How to Prepare for theSAT Math Test

The prospect of sitting the SAT Math section might at first seem intimidating, particularly to those students who have chosen not to pursue the subject at A Level. By understanding how this vital part of the assessment works and preparing effectively, you too can achieve the score necessary for your college of choice.

The importance of the Math score to your application success will vary with each institution and type of course offered. A starting point of your preparation should be to thoroughly research the range of SAT Math score percentiles and the score range accepted by the colleges to which you are applying, so that you are clear on what you need to achieve to maximise your chances of acceptance.  

The SAT Math section is designed to assess competence in the four key areas fundamental to success in college and your future career. You will be examined on Algebra, Advanced Math, Problem-Solving and Data Analysis, and Geometry and Trigonometry.

The questions are designed to examine how well you understand and apply these essential concepts.

Understanding the Math section of the SAT

Math section structure

The Math section of the SAT exam is divided into two modules, with each of the four areas of Math assessed in both modules.

Questions are arranged by difficulty, with the easiest questions appearing first. This should assist you in your timekeeping in the assessment - remember to allocate your time accordingly, reserving sufficient time for the more difficult questions appearing later as you progress.

The first module of the Math section will present you with a range of easy, medium and difficult questions. How well you performed in the first module will determine whether the questions presented to you in the second module will be more or less difficult.

Question format

There are 44 Math questions in total, divided over the two modules. You will have 35 minutes allocated for each Math module (70 minutes in total over the entire exam for Math). Within these modules, you will be presented with questions requiring two formats of responses, both multiple-choice and those requiring you to enter your own answer.

According to The College Board, 30% of questions in the Math SAT are set in context, meaning that the questions present you with a scenario, perhaps from the real world, or from science or social studies. You will be required to apply your skills and knowledge of Mathematics to this context to arrive at your answer.

Of the four key areas of Math assessed, questions in Algebra (13-15 questions) and Advanced Math (13-15 questions) form the most substantial part of the assessment. Problem-Solving and Data Analysis (5-7 questions) and Geometry and Trigonometry (5-7 questions) are less frequent.

Ensure that you use these proportions as a guideline for the amount of time you allocate preparing for each area.

Essential Math skills to master


This section will assess your ability to simplify expressions, solve equations and understand functions.

Types of questions included:

  • Linear equations in 1 variable
  • Linear equations in 2 variables
  • Linear functions
  • Systems of 2 linear equations in 2 variables
  • Linear inequalities in 1 or 2 variables

Sample questions:


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Advanced Math

These are the skills that are required to pursue fields including science, economics and STEM. Skills assessed include manipulating complex equations and understanding nonlinear expressions.

Types of questions included:

  • Equivalent expressions
  • Nonlinear equations in 1 variable
  • Systems of equations in 2 variables
  • Nonlinear functions

Sample questions:


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Problem Solving and Data Analysis

The College Board states the importance of this section as assessing the skills that demonstrate quantitative literacy and reasoning, such as your ability to work with ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. You will also be required to interpret data from graphs and tables.

Types of questions included:

  • Ratios, rates, proportional relationships, and units
  • Percentages
  • One-variable data: distributions and measures of center and spread
  • Two-variable data: models and scatterplots
  • Probability and conditional probability
  • Inference from sample statistics and margin of error
  • Evaluating statistical claims: observational studies and experiments

Sample questions:


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Geometry and Trigonometry

You will be assessed on your problem-solving abilities in the following areas:

  • Areas and volume formulas
  • Lines, angles and triangles
  • Right triangles and trigonometry
  • Circles

Sample questions:


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Effective study strategies and practice techniques for the SAT Math test

Beginning the task of studying for the SAT might seem overwhelming. Where to begin? Organisation is key.

First of all, arm yourself with an overview of the syllabus and a detailed breakdown of the topics covered. You can then begin the vital task of creating a study schedule.

With an overview of the time available to you before assessment day, you can break down each of the four key areas, ensuring that you timetable each syllabus topic to be covered in your preparation. Keep in mind that the Algebra and Advanced Math areas are the most substantial in terms of topics to learn and number of exam questions, so will require more time.

Consistency is fundamental for SAT preparation. A little practice every day, if possible, provides a strong foundation for significant cumulative gains.

As time progresses towards the exam, your theoretical foundation should be strong enough for your time to be focused on practice tests in your final weeks, enabling you to progressively improve on key skills of time-management.

