December 5, 2023

SAT math test

SAT math test

What is the SAT math test? How to ace it

The SAT is a standardized, comprehensive assessment that colleges and other institutions of higher education use to see how much students retained from high school. The test lasts three hours and is usually taken by 11th and 12th graders hoping to gain an edge in the college admission process.

The SAT math section consists of a calculator section and a non-calculator section.

The non-calculator section comes first and has 20 total questions: 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions. 25 minutes are given for this section. The calculator section has 38 total questions: 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in questions. 55 minutes are given for this section.

What are grid-in questions? 

Grid-in questions are a type of question you will encounter on the SAT math test. These are also known as student-response questions, meaning that it’s not a multiple choice question where you have to choose from a set of options. You will need to solve the problem and write your answer in the provided grid-in section on the answer sheet.

You will receive clear instructions on how to proceed with these questions on the test. If you would like to see an example of how to fill these out, take a look at the grid-in below

If you solve a problem and the answer you get is 3/2, take a look at the grid-in above to see how to will enter 3/2.

What topics are tested in the math section? 

The College Board, which is the official administrator of the SAT, breaks the SAT math test down into four groups of questions.

  • The first group is called Heart of Algebra. This type of question focuses on functions and linear equations, as well as systems of linear equations. You will encounter 19 of these questions on the test.
  • The second group is called Problem Solving and Data Analysis. This section covers ratios and percentages, with the main skill being the ability to apply math to real-world situations. You will encounter 17 of these questions on the test.
  • The third group, Passport to Advanced Math, covers more complex functions and equations. This section aims to prepare students for more advanced subjects, like calculus and statistics. You will encounter 16 of these questions on the test. The last group of questions is Additional Topics in Math, which covers trigonometry, geometry, complex numbers, and radian measure. The test will cover six questions from the additional topics section, three in the non-calculator section and three in the calculator section.

How can you prepare effectively for the SAT math section? 

Your biggest help when preparing for the SAT math test is practice questions and exams. There is an abundance of books, websites, and other helpful sources that have practice tests available for students.

Try to take a variety of tests, both computer-based and paper-based. The advantage of some computer-based tests is that you may have the possibility to receive feedback on your answers right away. However, one advantage of paper-based practice tests is that you can better mimic real testing conditions.

When beginning to study, determine which subject areas you are weakest in. For example, if you have trouble with algebra, plan to review algebra-related topics.

The advantage of taking SAT math practice tests is that they often reflect real question formats. The SAT math is very predictable and foreknowledge of what will be on the test can help you study more effectively. For example, the test is organized from easier to more difficult. This means that the questions will get progressively harder.

Tips for doing well on the SAT math test

Use the Elimination Method 

You’ve probably heard that the SAT math test no longer has something called a guessing penalty. Before March 2016, if you guessed incorrectly, you would receive a small penalty. Since that doesn’t exist anymore, use the elimination method to your advantage.

If you’ve tried to solve the problem but still have no idea what the answer is, you can increase your chances of getting the correct answer by eliminating the answers you know are obviously wrong, and taking your best guess. You won’t be penalized for a wrong answer!

Be Careful with the Answer Grid (Multiple Choice Section) 

It might sound simple and obvious, but be careful: The answer grid is unforgiving.

1. While working through the multiple choice section, you might find the answer and have solved a problem correctly, but you won’t get credit if you fill out the wrong bubble on the grid. Make sure that you’re filling out the correct bubble for the correct question.

2. Also, keep track of any questions you’ve skipped. It’s very easy to get mixed up and fill in the bubble for a question you’ve skipped. Let’s say for example that you have skipped question 3 in your test booklet. Watch out! Don’t fill in the answer for question 4 in the space for question 3.

Some experienced test takers recommend circling the questions in your answer booklet that you’ve skipped and then going back and comparing your booklet to your grid afterward. This helps you to consciously skip the question in both places, your test booklet and your answer sheet.

3. Another tip when taking the SAT math is to wait to mark your answers on the grid. Instead of transferring your answers after every question, wait until you’ve solved five questions and mark all of them at once. This will help with your concentration and will decrease the chance of making a mistake.

Bottom line: Always double and triple-check your answer grid with your answers in the booklet.

Skip Ahead and Move Around 

One common mistake that test takers make is spending too much time on the questions that they find difficult. They work on the question for a long time, wasting precious minutes that could be used to solve two or three other easier questions.

The solution? If you come across a question that seems difficult, or you find a question where the solution isn’t obvious, circle the question and move on to another question that you can solve quickly. Leave the hardest questions for last.

By the time you come back to the more difficult questions, you may realize that the answer was simpler than you initially thought.

Use Your Calculator Wisely 

One section of the SAT math test allows you to use a calculator as an aide. However, don’t allow the calculator to slow you down.

Some test-takers make the mistake of pulling out their calculators for every single question during this section. Realistically, there will be some questions that you won’t need to use your calculator for. Instead of using it as a crutch, focus on using your prior knowledge about the question to get as far as you can in the solution without the calculator. This will save you time as well.

You can also use the calculator to double-check your answers. Once you have finished the test, you can use the extra time to go through the test again and double-check your answers using the calculator.

Manage Your Stress

The best way to manage your stress before taking the SAT math test is to take control of your situation. Once the feeling of helplessness is gone, you’ll be better able to see what you need to focus on during your studying.

The important thing is to have concrete things to do. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and then create a schedule to work on each of the topics.

Another strategy is to use relaxation exercises when you find yourself too stressed to concentrate. Below are some recommended exercises.

1. Try to visualize a calm ocean shore with the waves coming in smoothly. There’s warm sand under your feet, the light from the sun warming your skin, and the faint sound of seagulls. Now imagine you’re carrying a small pail or bucket. You put all your worries and anxieties in that bucket, then drop it at the edge of the water and watch it float away until it’s out of sight. This is called ocean dumping.

2.  Take a short walk outside when you feel overwhelmed, and try to start exercising. Exercising and physical movement help release endorphins, which can help you stay alert and is a natural way to regulate stress.

3. Play music while you’re studying. Some people find it useful to listen to something with a regular, steady beat, like reggae or hip-hop. These types of music have a mathematical rhythm and can help your learning process. If you don’t want to listen to music, try a recording of ocean sounds, rain sounds, or white noise.

4. If you find it difficult to handle stress on your own, consider seeing a counselor. They can give you more tips on controlling your stress and studying effectively.

Of course, as the date for the test gets closer and closer, you might be struggling with anxious thoughts. The best thing to do is to slowly decrease how often you study as the date approaches. This might seem counterproductive, but research shows that spending the last few days before the test cramming and studying can be detrimental. Instead, do something that makes you happy, like seeing a movie or hanging out with friends. Keep the test out of your mind!

5. Finally, work carefully and patiently during the test, remember to take deep, clear breaths, and use your test-taking strategies.

Below are examples of SAT math problems that you can use to practice. Most of them are very similar to the ones that the College Board has put out for practice, along with answer explanations with a few more tips for solving.


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