfortable understanding and using these facts and formulas.
Grid-In Questions
About 20% of SAT Math questions are grid-ins. Instead of choosing from a list of options, grid-ins require you to solve problems and record your answers in the grids provided on your answer sheet.
When you record your answers, you write your numbers in the provided boxes, then bubble the corresponding number or symbol in the circles below the boxes. The grids include digits from 0 to 9, fraction lines, and decimal points.
To accurately record your answers, you must follow these rules:
- Make sure you write in the boxes AND bubble in the circles. You won’t receive credit if you forget the bubbles.
- Mark only one circle per column.
- It doesn’t matter which column you start in, as long as your entire response fits within the gridded area.
- The grid holds only four decimal places and cannot accommodate negative numbers.
- Answers can be entered as decimals or fractions unless the question says otherwise.
- You don’t have to reduce fractions to their lowest terms.
- You must convert mixed numbers to improper fractions before entering them in the grid.
- If your answer is a repeating decimal, enter the most accurate response the grid will accommodate.
Sample Math SAT Questions
Once you know what math is on the test, it’s time to launch your test prep program. To successfully prepare for SAT Math, it’s essential to complete practice questions and assess your progress. The best source for practice questions is The College Board, the organization that creates and administers the SAT.
That’s right; you can access sample Math SAT questions straight from the source. As you work through sample questions, take notes about your areas of strength and weakness. Drill down on your areas of weakness and track your progress. If you don’t see improvement, get extra help on these skills via online programs like Khan Academy or a tutor.
Final Thoughts: What Math Is on the SAT?
Successfully preparing for the SAT Math test requires you to first understand what you’re up against.
The SAT Math test assesses your skills in algebra, mathematical fluency, number sense, a bit of geometry, and more advanced strategies through real-world applications. It consists of two sections, one that allows calculator usage and one that does not. 80% of questions are multiple-choice, while 20% are grid-in responses.
After reading this guide, your next step is to take a full-length SAT Math practice test. This will help you understand what math is on the SAT not just in theory, but also in practice. It will also help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and create a study plan.
Then, continue building your skills by answering practice questions (particularly in your areas of weakness) and using tools like SAT test prep books, online resources, and/or a tutor. Learn about and practice strategies like process of elimination and pacing.
When you know what to expect and you put in the practice, you’ll be both confident and prepared walking into the SAT Math test—and that will translate into an excellent score.