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The SAT Math Test

Written by tutor Regan C.

Approximately 30% of the SAT exam consists of multiple choice math questions. The math covered is typically considered "basic math," subjects that are typically covered in 8th and 9th grade. In fact, what students often find most challenging is not that math problems are difficult but that it's simply been many years since they have seen the SAT math topics.

Generally speaking, the math content can be broken down into two general subject: Algebra and Geometry.

Algebra

The basic Algebra skills tested include:

Additionally, students should be familiar with setting up 7 core Algebra word-problems:

  • Percents
  • Motion and Rate
  • Combined Work
  • Mixtures
  • Ratios
  • Measurements

Geometry

Many of the Geometry equations that students typically need to memorize will actually be provided on the exam. Still, students should become fluent with the basic geometry equations related to:

Additional Topics

Beyond Geometry and Algebra, students should also be familiar with a few concepts that are usually associated Statistics. Specifically, students should have a very cursory understanding of:

Strategy

The purpose of the math section of the SAT is to simultaneously test basic math knowledge and problem solving. While it is absolutely crucial to be well versed in the core math concepts, understand math is not enough. Many, if not most of the math problems are designed to deceive and mislead the students. When practicing for the SAT, students are best helped by taking complex problems and breaking them down into smaller, easier to solve steps.

When practicing for the SAT, it is important to practice questions under timed conditions. In order to finish the test on time, students need to spend an average of less than 2 minutes on each question. Some questions may be more difficult and therefore require more time to solve than others. However, statistically speaking, when a student spends more than 3 minutes on any given questions, there is an 80% chance that the student will get that question wrong. In other words, if you can't solve the question quickly, then you're probably better off guessing.

The SAT math section, like all sections of the SAT, is a paper exam. This provides a special advantage to the test taker: skipping questions. Most students can easily recognize when a math problem is beyond their ability. If you encounter a problem that looks challenging, give yourself about 20 seconds to start a productive approach. If after 20 seconds, you don't recognize the problem category or recall the appropriate equation, simply skip the question and return to that problem after you have completed the rest of the math section. One of the hallmarks of a good test taker is the ability to recognize when they are beaten and to move on without remorse.

How to Study

The temptation is to start working with practice exams almost immediately. For most students, this is a big mistake. Start by reviewing basic math concepts. Then move onto simple drills and practice problems. Once you have mastered the math subjects that are tested, take 2 or 3 practice exams without time restrictions. As you slowly integrate time into your practice routine, keep your focus on accuracy. Generally, as you get better, you naturally get faster.

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