The Ultimate SAT Math Prep Guide

sat math prep

It’s worth it to prepare for the SAT. Just 20 hours of pre-test practice can boost your score by 115 points. That could be the difference between a mediocre school and your dream school.

But how exactly do you prepare for the SAT? What do you need to know?

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the most important SAT math prep. So, read on and improve your math score.

Overview of the Test

If you want to do well on the test, you need to know what to expect.

The math section of the SAT consists of two sections: a calculator section, and a non-calculator section.

The calculator section has 38 questions which you have 55 minutes to complete. You can, as the name implies, use a calculator at any point during this section.

The non-calculator section is much shorter, consisting of 20 questions which you’ll have 25 minutes to complete. Keep your calculator under your desk for this section.

Most questions are multiple choice questions in which you’ll have a choice between four possible answers. But there are also the more open-ended grid-in questions. When answering these, you’ll have to fill in the numbers that correspond to your answer.

General Test Taking Strategies

Before we tell you about the topics you’ll need to study to ace the SAT math section, we need to talk about something even more important: SAT test-taking strategies. Doing well on the SAT is about more than understanding the material. You also need to understand how the test works and how to play the game.

Prioritize Your Time

Not all SAT questions are created equal. Move through the test and answer all the quick, easy ones first. Then take another pass and answer all the ones that take a bit longer. Finally, if you have time, take a crack at the hard ones, and if you’re stumped, guess.

Learn to Guess

As of 2016, there is no penalty for guessing on the SAT. That means you should never leave an answer blank. Even if you have no idea what the answer is, just put C (or any letter, really; just don’t waste time deciding).

If you have time, try to eliminate answers you know aren’t correct. Oftentimes, one of the answers will be ridiculous, and you’ll be able to eliminate another one with a little bit of thought, leaving you with two possible choices. Make a 50/50 guess and move on.

Use the Answer Choices

If you’re stumped on a problem, try looking at the possible answers for guidance. In some cases, you can answer the problem just by plugging the answers in one at a time.

Math You Need To Know

Almost all the math questions on the SAT fall into one of three categories: heart of algebra, problem-solving and data analysis, or passport to advanced math.

Heart of Algebra

Your SAT test will have 19 heart of algebra questions. They’ll mostly test you on topics you learned in your Algebra I and Algebra II classes.

That means you need to have a solid grasp of linear equations. So, review slope-intercept form and practice graphing linear equations. You should also understand the systems of linear equations, how to solve them (quickly), and how to interpret them.

Heart of algebra also covers inequalities, including systems of inequalities. So, know how to interpret them and how to graph them (remember dashed lines and solid lines?).

A few of these questions will probably be long word problems, but don’t get bogged down in the language. Look for key information and convert the passage into algebra.

Problem Solving and Data Analysis

17 questions will come from this section. They’ll include fundamentals such as ratios, percentages, and proportions along with more complex topics such as data interpretation and statistics.

When dealing with ratios, remember to use the “DIRT equation,” distance = rate x time. If the problem involves a quantity changing with time, simplify it to DIRT.

With both ratios and proportions, remember to cancel your units out. For example, feet divided by feet reduces to 1 (with no units). If your units don’t work out, you probably made a mistake somewhere.

Don’t worry about memorizing every formula from your statistics course. Most of the probability and statistics on the SAT is pretty beginner level. The best way to practice is to do some sample problems before test day so you know what to expect.

Passport to Advanced Math

These 16 questions will, of course, cover the most advanced topics on the test. If math isn’t your strong suit, these are the kinds of questions you’ll be skipping on your first few passes through the test.

But if you want to score more than 650, you’ll need to get a few of these right.

You’ll be asked questions about radicals, complex numbers, higher order algebraic equations, and more.

There’s a lot to practice in this section, but to start, we recommend you focus on getting comfortable manipulating polynomial expressions, solving quadratic equations, and dealing with exponents. Those are the lowest hanging fruit in this section, and they’re almost guaranteed to be on the test.

Six Additional Questions

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve realized we’re six questions short of the 58 question total. These last six questions come from a variety of topics; think of it as a miscellaneous section.

This is where you’ll find most of the geometry questions. So, remember that the first page has some common geometric formulas.

You’ll probably see at least one triangle question, so brush up on your basic trigonometry and remember the Pythagorean Theorem.

The Most Important Element of SAT Math Prep: Practice

Now that you know the basics to SAT math prep, it’s time to put them into practice. Work through each topic one at a time, and when you’re ready, take a few practice tests.

As test day approaches, eat healthy, sleep well, and be confident. Good luck!

If you found this SAT math guide helpful, make sure to check out all the other great math articles on our blog.

The Ultimate SAT Math Prep Guide

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