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The SAT Math test has been a central component of every SAT since 1941, when it was first included in a multiple-choice format. When the most recent changes to the SAT were announced in 2014, many students, parents, teachers, and test prep experts experienced the anxiety that comes from not knowing what to expect. Many students who had spent countless hours learning the most effective preparation strategies for the last iteration of the SAT may have even felt a little panicked at the thought of potentially starting again from scratch.


Released in March of 2016, the new SAT is no longer a mystery. The experts here at CollegeVine have spent the past six months pouring over data and materials from the College Board and official study materials from Khan Academy, all the while pooling private resources and insights to create what we believe is the best prep program in the industry for the new SAT. And we are happy to be able to share some of our insights here with you!


To read more about the recent changes to the SAT, check out CollegeVine’s post A Guide to the New SAT or review Khan Academy’s video outlining Content Changes to the New SAT.


To get started with studying for your SAT Math test, read on for our advice and tips.


What is the format of the new SAT Math test?

The new SAT Math test consists of 58 questions to be completed over the course of 80 minutes. Most of them are multiple-choice questions, but 13 are grid-in questions that ask you to come up with a free-response answer rather than selecting it from available options. Some parts of the test include several questions about a single scenario, and others are stand-alone questions.


The test is divided into two portions. The first portion is called Math Test – Calculator. This section contains 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in answers, taking 55 minutes of your test time. The second portion is the Math Test – No Calculator. This portion represents one of the changes on the new SAT, since previous exams allowed the use of a calculator on all sections of the Math test. This section consists of 20 questions, with 15 multiple-choice and the remaining five grid-in answers. You’ll have 25 minutes to complete this part of the test.


For a more specific overview of content, you can find a complete breakdown of the points and weight of each area of content on each portion of the exam beginning on page 229 of College Board’s  SAT Study Guide.


What skills are assessed by the new SAT Math?

The College Board reports that the skills assessed on the new SAT Math test include “the math that you’ll rely on most in all sorts of situations,” like college math and science courses, real-world jobs, and everyday life.


This content can be broken down into these primary categories:


  • Heart of Algebra content focuses on the mastery of linear equations and systems.


You can also expect to see some questions that fall under the category Additional Topics in Math. These questions typically include geometry,

trigonometry, and any other content relevant to college and career readiness.


In addition to testing these core areas of content, the test will also assess your problem-solving skills and ability to apply your knowledge in new, unique, or complex ways. Specifically, the test will assess your math fluency, conceptual understanding, and application of math skills.  


For a more complete breakdown of specific skills you’ll need to know for the new SAT Math Test, check out the tutorials available from Khan Academy.


What are the key strategies for the New SAT Math test?


1. Study the Content

On the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing portion of the SAT, there are very few concrete skills that you can study specifically. Much of the content tests a broader ability to apply knowledge or think critically. While these abstract skills are still very much emphasized on the new SAT Math test as well, there is also a significant amount of concrete content that you’ll need to know to perform well on the test:


  • Heart of Algebra questions focus on linear equations, systems of linear equations, and the relationships between them. Linear equations always involve two variables that change according to a consistent pattern. These questions often involve distance, speed, mass, volume, or even everyday budgeting or financial issues.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions often include the application of ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning. For these questions, you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to create and use a model and to understand the distinction between the model predictions and data collected. This includes skills like understanding the difference between simple and compound interest.
  • Passport to Advanced Math requires an understanding of the complex equations and functions typically needed in STEM-based careers. This could include adding, subtracting, and multiplying polynomials, dividing a polynomial by a linear expression, or manipulating expressions involving exponentials, integer and rational powers, radicals, or fractions with a variable in the denominator.   


Although it can seem overwhelming, you have probably come across much of this content during your high school math classes. Sitting down with a formal study guide or reviewing the tutorials from Khan Academy can help you to put some of these problems into context with what you already know.

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2. Know How to Complete Grid-In Answers Ahead of Time

This is a very simple way that you can prepare to manage your time well on the exam. Although specific instructions for the grid-in answers are included on your exam, they are the same instructions as those given on practice exams, and it’s best if you don’t need to waste any time reading them on the day of your big test. Instead, review the Grid-In Questions outline well ahead of the test so that you can hit the ground running when you encounter these questions on test day.


