SAT Math Test Overview & Prep Guide

SAT Math Test Overview & Prep Guide

Written by Chris Hernandez

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Get an overview of the SAT Math Test section, including the structure and types of questions. Plus, advice that will help you succeed when taking it.

The SAT Math Test is a critical section of the SAT that evaluates how well you can utilize mathematical concepts and knowledge in a way that would be necessary for college or professional work.

There are two sections that are timed; the first section is 55 minutes long and allows the use of calculators, and it has 38 questions. The second section is 25 minutes long and does not permit the use of calculators, and it has 20 questions.

The rest of this article includes an overview of the SAT Math Test and a guide that will help you succeed when taking it.

What Skills Are Needed to Ace the SAT Math Test?

In addition to evaluating your understanding of core topics, the exam will also evaluate your problem-solving capacity and capacity to use your knowledge in novel, complex, or unique ways.

It will focus specifically on your fluency with math, your grasp of the concepts, and your capacity to implement math skills.

If you are looking for a comprehensive list of the exact skills you need to succeed on the new SAT Math Test, consider consulting the tutorials available in Amikka Learning’s SAT prep course.

How is the SAT Math Test Structured?

The Math Test assesses different abilities in three primary math types:

Heart of Algebra: Focuses on your mastery of linear equations, systems of linear equations, and the relationships between them.

Problem-Solving and Data Analysis: Focuses on ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning and assesses your general quantitative literacy.

Passport to Advanced Math: Features questions that require the manipulation and calculation of complex equations, focusing on complex equations and functions typically needed in a STEM-based—science, technology, engineering, and math—career.

Expect to encounter questions that belong to the Additional Topics in Math section. These questions may cover geometry, trigonometry, or other material related to college and career preparation.

The SAT Math Test contains questions that cover a range of everyday topics, such as jobs, science, and social science, as well as more specialized mathematical concepts like geometry, trigonometry, radian measure, and complex numbers.

The SAT Math test is 80 minutes long and requires you to answer 58 questions. The majority of these are multiple-choice, but there are also 13 grid-in questions that require a free-response answer. Some sections include multiple questions about a single subject, and others are single questions.

Here's the breakdown of time, number of questions, and question types on the two SAT math sections:

Section Number of Questions Time Allowed
No Calculator 15 Multiple Choice, 5 Grid-ins 25 minutes
Calculator 30 Multiple Choice, 8 Grid-ins (Including 1 extended thinking question) 55 minutes
Total 58 Questions 80 minutes

While you can only use a calculator in the longer math section, you'll have access to reference information for formulas to use in the geometry in both sections.

  • The exam is split into two parts. The first part is the Math Test – No Calculator section, which has 20 questions, 15 of which are multiple-choice and the other five are grid-in, and you will have 25 minutes to finish it.
  • The second part is the Math Test – Calculator section, which is composed of 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-in answers, and you will have 55 minutes to finish it.

How is the SAT Math No Calculator Section Formatted?

This part of the SAT usually follows the sections for Reading and Writing and Language, and it is the shortest of the sections, lasting only 25 minutes. Afterward, you will be afforded a brief five-minute break, allowing you to get your calculator out and prepare for the Math Calculator section.

You will be given 20 questions to answer, with an average of 75 seconds each. 

Fifteen of these questions will have four possible answers to choose from, while the remaining five will be grid-ins, which you'll need to fill out on the designated portion of the answer sheet.

Here's how the Math No Calculator section breaks down exactly:

  • Total time: 25 minutes
  • Number of Multiple Choice Questions: 15 (from #1 to #15)
  • Number of Grid-In Questions: 5 (from #16 to #20)
  • Time per Question: 75 seconds

Since the No Calculator section of the Math part of the SAT is shorter than the other, it will only account for one-third of your total Math score.

Now, let's go beyond the details and talk about the abilities that will be tested in the Math No Calculator section.

There are no Problem-Solving and Data Analysis questions on the No Calculator section, in contrast to the Calculator section. 

These questions require interpreting data from tables and scatter plots or determining ratios, rates, and proportions.

The chart below lists the quantity of questions from the three major skill areas.

Math Type Number of Questions % of Section
Heart of Algebra 8 40%
Passport to Advanced Math 9 45%
Additional Topics 3 15%

Some questions have multiple steps and require you to combine two or more concepts to work toward a solution.

The SAT Math Calculator Section

The calculator section is created to evaluate your knowledge of the real mathematical principles, rather than the risk of making mistakes with the calculations. In other words, it assesses the process that leads to the answer. This includes evaluating your familiarity with such topics as linear inequalities, interpretation of graphs/data, quadratic functions, geometry, and trigonometry.

The calculator is an invaluable resource, but it is important to know how and when to use it. The College Board suggests that all questions can be answered without the help of a calculator, so it should only be used for more complicated calculations. Before using your calculator, decide on the best way to solve the problem and then use it if necessary. 

