Figuring out the SAT Math Sections

Math is a subject that, although intimidating at first with the numerous complex formulas and numbers, is actually probably the easiest to prepare for amongst the three SAT sections. Yet, most students fear the SAT Math section the most and often don’t quite know the different strategies for handling the different types of math questions that appear in the SAT. However, fret not! This post will help to break it down for you and provide you with some crucial strategies to tackle SAT Math.


[Continue reading to find out how the SAT Math is divided…]

1. Three different kinds of SAT Math sections. There are two 25 minute sections and one 20 minute section, giving 44 multiple-choice questions and 10 Grid-in questions. Grid-in questions are open-ended questions where you have to work through the problem and fill in the grid boxes on the answer sheet with the correct answer.

It is vitally important for you to figure out which math section you are working on so that you can prepare the right strategy for it! Fortunately, it is incredible easy to figure this out without even looking through the questions – the top of the first page of the section provides you with the hint.

  • If there are 20 questions in that section (as seen in the picture below), they will all be multiple-choice questions. This is the first type of section. The difficulty level increases and by the 16th or 17th question, the highest difficulty level will have been reached.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 8.49.50 PM

  • If there are 18 questions in that section, the section isa grid-in section. The first 8 questions will be multiple-choice and will become increasingly difficult. Questions 7 and 8 will probably be at the highest difficulty. From then on, questions 9-18 will be grid-in questions. Similarly, they will start at the easiest level and then get progressively more difficult.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 8.49.42 PM

  • The last math section will be either Section 8, 9 or 10 of the SAT test, and will always consist of 16 multiple-choice questions, similarly going from east to difficult. The last 2-3 questions will be of the highest difficulty level. This section will last for only 20 minutes instead for 25 minutes, an important difference to note.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 8.50.02 PM

2. Math Multiple-Choice Questions. On any of the SAT Math multiple-choice questions, there will be five answers and you will need to choose the best answer before filling in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet. To approach such multiple-choice questions, one of the best strategies is that of elimination. Eliminate answers that you know are definitely wrong.

For example, if the question asks for the angle of a triangle and one of the answers is 180°, then that answer is clearly wrong because only the sum of the three angles in a triangle add up to 180°. You can then eliminate that answer option and hence raise your probability of choosing the right answer from 20% (100% divided by 5 options) to 25% (100% divided by 4 options). Every answer option eliminated increases your final probability of choosing the right answer!

3. Math Grid-In Questions. This section is similar to math tests in school – instead of being able to pick out the right answer, you will have to solve the question and write your answer on the page. Hence, this answer could have numerous different possibilities. For the SAT, such math grid-in questions usually only have one correct answer, but some have several correct answers. Also importantly, there is no penalty for wrong answers on this section – hence, even if you are not sure whether your answer is right or wrong, you should always just write it down.

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

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