3. Be Familiar with the References Available

You will have two major references available to you on test day. One is the list of provided formulas that can be previewed on page 21 of the SAT Student Guide. Maximize your potential score on the test by becoming familiar and comfortable with the provided formulas. You should know how and when to use each one.


The other invaluable resource is your calculator. You should be familiar with how and when to use the calculator you bring to the test. You should also know when to leave it alone. The College Board advises that all questions can be answered without the use of a calculator, so you should reserve its use for questions requiring prolonged calculations. Always decide how you’re going to solve a problem first, then use your calculator as necessary.


4. Eliminate Careless Mistakes

On a test as important as your SAT, you’ll want to minimize the possibility of getting any of the “easier” questions wrong. The mistakes you do make on the test should actually be indicative of your skills, not how quickly you were trying to rush through the problem in front of you.


To eliminate as many careless mistakes as possible, slow down enough to read each question carefully and think twice before filling in your answer. You should also get used to writing down the important steps of multi-step problems as you go. That way, if you arrive at an answer that doesn’t seem right or isn’t one of the answer choices, you can backtrack without having to start from scratch again.


5. Try Plugging In Values for Unknown Variables

On a test with multiple-choice answers, it’s easy to work backwards when trying to solve for an unknown variable. Simply take each answer choice, plug it into the equation, and see if it works. Start with the value that seems most reasonable to you and go from there. Alternatively, if you are trying to determine the relationship between unknown variables in an equation, try plugging in an easy value for one of them and see how the value of the other variable changes proportionately.


Khan Academy gives a good example of this for a problem that asks, “If the radius of a circle is tripled, what is the effect on the circle’s circumference?” Rather than working with only variables, plug in a simple value for the radius, such as one, and see how the circumference changes. If you think you know the answer, then plug in another simple value, like two, and see if your theory holds true.


6. Have a Strategy for Attacking Word Problems

Word problems can often be confusing, and they are sometimes made this way on purpose. They might include unneeded numbers or ask the question in a roundabout way. Have a strategy for breaking these problems down. Underline numbers that are relevant, cross out numbers that don’t matter, and circle key words that indicate which kind of operation you should be using. For example, words like per, each, and every usually indicate a rate, so you will likely need to use multiplication or division to arrive at your answer.


7. Manage Your Time According to Your Target Score

When you go into the test, you should have a target score in mind and know what you’ll need to do to achieve that score. For example, to score a 750 on the Math Test, you can only afford to miss four questions. This means that as you are taking the test, if you come across questions that you have no clue how to solve, you may make a reasonable guess or skip up to four of them and then return to them with any remaining time you have.


Keep in mind, though, that in order for this strategy to work, you need to be absolutely certain that you get the questions you do answer correct. Use the time gained by skipping or guessing the most difficult questions to double check your other answers to get as many points as possible.


Where can I find free practice materials for the New SAT Math test?

It probably comes as no surprise that a quick online search for SAT Math study materials yields dozens upon dozens of results. What’s harder than finding the materials is determining their quality, and spending time studying poor quality or irrelevant materials isn’t much more effective than not studying at all.


In order to maximize the efficiency of your study hours, you should stick with study materials that are either officially endorsed by the College Board, or show evidence of proven, quantifiable results. Here are some resources to get you started:


The College Board  provides an official SAT Student Study Guide and SAT Study Sheet that provide a comprehensive overview of the test, the content covered by it, and the types and formats of questions that you can expect to see. These are great starting places to get a better idea of what to expect when you sit down to the test on your big day.


The College Board also maintains a Daily Practice SAT app. This app provides you with one daily practice question, the option to reveal a hint if you’re stuck, and answer explanations to help you learn from your mistakes. It also has a scan-and-score service wherein you can use your phone’s camera to scan your official practice test answer sheet and submit it for automatic scoring.


Sample practice questions from the College Board are another great way to focus your studying and identify areas of weakness.


In addition, Khan Academy provides a series of video and written tutorials outlining the math concepts you’ll need to know for the SAT, along with an online message board where students can discuss questions and trade strategies.


Finally, take the CollegeVine free diagnostic SAT with a customized score report and action plan to help get a better idea of where you’re starting from and the direction that your studying should take you.


If you still have questions about the new SAT Math test or you are interested in our customized SAT tutoring, head over to CollegeVine’s SAT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors in the industry guide students to an average score increase of 140 points.


To learn more about the SAT, check out these CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist