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A Look Inside the SAT – Part 3: The SAT Math Test

 In SAT, SAT Math

Welcome to our series, A Look Inside the SAT. In parts 1 and 2 we examined the SAT Reading test and the SAT Writing & Language test. Part 3 covers the SAT Math test: its structure, its content, and test taking tips.

The SAT Math test is divided into two sections: a calculator and a non-calculator section. Both sections have multiple choice and grid-in questions, also known as “student produced response questions”, which are arranged roughly in order of difficulty within each question type. For example, question 26 on the multiple-choice section will be harder than question 15. However, question 31 on the grid-ins (the first grid-in question) will be easier than question 30 on the multiple choice (the last multiple-choice question).


Test Duration 80 minutes total, 25 minutes for Section 1 (no calculator) and 55 minutes for Section 2 (calculator allowed)
Numer of Questions Section 1 (20 questions, 25 mins): 15 multiple choice, 5 grid-ins
Section 2 (38 questions, 55 mins): 30 multiple choice, 8 grid-ins

What’s a grid-in question on the SAT? Grid-in” questions require test takers to manually write their answers on their machine-scanned answer sheet and then color in the circles on the grid that corresponds to each digit in their answer. Fractions and decimals may be entered using the symbols provided in the grid. Grid-ins can be challenging for students as, unlike the multiple-choice questions, answer choices are not provided. Students must derive their own answers.


The SAT Math emphasizes Algebra I and II and de-emphasizes geometry. Questions involving Algebra I and II comprise over half the test, whereas questions pertaining to geometry account for less than 10%.

The test assesses fluency (e.g., can students perform math computations without a calculator), conceptual understanding (e.g., do students understand what a slope of the line represents), and real-world application (e.g., can students solve complex, multi-step, word problems).

The chart below summarizes the breakdown of the topics covered.

SAT Math test content coveredWe recommend taking a practice SAT Math test early to identify those areas where you are strong and where you need improvement. You can then assess your needs and spend your study time accordingly.


  1. Use a two-pass approach. Many students can raise their Math scores by simply slowing down and focusing first on the problems within their capabilities, being careful to avoid mistakes on the questions that are easiest. Then, in a second pass, students can make educated guesses on questions that are more challenging.
  2. Work backward from the answer choices. If you can’t solve a math problem in the forward direction, try to solve it in the reverse direction by plugging in the answer choices or by choosing numbers for variables.
  3. Know when and how to use your calculator. While a calculator won’t carry you through the Math test, it can help you compute more efficiently, handle fractions more easily, find points of intersection, and more. Learn how to use your calculator to help save time on complex calculations, and learn when it’s not the best tool for the job.

In our next installment, we will discuss the SAT Essay test. Sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page and we’ll let you know when it is published.

We hope that you found this information helpful. Please let us know in the comments section or contact us if you have questions. You can also receive blog updates by subscribing to our newsletter in the box at the end of this page.

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