SAT Mathematics Section


The Math section of the SAT tests a variety of high school math concepts including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data and analytics and statistics. There are three Math sections of the SAT – two are 25 minutes long and one is 20 minutes long. The questions in the SAT Math Section gradually increase in difficulty, so the questions that students encounter in the beginning should theoretically be easier than the ones they will face later in the section. It is not necessary to memorize mathematical formulas – the section provides a series of formulas but it is up to the test taker to recognize which ones to use when.

Students are allowed to use calculators for the Math section of the SAT, however take care to bring a calculator that conforms to the College Board's rules. The calculator may not be part of a phone or computer, it may not print out calculations and it may not have a typewriter keypad. It would also be a good idea to bring a calculator that does not make a lot of noise and doesn't require a wall outlet. In addition, students' should use the calculator wisely. Relying on the calculator for every question might actually take longer and waste valuable time. Often the type of math included on the SAT is most easily done in your head, but the calculator can be a valuable tool for checking work or for solving complex arithmetic quickly. It is also helpful to remember that all figures are drawn to scale unless otherwise indicated.

In tackling the multiple-choice questions for the SAT Math section, it is important to remember that writing in the test booklet is ok. The test booklet can be used as scratch paper to work out problems and draw diagrams. Students can also cross off wrong answers in their test books, to visually narrow down their possible answer choices.

There are two types of questions in the SAT Math sections. Most of the questions in the three sections are multiple choice with five possible answer choices. One of the 25 Math minute sections will also contain "Grid-In" style questions in which students must write an answer and then bubble the digits of their answer on the answer sheet.

Multiple Choice Strategies

Most of the SAT Math section is made up of multiple-choice questions with five possible answer choices. A wide range of math concepts are tested using this question format, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data analytics and statistics. While that might sound overwhelming, it is important to remember that multiple choice is in many ways a gift, because the answer is right there on the page.

One important point to remember is that there is a quarter-point penalty for incorrect answers on SAT Math section multiple-choice questions, so guessing blindly is not recommended. In other words, if a student does not get to the last few questions in a section, it would probably be better to leave them blank rather than guess a random answer. On the other hand, if a student does not know the answer to a question but has eliminated some of the choices, guessing might pay, as there is a higher chance that a guess would be correct.

Many students may be able to answer SAT Math questions most easily by drawing from the Math they learned in school and solving questions using the methods they were taught. When stuck on a question, or when a question would take a long time to figure out, one helpful technique is to work backwards from the answer choices that the test provides. If the possible answer choices range from low to high, pick the middle choice and plug it into the equation. If that choice does not turn out to be correct, students can determine from the result of their trial whether to plug in a higher number or a lower number. Using this method a multiple-choice answer can be solved relatively quickly.

In some cases, the answer choices cannot be plugged in. For example, a question might ask, "assuming A is twice as large as B, which of the following equations would result in the smallest number?" In an questions like that, where the answer choices are equations, it might be best to make up values for variables A and B. Try A=3 and B=6 and find out which equation produces the smallest answer.

Grid-ins Questions

The so-called "Grid-In" questions are questions for which students write in the correct answer and then fill in bubbles (the "grid") below each digit to enter the answer in a way that the automatic scorer will recognize it. There are four columns in the grid, and each column contains bubbles for the numbers zero through nine as well as a bubble for a decimal point and one for a fraction bar.

If the answer to a problem were 2046, for example, the test taker would write the number in the squares at the top of the grid and then darken the bubble for the number two in the first column, the bubble for the number zero in the second column, the bubble for four in the third and the bubble for six in the last.

For fractions or decimals, the bubble for the decimal point or fraction bar would be darkened in the appropriate column. Grids can be done in either decimal or fraction form. In other words if an answer is one half, both 1 / 2 and .5 would be scored as correct. It also doesn't matter whether or not fractions are reduced to the lowest denominator.

The numbers that are handwritten into squares at the top of the grid are actually not scored. However, it is recommended that students write the answer into the squares anyway, rather than simply filling in the bubbles in the grid. Writing the answer can help prevent mistakes. It is also helpful when going back to check work.

Unlike the multiple choice questions in the SAT Math section, there are no penalties for wrong answers for Grid-In questions. Perhaps that is because unlike multiple choice, there is no chance for pure guessing with these questions – students have to come up with their own answers.

The Grid-In questions are an area where using a calculator can be useful. Since the answers are not there to choose from as with the multiple-choice questions, calculators can be helpful for double checking work. Also, if it seems easier to convert a number to a decimal for the grid, that would be quick to do with the calculator.

The Grid-In questions cover the same mathematical concepts as the multiple choice questions – arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data analytics and statistics. Like the multiple choice SAT Math questions, the Grid-In questions are arranged in order of difficulty.

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