Tips for the smart use of a calculator

  • Bring your own calculator. You can’t share one.
  • Bring a calculator you know – don’t bring one you’ve never used before.
  • Practice for the test using the same calculator you’ll use on test day.
  • It may help to do scratch work in the test book. Get your thoughts down before using your calculator.
  • Make sure your calculator is in good working order with fresh batteries. The testing staff will not have batteries or extra calculators.
  • If your calculator fails during testing, and you have no backup, you may complete the test without it.
  • All questions can be answered without a calculator.

The SAT Passport to Advanced Math Questions

This section is clearly focused on linear equations, functions, and systems, which should be understood before more complex topics are studied. There is a high percentage of polynomial equations included. It is important for students to be familiar with the questions from the Heart of Algebra section before attempting the more advanced Passport questions, as these build on the concepts already covered. There are 16 of these questions out of 58 math questions on the actual test.

You may be asked to:

  • Solve quadratic, linear, and polynomial equations. 
  • Define a term or constant and interpret your solution.
  • Create and use quadratic and polynomial functions.
  • Interpret graphs for quadratic and order-based functions.
  • Use a pre existing graph to identify other equations in a system with a nonlinear equation.
  • Create equivalent algebraic, quadratic, and/or exponential expressions.
  • Rewrite simple expressions.
  • Use function notation.

The test contains questions that are scattered evenly across the other sections, and have varying levels of difficulty. It will include both multiple-choice and open-ended questions, which can be challenging for some students. If you find this type of question difficult, it is wise to focus on areas where you need the most improvement while studying. 

Helpful Hints for Passport to Advanced Math Questions

  • Not every question will be multiple choice, but when you come across one, it can be a great help. If you can't figure out which is the correct answer, you can try to eliminate the wrong ones until you get the right one, although this can take a while. 
  • Try this method only if you can't think of another way to answer the question or if the other ways will take even longer.
  • When checking possible responses, some may be obviously incorrect, so it's best to eliminate them immediately. If you find yourself having difficulty selecting the right option, you'll have fewer choices to choose from, increasing your chances of success.
  • Crossing out answers and working through problems is an effective strategy to avoid making small mistakes, but it is important to note why you are doing so to ensure you are not just breezing through the work and failing to notice any errors.
  • Know your exponent rules. Much of your success on this test will be based on your ability to implement universal math rules and procedures. Don't rely on your knowledge gathered in high school. Spent the necessary time prepping for the Passport to Advanced Math section of the SAT test.

Key Strategies for SAT Math Test Prep

Proper SAT Math Test preparation is essential for any student looking to score well on the exam. Taking the time to review and practice the material covered on the SAT Math Test can help students gain confidence and familiarity with the content and format of the exam, giving them a leg up and the ability to reach their desired score. 

With the right resources and preparation, students can feel prepared and ready to tackle the questions on the SAT Math Test. Amikka Learning’s SAT Math prep course covers every single piece of content and strategy needed to get a top score in the Math.

On top of hiring the best 1-on-1 tutors for private lessons, students have access to hundreds of videos, practice questions and practice tests.

Start your free trial now!

1. Content Study Strategy

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing portion of the SAT primarily focuses on testing one's ability to think critically and apply knowledge. However, the SAT Math test covers more concrete content that you must be familiar with to do well.

  • The Heart of Algebra: Questions in the category deal with linear equations, multiple linear equations, and the associations between them. Linear equations consistently involve two variables that change in accordance with an established trend. These types of questions can often involve topics such as speed, distance, mass, volume, and budgeting or financial matters.
  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis: Questions frequently require the use of ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning. To answer these questions, it is important to be able to create and use a model, and to comprehend the difference between the predictions from the model and the data that has been obtained. This involves being able to comprehend the contrast between simple and compound interest.
  • Passport to Advanced Math: This category necessitates a grasp of the complicated equations and functions normally needed for jobs related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). This could mean doing operations such as summing, subtracting, and multiplying polynomials, dividing a polynomial by a linear expression or transforming expressions that involve exponents, integer and rational powers, radicals, or fractions with a variable in the denominator.

It can be daunting, but chances are you have encountered some of this material during your high school math classes. To better understand the concepts, it would be beneficial to go over a structured study guide or review the tutorials from Amikka Learning, which can help you link the material to what you are already familiar with.

2. Familiarize Yourself with the References Provided

On the test, you will also have access to the list of formulas shown below that have been provided. To get the best score possible, you must understand how each formula works and when it should be used. Make sure you become comfortable with the formulas before test day.

sat math test reference formulas

3. Practice to Eliminate Careless Mistakes

To avoid making careless mistakes, it is essential to take your time while reading each question and consider your answer thoroughly. Additionally, it is recommended to write down the steps of a multi-step problem as you are working through it. This will make it easier to go back and double-check your work if you come up with an answer that is not one of the choices given.

For the SAT, you should strive to answer all the questions correctly, even the simpler ones, to avoid making mistakes that do not accurately reflect your true ability. Don't rush, but take your time to make sure you get the right answer.

4. Base Your Time Management on Your Target Score

When taking the test, set a goal for yourself and understand the steps needed to reach it. Let's say you want to get a 750 on the Math Test – you can't answer more than four questions incorrectly. If you come across a question that you have no idea how to solve, make an educated guess or skip up to four of them and come back later if you still have time.

