Students looking forward to college have more than just their transcripts and tuition to worry about. Many institutions ask for students who have completed their SATs with a good enough score. The SAT is a college readiness test measuring your understanding of English and Math.
Math is some of the most challenging material for many students. But what kind of Math is on the SAT, and how can you become college ready? With this article, we will teach you what you should expect to find on the SATs, how you are expected to complete it, and finally, how you can study and be ready for your college readiness test!
What Does the SAT Math Cover?
The SAT (also known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a test that students take to test if their academic knowledge and prowess are good enough for post-secondary education such as college. For many institutions, students are required to take and complete the SAT with a high enough score. Test takers can achieve a maximum of 1600 points on the combined SAT and a minimum of 200 points. On the SAT Math exam, you can get a minimum of 200 points and a maximum of 800 points.
The SAT consists of two sub-tests: one is Evidence Based Reading and Writing, which is based on understanding English, and the other is focused on Mathematics. This article will focus specifically on the Math portion of the SAT, which to many—including this author!—is the more difficult portion of the three. Some institutions even have lower required Math scores than for Reading and Writing.
The SAT Math portion consists of three major topics with additional topics spread over the test. The test will primarily focus on Algebra, non-linear mathematics like quadratic equations and Problem-Solving questions that use more practical skills than strictly mechanical ones. The SAT Math demands a fundamental and more-than-cursory understanding of the material because it will be your biggest obstacle from being a high school student to becoming a certified college freshman.
But what exactly are the kinds of questions on the SATs? To be prepared for the SAT, you have to understand what you are getting into.
What Type of Math Questions are on the SAT?
As stated before, the SAT Math portion will consist of four distinct areas of mathematics. Each section and the questions within the sections are based entirely on those areas, none of which are particularly higher-level than high school mathematics.
- Numbers and Operation: an area that comprises the most fundamental aspects of math. This area would include arithmetic, dealing with squares and square roots, knowing prime numbers, ratios, and percentages, and just a general knowledge of the basics. You would likely know these things from your formative years and time in elementary school, though do not start to underestimate them. There are 11 – 13 number and operation questions in the SATs.
- Algebra: an area that is the most common form of math and the one with the most direct applications in real life. Algebra would include algebraic expressions (i.e., expressions that involve variables), factoring, exponents, linear equations, and general functions. There are 19 – 21 algebra questions on the SAT.
- Geometry: this area of mathematics deals with angles, planes, areas and perimeters, coordinates, polygons, and transformations (i.e., reflections, rotations, translations, and dilations). There are between 14 to 16 geometry questions on a given SAT.
- Finally, there is Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability, which deal with more practical use and understanding of mathematics. Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability is the shortest of the sections, having merely six or seven questions on a test involving subjects like data interpretation and statistics.
The questions you will get on the test embody math, but how hard are they exactly? The SATs are mainly designed for students nearing the end of or who have already completed high school, but how difficult are they in particular?
Find out the most common careless mistakes on the SAT Math test here.
What is the Hardest Type of Math on the SAT?
The SATs are designed primarily to test students going into college. Not only are those students the type who have completed or are completing their high school curriculum, but they are expected to take on the higher level of college math and algebra.
We will start by saying that it is difficult to pinpoint a single area that is the most difficult, as they are different forms of math. You could be great with factoring and solving exponents but completely forget the Pythagorean Theorem. You can be exceptional in understanding the basics but find more advanced mathematics more obtuse and harder to parse. It is your responsibility to decide which portions are the hardest for you. You want to be well-rounded for your exams.
However, not all forms of math are equal. If you ask a student what they found the most difficult on the SAT, you will find that it is generally assumed to be algebra. Algebra deals with complications like factoring, exponents, rational equations, and functions—work that will require a specific and precise methodology to solve and not much room for error or incorrect rounding (not that the SAT lends credence to that either). On average, Algebra also has the most questions to solve than the other areas, which means you will spend more time on them, though this also means that you are proportionally penalized less harshly.
