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Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Prep Strategies for SAT Heart of Algebra Questions

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Heart of Algebra makes up the largest category of math questions on the SAT. Nearly one-third of the test (or more specifically, 19 questions in total) fall under Heart of Algebra, which means that if you can master these questions, you’re well on your way to getting the score you want on the SAT Math.


Doing well on the SAT Heart of Algebra won’t only help you get a higher score, but it can help you feel more confident about the test in general. Many of the other SAT categories rely on the same problem-solving skills needed for these questions, so you’re doing yourself a favor by honing in on these questions. Here are our top tips for succeeding on the SAT Heart of Algebra questions!


What Does “Heart of Algebra” Mean?


Heart of Algebra is one of four categories on the SAT. The other three include Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.


The phrase “Heart of Algebra” may not sound like something you’ve ever heard in your classes before, and the other category names may also sound vague or confusing. Don’t worry—you’ll see that although the SAT uses unique category names, many of the concepts that are being tested will be familiar to you.


According to College Board, Heart of Algebra covers the following topics:


  • Analyzing and fluently solving linear equations and systems of linear equations


  • Creating linear equations and inequalities to represent relationships between quantities and to solve problems


  • Understanding and using the relationship between linear equations and inequalities and their graphs to solve problems


In a nutshell, if it has to do with linear equations and inequalities or systems of linear equations, then it’s a Heart of Algebra question.


Top Strategies for Heart of Algebra Questions


This is some of the best advice we give to the students that we work with. On average, our students’ scores improve by 250 points, so there’s a good chance these will help you out too!


1. Review and Practice Formulas


Most students go straight towards what formulas they need to memorize in order to do well, and while memorizing can be a good first step, it’s a lot more important that you practice using the formulas. When you practice using the formulas, you’ll begin to see how the formulas work in different contexts and be able to recognize when they apply to particular questions.


Luckily, there aren’t too many formulas you need to remember for Heart of Algebra questions (most formulas apply to one of the other three categories). The one that you need to be able to manipulate and recognize is y = mx + b, such as rewriting the equation in terms of x or using information in a problem to calculate the slope. You should also be able to read the graph of a line and find the slope and intercept from the graph.


While not a formula, you may want to review working with inequalities as well. Linear inequalities often behave identically to linear equations, although you may remember this one exception: when you divide by a negative number, you must flip the sign of the inequality. You’ll also want to review graphing inequalities, such as solid or dotted lines, shaded and unshaded areas, and feel comfortable interpreting those graphs.


We’ve compiled the most useful formulas to know in our post, 30 SAT Math Formulas You Need to Know.

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2. Practice Without a Calculator


The SAT Math is broken down into two sections; the first section doesn’t allow you to use a calculator when solving questions, and the second section does. Many students use their scientific or graphing calculators extensively in their math classes, but with a no-calculator section you may want to practice doing math without it.


In fact, Heart of Algebra features heavily on the no-calculator section of the SAT. While Heart of Algebra makes up 29% of the calculator section, it makes up 40% of the no-calculator section. Even on the calculator section, many of the Heart of Algebra questions can be solved just as quickly (or even more quickly, without a calculator.


If it’s been a while since you’ve done math the old-fashioned way, you definitely want to give yourself time to practice it and get used to it again. By using an SAT practice test, you can get a feel for the no-calculator questions and see where you need to improve. You can also check out our post How to Conquer the No-Calculator Section of the SAT for more tips.



3. Use Multiple Choice Answers Strategically


Most students read a math question and immediately begin trying to solve it, but we suggest you take a quick second to glance at the answer choices. While you’ll still need to solve the problem, the answer choices might give you a hint about how to proceed. What format are the answers in? Are they equations, whole numbers, variables? If the question didn’t make it clear what format your answer choice should be in, then the answer choices can steer you towards the right format.


There’s nothing more annoying than solving a question and then realizing your answer is in the wrong format. This happens especially on the calculator portion, where students calculate out square roots or pi and end up with an answer in decimals, only to look at the options to see that radicals are in the answer choices. Then you end up spending time converting your answer back or seeing if you’ve made a mistake.


Of course, there are many other strategies for using multiple choice answers to find the solution. You can try plugging answers back into the original question, or substitute numbers for variables in word problems. These strategies are better used when you have no other idea how to proceed on a question, so it doesn’t replace reviewing linear equations and inequalities!


Wrapping it Up


Mastering Heart of Algebra can improve your confidence when taking the SAT. If you develop a strong understanding of linear equations and inequalities, grow comfortable working without a calculator, and use multiple choice answers strategically, you’ll be able to apply these skills to other SAT math questions.


For more tips on preparing for the SAT, check out our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.


Check out some of our other posts about the SAT:


Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Math Test

How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT

What Sections are on the SAT? Plus How to Prepare for Them


Want to know how your SAT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
Gianna Cifredo is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Philosophy. She has six years of higher education and test prep experience, and now works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and is a proud cat mom.