The SAT Math Test: Everything You Need to Know

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

SAT math section

IvyWise On-Demand: Standardized Testing in a Test-Optional Landscape

The standardized testing landscape has dramatically transformed over the past few years. While the majority of colleges and universities operated under test-optional or test-blind policies for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, some colleges, like Dartmouth and Yale, will be returning to requiring test scores for the 2024-2025 admissions cycle. Join an IvyWise college admissions counselor and tutor to learn about what changes to the SAT mean for the college admissions landscape.

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Does the thought of taking the SAT Math test intimidate you? If so, you’re not alone. Even students who do well in their high school math classes may feel anxious about the Math Section of the SAT. It’s important to keep in mind that you likely have already learned the math concepts that are on the test — it’s the presentation of these questions that may look different. Learning the structure of the SAT Math test and what concepts you will be tested on can help you plan your test prep strategy and feel more confident on exam day.

What Is the SAT Test?

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a standardized exam administered by the College Board that is widely used for college admissions in the U.S. It assesses your readiness for higher education by testing your knowledge and skills in reading, writing, and math. You will typically take the test the spring semester of your junior and/or the fall semester of your senior year of high school. Because the SAT is digital, you will use your own laptop or tablet or a school-managed Chromebook to take the test.  

While many colleges and universities offer test-optional admissions, others require standardized test scores alongside other factors such as GPA, extracurricular activities, and personal essays. Learning how to ace a test like the SAT can make you a competitive candidate for college admissions, whether you apply to schools that require test scores or not. Submitting competitive test scores to test-optional schools will only make you a stronger candidate for admission.   

You also have the option of taking the ACT instead of the SAT. Each test is formatted and timed differently, but math is featured in both. IvyWise advises students to take a diagnostic of each test during their sophomore year of high school to determine which one is the best fit. This will help you tailor your test prep strategy to the test content.    

What Is the Math Section of the SAT?

Navigating the SAT Math test can be a daunting task for many students since it covers mathematical concepts that are crucial for college readiness. Students are evaluated on their problem-solving and data analysis skills as well as mathematical reasoning and fluency. The Math section of the SAT is divided into two 35-minute modules with a total number of 44 questions. The math questions in the first module will vary in difficulty — your performance in the first module will determine the difficulty level of the questions in the second module. Additionally, you can use a calculator for both modules, though you may find it more efficient not to use the calculator for some of the questions. If you don’t have a graphing calculator, be sure to spend time familiarizing yourself with the SAT’s built-in Desmos calculator, as it may take time to familiarize yourself with a new software/functionality.

As for question types, most are multiple-choice, though you will have to enter an answer in some cases. According to the College Board, approximately 30% of the questions you’ll encounter in the Math section are in-context (word) questions. This means that you will determine your answer, not only with your math skills, but by also considering a science, social science, or real-world scenario.

Types of Math  

By the time you take the SAT, you will likely be familiar with complex equations and math questions that require analysis and quantitative reasoning. The Math section of the SAT tests your knowledge and skills in four areas:

  • Algebra: Students preparing for the SAT math section should work specifically to better their familiarity with fundamental algebraic concepts, including linear equations, linear functions, and linear inequalities. Expect a total of 13-15 algebra questions between the modules.  
  • Advanced math: This section assesses students’ ability to progress to more advanced math courses. Students will answer a total of 13-15 questions related to equivalent expressions, nonlinear functions, nonlinear equations, and systems of equations.
  • Problem-solving and data analysis: Students are tested on their quantitative reasoning and analysis skills, including percentages, probabilities, statistics, one- and two-variable data, ratios, rates, units, and proportional relationships. A total of 5-7 questions are presented in this area.
  • Geometry and trigonometry: Students must answer 5-7 questions focused on circles, lines, angles, triangles, area and volume formulas, right triangles, and trigonometry.

What Is the Hardest Part of SAT Math?

What may be the hardest part of the SAT Math section for you may not be the hardest part for another student — everyone has their individual strengths and weaknesses. However, many students find the advanced algebra, geometry, and data analysis questions to be the most challenging. These often require a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and the ability to apply them in complex problem-solving scenarios.

Additionally, the time constraints of the test can intensify the difficulty, demanding not only proficiency but also speed in solving problems accurately. It’s important to learn how to manage test anxiety as part of your overall test prep strategy. Preparation and practice go a long way toward helping you manage your time effectively during the test.

You may find tutoring services to be helpful if you’re struggling with certain math concepts that appear on the test. During your test prep, you can pinpoint where you struggle the most — a tutor can then work with you on these specific issues.

This video demonstrates what an IvyWise test prep tutoring session looks like.

How to Improve Your SAT Math Score

Improving your SAT Math score requires a strategic approach and consistent practice. First of all, it’s important to understand what is considered a good SAT math score at the colleges and universities you are interested in attending. You can learn this information by looking at the profile of the admitted class — if this isn’t readily available on the institution’s website, look at their most recent Common Data Set. You will want to find the middle 50% score range for admitted students. This will help you determine a goal score. Once you know what score you wish to achieve, you can start planning your test prep strategy.

The next step involves familiarizing yourself with the test format and content areas. Then, identify your strengths and weaknesses by taking practice tests and reviewing your performance. Focus on strengthening weak areas through targeted study, utilizing resources such as SAT prep books, online courses, and tutoring if needed. Additionally, develop effective test-taking strategies, such as managing time wisely and using the process of elimination for the answer choices. Finally, regularly practice under timed conditions to build speed and accuracy, and don’t forget to review mistakes to learn from them.

Keep in mind that you are not penalized for wrong answers. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s better to make your most educated guess than leaving the question blank. Using the process of elimination will help you with the multiple-choice questions. Correct answers will improve your score — you cannot lower your score if you guess incorrectly.    

With dedication and persistence, you can steadily improve your SAT Math score. While some students can successfully manage test prep on their own, others may need professional guidance to help them perform better on the SAT. Contact IvyWise today to learn more about our tutoring and test prep services and how we can help you achieve your goal test score.


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