It is important to understand that if you want to make use of this approach, you must be absolutely sure that the answers you do provide are correct. You can use the time saved by not attempting or making an educated guess at the hard questions to double-check the other responses you've given, thus maximizing your score.

5. Practice Simplifying Values for Unknown Variables

When you take a test with multiple-choice answers, it is a straightforward process to find an unknown variable. Start by putting each answer choice into the equation and see if it works. Consider the value that appears to be the most sensible to you and work from there. Additionally, if you need to determine the association between two unknown variables in an equation, try inserting an uncomplicated value for one of them and see how it affects the value of the other variable relative to it.

6. Be Prepared with a Strategy to Tackle Word Problems

Many word problems can be difficult to understand, as they sometimes contain a lot of information that is not essential or ask questions in a complicated manner. To tackle them, come up with a plan that includes highlighting any important numbers, crossing out numbers that aren't, and circling keywords that indicate the type of mathematical operation to be used. For example, words such as 'each,' 'every,' or 'per' often indicate that a rate needs to be calculated, which means you will probably need to use either multiplication or division.

7. Prep for Completing Grid-In Answers

Ensure you are familiar with Grid-In Questions before your exam so that you don't have to take the time to read the directions on the day of the test. Taking the time to review the Grid-In Questions outline before the test will help you move quickly when you get to these questions during the exam.

Tips for Answering Grid-In Questions

For some questions in the Math Test, you will be asked to solve the problem and enter your answer in the grid.

Directions for answering student-produced response questions are in the test book, but it is wise to take the time to be comfortable with the format before test day. Carefully read the directions for answering these questions. The directions explain what you can and can’t do when entering your answers on the answer sheet.

The rules are described below.

  • Although not required, it is suggested that you write your answer in the boxes at the top of the columns to help you fill in the bubbles accurately. You will receive credit only if the bubbles are filled in correctly.
  • Mark no more than one bubble in any column.
  • No question has a negative answer.
  • You’ll never include pi in your answer; you’ll use a decimal. For example: 3pi would be written as 9.425.
  • Some problems may have more than one correct answer. In such cases, grid only one answer.
  • You can write answers as fractions or decimals, but you cannot use mixed numbers. For example: 3 1/2 would need to be grid in as either 3.5 or 7/2 since the grading machine will read 3 1/2 as 31 2.
  • Decimal answers: If you obtain a decimal answer with more digits than the grid can accommodate, it may be either rounded or truncated, but it must fill the entire grid.

Complete List of Tips to Add to Your Math Test Prep Program

There is nothing as important as being ready when you walk into the test locale. So, going through one more list of SAT math tips can take you one step closer to being accepted into your dream school.

  • Familiarize yourself with the directions ahead of time.
  • You don’t have to memorize formulas. Commonly used formulas are provided with the test directions at the beginning of each Math Test portion.
  • Other formulas that are needed are provided with the test questions themselves. It’s up to you to decide which formula is appropriate to a question.
  • Read the problem carefully. Look for keywords that tell you what the problem is asking. Before you solve each problem, ask yourself these questions: What is the question asking? What do I know?
  • With some problems, it may be useful to draw a sketch or diagram of the given information.
  • Use the test booklet for scratch work. You’re not expected to do all the reasoning and figuring in your head. You won’t receive credit for anything written in the booklet, but you’ll be able to check your work easily later.
  • In the portion of the test that allows calculator use, be strategic when choosing to use your calculator.
  • If you don’t know the correct answer to a multiple choice question, eliminate some choices. It’s sometimes easier to find the wrong answers than the correct one.
  • On some questions, you may even be able to eliminate all the incorrect choices.
  • Remember that you won’t lose points for incorrect answers, so plan to make your best guess if you don’t know the answer.
  • Check your answer to make sure it’s a reasonable reply to the question asked. This is especially true for student-produced response questions, where no answer choices are given.


The SAT Math test is an important exam, and being thoroughly prepared for it is essential to achieve a good score. Taking practice tests, reviewing sample questions, and arranging SAT prep tutoring are all important steps to ensure you're ready for the test. With the right preparation and practice, you can ensure that you're in the best position possible to do your best on the SAT Math test. It is only natural to feel overwhelmed by the Math Section in anticipation of an upcoming SAT test. 

Amikka Learning's tutors are experts in guiding students to succeed on the SAT Math Test. The math prep program helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses to ensure your study materials and lessons are tailored to your unique needs. Contact Amikka for a free consultation now!

Written by Founder
Chris Hernandez

Christopher Hernandez, the founder of Amikka Learning, couldn’t afford expensive SAT tutoring so he spent hundreds of hours studying on his own.

After improving over 400 points and attending an Ivy League school he realized how unfair the playing field was with tutoring: no matter how smart you were, if you couldn’t afford tutoring you were stuck.
His dream was to change this.

He began tutoring for the SAT and quickly realized that he was a gifted tutor. His students were loving his program and improving very fast.

Fast forward 8 years, Amikka is a leader in the education industry and has helped thousands of students get into their dream schools.

If you’d like a free consultation for 1-on-1 tutoring schedule a call with our team here.

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Help Your Child Get Into Their Dream School. Without The Cost.

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