Other people label the “no-calculator” parts of the SAT Math test as the most difficult instead of a specific field. The no calculator portion of the exam relies entirely on your ability to understand and carry the numbers without the assistance of a calculator–this is in opposition to the rest of the SAT, in which failure depends only on the mistakes of the calculators. Therefore, the no calculator portion is the smallest portion of the exam. It is designed precisely to see if a student knows enough by hand and reasoning alone, which means it asks more from the test taker than other sections.
Why yes, there is a “no calculator” part of the SAT Math test. For a math exam, calculators are essential to the test and anyone who wants to pass it. But what is the “no calculator” portion, and in general, are calculators allowed on the SAT?
Are Calculators Allowed on the SAT?
If you are worried that you do not have the mental power to calculate long division and exponents from memory and scratch paper alone, do not be worried. No one can do something like that anyway.
You are expected to bring your own calculator to the SATs. Specifically, you would bring a Texas Instruments-brand graphing calculator, as it allows you to solve basic operations and geometry such as sine, cosine, and tangents and logarithmic functions.
However, a section of the SAT Math test requires that you do not use a calculator. This section is a 25-minute section with only half of the questions as the section with the calculator. The SAT expects you to know enough math in your head, though these questions would give you enough information to work with and not ask for impossibly complex solutions.
If the SAT sounds too much for you, consider that there is always the ACT as an alternative. But what is the difference between the SAT and the ACT, and is SAT Math harder than the ACT’s?
Is SAT Math Harder Than ACT?
The ACT (American College Testing) is a similar college entrance exam to the SAT. Many college institutions treat them interchangeable, though some would have them both required.
If the two tests are interchangeable, does that mean one form of testing is harder than the other? Not necessarily. While the SATs are more general standardized testing that aims for a student’s understanding of primary or high school education, the ACT is focused more on college readiness. In effect, these follow roughly the same type of testing and are thus not remarkably better or worse at their job than the other. The content and material themselves are also very similar.
The significant difference between the SAT and the ACT is how they are formatted; for many colleges, you can choose one or the other. But if you decide to stick with the SATs, we have a few tips for succeeding and getting that high, college-qualifying score.
How to Prepare and Study for the SAT Math: 3 Tips
You cannot take the SATs lightly. They will demand a lot from test takers, and the only way for you to guarantee success is for you to buckle down, study, and work hard. Thankfully for you, we have three quick but essential tips to help you overcome these trials and create a more than prepared person for the more difficult trials ahead. Heed this advice, and you will most definitely become SAT prepared!
Create a Study Schedule
A study schedule will be an excellent and convenient way to ensure that you keep studying consistently and clearly. With a study schedule, you can provide that any content you learn or need to learn will be drilled into your head come testing day. That is more important than the material you study because if you look at a book or answer questions without thinking about it, you’ll end up forgetting.
Find Relevant Textbooks
But what material can you learn, exactly? For example, the best study guides for SAT Math tests belong to the College Board, which offers an array of material and mathematical proofs for you to practice or study. Your high school will likely have textbooks for you to borrow as well. It would be best for you if you do not waste your time trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible but partition your study into specific areas, particularly the areas on the SATs.
Try the Practice Tests
There are many different SAT practice tests online, including on College Board, that will help you understand what it is like to be tested on the SATs and what kind of questions to expect. What is on the practice tests will highly likely not be the literal material on the actual tests, so don’t expect to be able just to memorize the correct answers. Still, these practice tests are instrumental in getting you acclimated to taking the actual test and being a safe outlet for you to test your mathematical knowledge and see where you went wrong or can do better.
Wrapping Things Up: What Kind of Math is on the SAT?
Now that we have reached the end of the article, what have we learned? We learned that the SATs would ask you rather difficult questions on algebra, operations, geometry, and analysis. But we have also taught you how to overcome the SAT’s various questions and tricks. If you heed our advice, you will not just be college ready—you are on your way to acing those core Mathematics classes in college! It will demand that you not only know how to use a calculator but how to do the math through nothing but your head and scratch paper.