For anyone staring face to face with the SAT math topics, it can seem like an insurmountable task. This is the test that everyone talks about. It can feel like your future and career hinge on the results of this complex and lengthy exam. Luckily it isn’t that extreme so no need to pull your hair out worrying. You can stop twisting your hair into those little knots because you are preparing for the test. You have already found SuperProf so you are off to a good start.

Where should you begin? It’s a simple question that branches off into many, many tangents. There will be sines along the road if you are looking out for them. This test is very measured so you will also need to be very measured about your progress and path to achieving the score you are looking for.

It is recommended that you start preparing for the exam one to three months before your test date. There are usually a broad range of open times to schedule a test but don’t wait until the last minute because they can fill up quickly. Since the SAT exam is proctored, you need to take it at a certified testing center so make sure to register early.

An SAT math teacher can be very helpful in laying out a focused and thought out process to preparing and progressing through the essentials to achieve the score you want

The SAT math exam is laid out in two sections totaling 80 minutes. In the first section, no calculators are allowed as there are 15 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-ins. For this section, you are allotted 25 minutes.

In the second section, you are permitted a simple, non-scientific, calculator. There will not let you use a scientific calculator or any type where can save formulas or answers. If you bring that type of calculator, they will not let it into the test room. The second section has 30 multiple choice questions, 8 grid-ins which includes one extended thinking style question. You will have 55 minutes to complete the second half.

Some basic formulas will be supplied but don’t rely on them. You will be able to save valuable time if you already have them memorized before the exam. It’s a race against the clock and any time saved can be used to answer questions or check those you have already answered.

The SAT booklet will have formulas including those on how to calculate the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle or to calculate the volume of a cylinder with specific given dimensions. These are essential formulas that will be useful but make sure to learn what are your weak points and work on those first.

Dominos all lined up evenly
Use your booklet to write out the main points from the questions and summaries in your own words.  Photo cred: Mick Haupt on Upsplash


For many SAT takers, Geometry is a special challenge because it has been the longest since their last refresher. Fortunately, it only takes up about 10% of the exam. Though that doesn’t mean that it can be disregarded.

One tip that many find helpful is to draw pictures. Drawing out the problem can help you better visualize and solve it. Sometimes it will sound very complex when reading the problem but when you draw it, there can be new clarity derived. When you are given a picture with some sides measured, filling in the missing spaces can be very helpful in solving the problem.

You will be asked about angles, polygons, volume, surface area, triangles, and circles. Sometimes they will ask about the angles within a polygon. The exam will at times provide you with information about how many sides a shape has and ask you to solve for the angle of a certain side. The exam can also test you on the shapes within a divided polygon. Make sure you know the total degrees within the most basic angles and shapes including circles, triangles, and squares.

Metal ruler on desk with pens for sketching
Keep in mind that the diagrams that are given are always drawn to scale.  Photo cred: Ashkan Forouzani on Upsplash


Let this be a sign that it is time to learn more Trigonometry. The mathematical focus of comparing angles and the relationships between multiple points or lines. Generally, there are two types of questions surrounding trigonometry. The first asks you to find the sine, tangent, cosine of a triangle. They will usually tell you the length of one or two sides and ask you to solve for the remaining side.

The second type of questions will be deductive math in the sense that they will ask you to find the sine, cosine, or tangent of an angle while using the sine, cosine, or tangent of other angles. You will need to feel comfortable solving for variables.

Solve for the Variable

Remember when you had to solve for x and the concept of a variable was hard to grasp? As if that was not challenging enough, they then asked you to compare angles inside and outside of these same polygons. There will be a section in the SAT dealing with unknown variables and there will certainly be a question or two about the Pythagorean theorem on the exam.

As a refresher, the Pythagorean theorem (also known as Pythagoras's theorem) is used any time you have a right triangle, the length of two sides, and an unknown variable for a third side. For these types of problems, you are trying to solve the missing variable. If that was a new lesson, make sure to study twice as much on geometry and algebraic math.

Don’t forget to practice your mathematical vocabulary too! There are specific mathematical terms used in the math portion of the SAT. If you don’t know the meaning of the provided math terms, you may have to guess the question's prompt and hinder your score. Solving for lines and angles is challenging, but when you memorize the terms and formulas it will become a breeze.

Expressions can sometimes be simplified, which will ultimately make it easier to solve. Another official line of questioning is to simplify expressions. The exam designers are known for using simple numbers, but also for their use of complex numbers. One trick is to combine like terms is by using PEMDAS often expanded to its mnemonic Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. PEMDAS can help you remember the order of operations and make sure you get the correct answer. Solving inside the parentheses first can start you on your path to simplifying the equation and making it easier to solve. PEMDAS is an essential mnemonic tool.

ruler on a graphing board for architecture
If a question isn't making sense, try drawing it out to view the bigger pictures.  Photo cred: Christian Kaindl on Upsplash


Linear Functions

Linear functions are equations that will produce a straight line on a graph. The Kahn Academy has a fantastic video on preparing for the linear function questions on the math portion of the SAT.

When you were in high school, you remember seeing your teacher write on the whiteboard ‘y = mx + b’, right? This is where ‘m’ equals the slope of the line, ‘x’ equals the variable and ‘b’ equals the location that intercepts the y-axis of the line. When solving linear equations, this is your go-to formula. Get it tattooed on your arm if necessary. Once you know this by heart, start practicing graphing this equation as that will be on the test too.

The SAT will have plenty of curveballs and at times you will not be able to find the solution to the equation you are solving for. This is why an in-depth SAT math prep program will be an essential tool for achieving the score you want.

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