SAT Math Test Section - Basics

The New SAT Math Section

The Math Section of the 2016 SAT has been redesigned to offer students and educators a higher degree of relevance to postsecondary study in a wider range of disciplines. Although abstract math is still a major content area, there is now significant emphasis on the types of math skills needed for study in fields other than STEM, particularly the social sciences, and problems on career-related issues are also included. The new SAT Math Test should be viewed as a better assessment than older versions, but the changes to the test mandate reconsideration of the conventional wisdom surrounding SAT preparation.

Testing Areas

The 2016 SAT Math Test contains four areas of focus: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math. Heart of Algebra questions ask students to create and solve equations, while Problem Solving and Data Analysis presents test-takers with problems from science, social science, and career contexts that test proportional reasoning abilities. Passport to Advanced Math features the complex equations and functions needed for college-level study in the "hard" sciences, and Additional Topics in Math include complex numbers, trigonometry, and geometry.

Format and Scoring

Students are given a total of 80 minutes to complete the SAT Math Test. All questions are either multiple choice or gridded response, in which test-takers write in numerical answers and fill in the corresponding boxes. The test includes 58 total questions divided in to calculator and no-calculator segments. The calculator segment is 55 minutes and 38 questions, while the no-calculator segment is 25 minutes and 20 questions. In addition to the overall Math Section (200 to 800) and Math Test scores (10 to 40), students receive subscores for Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math (1 to 15). Cross-test scores for Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science (10 to 40) are partially derived from selected Math Test questions. Additional Topics in Math questions count only toward the overall Math Test and Math Section scores.

Research in Support

A 2009 survey indicated that the overwhelming majority of high school teachers (almost 90%) felt that their students were adequately prepared for college-level mathematics, but most postsecondary instructors (nearly 75%) did not share this view. Many students have therefore been forced to take remedial math courses in college, and remediation is generally associated with lower graduation rates and higher tuition costs. Surveys also show that college professors see the problem more as a lack of deep command of core mathematical skills than sheer breadth of mathematical knowledge. The College Board asserts that its redesign of the SAT's math assessment embraces recommendations articulated in a 2013 paper authored by the Council of Chief State School Officers: "In a CCR [College and Career Ready] -aligned assessment system ... high school [math assessment] focuses on widely applicable prerequisites for careers and postsecondary education." The new SAT's emphasis on problem solving and data analysis is meant to address the deficiencies of quantitative skills that have been repeatedly shown in published research comparing American students to those in several other industrialized countries. No-calculator segments of the new SAT have been included to ensure that students possess abilities in basic arithmetic, which (according to surveys) are regarded as essential by college professors in most academic disciplines and are obviously also important to a wide variety of professional and everyday activities.


The 2016 SAT Math Test is a substantially improved assessment in its accessibility and relevance to postsecondary study. The math skills needed for success, however, remain a challenge to acquire, especially for students who are not naturally gifted in math. Test-takers no longer need to know as much math as before, but they must understand the idea of math as logic, must be able to solve quantitative problems, and must be competent in foundational and more advanced mathematical topics such as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. At first glance, preparing for the new SAT math assessment can seem quite complicated, with a cluttered landscape of test preparation options. A large number of test prep resources are available, such as self-study methods and free video-recorded instruction, but the most reliable path to high scores on the new SAT Math Test is still experienced and knowledgeable tutoring. Qualified SAT tutors can significantly enhance and greatly abbreviate the preparation process through targeted instruction based on individual student challenges.