Structure of the SAT Math Section Structure, Patterns and Scoring

In this lesson, you'll take a look at what you're up against on the SAT math section. We'll cover what kind of questions you'll see, how they're scored, and how you can use this information to boost your score.

SAT Math

Atash is really scared of the math portion of the SAT. He's confident he'll do fine on the reading test, but the math makes him really anxious. What type of questions should he expect? What topics will be covered?

There are two types of questions on the math section of the SAT: multiple choice and grid-in questions. The test focuses on math that Atash and other students will use in the real world, at college, and in future jobs. To help Atash prepare, let's take a look at the topics covered on the math portion of the SAT, the scoring of the different types of questions, and calculator use on the SAT.

Topics Covered

Atash is really worried that the information on the test will be about math topics that he isn't familiar with. What should he be studying?

There are four major math topics covered on the SAT:

  1. Heart of algebra: The first topic on the SAT involves the main concepts of algebra, such as linear equations and linear inequalities.
  2. Problem-solving and data analysis: The next general topic will cover statistics-based questions. Some of these questions will involve interpreting graphs or tables, and many will be related to the physical or social sciences.
  3. Passport to advanced math: This topic covers quadratics, polynomials, radicals, and other concepts that students need to know before taking advanced math classes.
  4. Additional topics in math: The last topic on the SAT features questions that don't fall under other topics, including geometry and trigonometry. These questions are only a small percentage of the test.

Scoring and Calculator Use

Ok, Atash understands that basic categories or topics that are covered on the math portion of the SAT. But, what does he need to know to get the highest possible score?

As we mentioned before, there are two question formats on the SAT. Multiple choice questions have four possible answer choices, and Atash will have to choose the correct answer. The majority of questions on the math section of the SAT are multiple choice questions, and they are usually easier to answer because you just have to pick the answer out of the four options.

A smaller portion of the test is grid-in questions, which involve filling in the correct answer on a grid with boxes for each digit and bubbles below. Though students (like Atash) often find these questions more difficult than multiple choice, they are simplified by the fact that, on grid-in questions, fractions do not have to be simplified.

On both types of question, there is no penalty for guessing wrong, so Atash should answer every question, even if it involves guessing. In addition, Atash can use a calculator on part of the math section of the test. This can be a big help to him! But, not every question in the calculator section is appropriate for calculator use. Sometimes, it's easier and more efficient to do the work by hand. The SAT is testing not only math but whether students know how and when to use a calculator. So, Atash should think carefully before grabbing his calculator during the test!

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