Timetable not only topic learning, but plenty of timed sample question practice. Aim to complete at least a couple of practice questions each day, with one day a week reserved for a lengthier set of questions, timed.

This exam is a test of your ability to practically apply key concepts, something that can only be achieved through practice. Dedicating sufficient space in your schedule for practice questions will serve you well, in this regard, in addition to mastering timing.

Practice under timed conditions

Timed practice is invaluable. Your ability to understand and apply key concepts is irrelevant if you do not have the time to answer correctly.

The results of your first couple of attempts at a complete timed Math section will likely not reflect your capabilities to achieve a higher score later on - don't be discouraged, your score will improve with more practice. You will eventually get better at time management as you get more familiar with the types of questions.

Enjoy making mistakes

Embrace making mistakes in your practice questions! These are, believe it or not, the best revision tool in your armoury.

Compile all of the questions that you get wrong, your responses and record where and why you made an error. If this is not clear, consult with a tutor or teacher for clarification.

Analysing your errors are essential - it will identify weaknesses in your understanding, or how closely you read the questions. This collection of errors will be invaluable in the immediate weeks before the exam, enabling you to efficiently focus on where you went wrong and how to avoid it next time.

Common mistakes, which you can avoid by effectively training yourself in practice, include not reading the question thoroughly and not paying attention to the units.

Take notes

Do not forget to keep an organised collection of notes, divided into the four key areas and subdivided into constituent topics.

Use flashcards for formulas and key concepts so that you can quickly consult them and refresh in the weeks immediately prior to the exam.

Know how to approach math problems

Using proven techniques for solving math problems will assist you with time management, particularly with worded problem questions, in which you will need to extract the essence of the problem from the context.

To achieve this, think about converting sentences into mathematical equations, noting them with symbols to allow you to quickly get to the heart of the problem by reducing it to its simplest form.

For example: where a problem tells you that quantities are combined, you can shorthand this with a + symbol; or you can use an x symbol when the problem mentions 'product'.

Accurately reading the question is the first strategy to arriving at a successful answer. What is it asking, exactly?

Then you can ask yourself additional questions: what information is provided to help me arrive at a response? What are the units? What steps do I need to take to arrive at the correct answer?

Accurately reading the answer choices is just as essential. How are they different? What units do they show?

Finally, always review your work. In particular, avoid throwing away marks by checking that you’ve answered the right question and recorded your response accurately.

Use available resources

Online resources can be an effective way to maximise your preparation. With the proliferation of resources available, try to ensure that you focus on trusted sources.

Prioritise resources from providers that have proven experience with the SAT syllabus and, crucially, the new test format. The College Board is a good place to start.

Working with a tutor can be an effective tool to help you to target the weak areas that you notice in your preparation. The specialist tutors at A-List have lots of experience in delivering tuition with a proven track record of improving success outcomes. Following a 25-hour tuition programme, the majority of our students improve their SAT score by 250+ points, while the top 25% increase by 300+ points. 

A-List also has intensive 5-day SAT courses for students who prefer group training.

Test-taking strategies

Effective time management in the assessment is as essential to success in achieving a high score in the Math SAT.

You will have 44 questions split between two modules which last a combined total of 70 minutes (35 minutes each). You must be disciplined.

Remember that questions become progressively harder, so you should allocate the most time for the questions at the end of the assessment. If you are uncertain about a question, it is far better to move on to the next one and come back to it later on - do not waste time.

Crucially, remember that you are not marked down for an incorrect answer. This means that you are not penalised for guessing an answer when you do not know the response. Therefore, if you are uncertain of the right answer, it is far better to enter something rather than leaving a blank response.

For multiple-choice responses, try to make an educated guess by eliminating answers that you are sure it cannot be - by doing this, your chances of guessing the right response from the remaining options become much higher. Answer every question.

Review and last-minute preparation

Ideally, reserve the final weeks before the exam for targeted, weakness-focussed review. This is where your collection of mistakes will come in handy. Use them - they are your best friend.

Look at where you went wrong, understand those concepts or errors in your reading. You will be far less likely to commit these errors again. Keep reviewing the topics that constitute the weaker areas of your understanding and focus on relevant sample questions.

Timed practice is key in these final weeks. With all of your hard work up until this point, your theoretical foundation should be sturdy enough for you to focus your time largely on practice tests, enabling you to improve in time management and feel more comfortable completing the challenge in the time allotted. Congratulations - the end is in sight.

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