By Megan Nge
The SAT is a standardized test that covers critical reading, writing, and mathematics concepts,
and it is commonly used during the college admissions process to measure a student’s
compatibility with a specific university’s academic standards. When it comes to preparing for an
exam of such importance, understanding the breakdown of each section is essential, especially
for the subjects you find most difficult. If you are one of the many students who see math as
their blind spot, you’re in luck; I’m happy to clue you in on all the important details of the SAT
Math section and how you can use this information to your advantage.
Calculator vs. Non-Calculator
The math section of the exam is split into a calculator section and a non-calculator section. The
calculator portion has 38 questions to be completed in 55 minutes, while the non-calculator
portion has 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes. Now, calculators are incredibly useful
tools, but as I often heard in my high school math courses, they are only as capable as the
person using them. Speaking from experience, a handful of the calculator questions do not
actually require the use of a calculator. Being able to decide whether or not you need to bust out
your fancy graphing calculator for a question will play a key role in time management.
Additionally, I cannot stress just how important it is for you to know the functions of the
calculator you intend to use on the test. All scientific calculators are allowed and more than
capable of helping you through, and some graphing calculators are permitted, as well.
Familiarize yourself with how to use your calculator to change decimals into fractions, switch
between degrees and radians, etc.
Four Content Areas of the SAT
With a total of 58 questions to answer, you may be wondering exactly which concepts from your
courses will show up on the SAT. College Board says all their Math questions fall under one of
these four categories: heart of algebra, problem solving and data analysis, passport to
advanced math, and additional topics in math. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t tell me a
ton. To clarify for you, the SAT will cover various math topics from algebra to geometry, and
even some pre-calculus. I recommend sifting through practice exams online to gauge the
difficulty of questions. For problem solving and data analysis, many questions will simply ask
you to look at graphs or tables and interpret the information; therefore, sharpening your
mathematical reasoning skills is a must!
Multiple-Choice vs. Grid-In SAT Math Questions
The majority of questions on the SAT Math test are multiple-choice. This means we have
process of elimination on our side when we are not sure about how to answer a question.
Unfortunately, though, 13 grid-in questions will be asked; the odds of successfully guessing on
these are incredibly slim. As a tip, when you’re studying for SAT Math, treat all the questions
that need a numerical answer as a grid-in. Refrain from looking at the answer choices, and try to
come up with the right answer just by working it out. This will dull your reliance on multiple-choice problems without hindering your ability to answer them correctly, and it will get you
comfortable with attempting grid-in questions without feeling intimidated.
If you are stressed about what kind of concepts do or do not need to be committed to memory
prior to your test day, you might be relieved to know that College Board provides some
reference material for you. Most of these formulas are geometric (volume of a cone,
circumference of a circle, pythagorean theorem, etc.). Aside from these, other formulas you
need to commit to memory include the quadratic formula and the slope formula. Everything else
you’ll need to know will be more second-nature. You should know how to find simple probability,
change fractions into decimals or percentages and vice versa, and find the mean or average of
a set of numbers. Check out PrepScholar for more information on what kind of formulas will be
provided and which formulas you may need to memorize.
Extra Tidbits to Help You Ace SAT® Math
When I was in high school, I took the PSAT twice per school requirements at the time and the
SAT twice per my own self-competitiveness, and while math is my strongest subject,
standardized testing can often be more about understanding the objective of the test writers
than content mastery. The SAT Math and Reading/Writing sections are each scored between
200 and 800 points. When attempting to raise my SAT score, my main strategy was to practice,
practice, practice! Any student I’ve tutored in Math has probably had to endure my passionate
“practice makes perfect” speech, and I stand by it! Math is procedural, and you can build your
math ability like it is a muscle. By doing practice exams (and I mean really doing, like timing
myself and everything), I was able to significantly raise my SAT Math score. Not only are you
sharpening your math skills, you are also familiarizing yourself with how the test wants to test
you, challenge you, and trick you. Two birds with one stone.
The SAT Math section is absolutely a code that can be cracked, and hopefully, this abundance
of information will set you on a path to do exactly that. Nowadays, you can take the exam as
many times you want (with the proper finances, of course) without having to report all your
testing attempts to colleges. I encourage you to use this to your advantage, as well. Here at
Studyville, we offer SAT Private Sessions that help students reach their goals for both the SAT
and the PSAT. If you are preparing for either of these tests, keep calm, keep practicing, and
keep us in mind!