The math section tests your ability to stay awake math class. The bad news is that to improve your math score, you have to do a lot of work and practice. The good news is that your math score is much easier to raise than your verbal score because even though the numbers change, the concepts are always the same across SAT tests.

There are three math sections on the test: two 30-minute sections and one 15-minute section. Within these, there will be a total of 35 "five-choice multiple-choice questions" (that is, you'll have to pick the right answer out of five options), 15 "four-choice multiple-choice questions," and 10 "student-produced questions" (that is, you'll bubble in your own answer instead of picking one from a group).

Up until a few years ago, the SAT people actually expected students to do calculations for the math section using only scratch paper and their own brainpower. But because very few people add using an abacus anymore, you are now allowed to use a calculator. So you better bring one. Bring two, in case the battery in one dies. Scientific calculators are fine, and so are some of those fancy "graphing calculators" (as long as they don't have a keyboard with letters). The SAT website has some calculator guidelines so that you can see if your model measures up.

What you'll be tested on

There will be at least three different types of math questions: arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Here are some examples of each:

Artithmetic: This is where you have to perform basic operations, such as addition, multiplication, division, averages, fractions, and ratios.

  • 12 + 45 = ?
  • 40% of 30% of 20% = ?
  • How many factors does the number 4408 have?

Algebra: This is when you are given pieces of a puzzle, and you have to figure out the missing pieces.

  • Y + 24 = 35; so Y = ?
  • If Tim has exactly 3 times as many cookies as Estera, and Josh has 4 more cookies than Tim, what's the minimum number of cookies that Tim and Josh could have together?

Geometry: This is when you are shown a picture (or told about one) and you have to figure out the mathematical properties of that picture. So remember things like the formulas for the circumference and area of circles, squares, and triangles.

  • The radius of a circle is 10. What is the area of the circle?

So first here's our first tip: refresh yourself on how to work with algebra, percentages, slopes, ratios, graphs, variables, circles, word problems, fractions, decimals, and triangles. You'll soon figure our what your weak areas are, and then work even harder on those. The good news is that you won't have to memorize too much because 1) your practicing will make you an expert in these things, and 2) the test-writers have kindly included a little box that will remind you of certain basic formulas, such as the area of a circle.

What the questions look like

As we stated earlier, there are three types of questions: 5-choices, 4-choices, and fill it in yourself.

The most common questions are the 5-choice multiple-choice questions. For example:

x + y = 15 4x + 2y = 50

What does y=?

A) 5
B) 10
C) 15
D) 20
E) 25

(The answer is A:5)

There will also be ten questions where you will have to actually fill in a number instead of making a choice. For instance:

Michelle walks east 10 feet, then north 5 feet and then west 10 feet. In feet, how far is Michelle from her original spot?

(The answer is 5. You would fill in 5 on your bubble sheet directly, instead of picking out of 4 or 5 choices.)

Finally, there are quantitative comparisons, where you will look at information in two columns and decide whether one side will always be bigger than the other, if they will always equal, or if it is impossible to tell from the information given. For example:

Column AColumn B The sum of all even numbers 1-9 The sum of all integers between 1 and 6, inclusive

The answer here is B: the sum of all even numbers 1-9 is 2+4+6+8=20. The sum of all integers 1-6 are 1+2+3+4+5+6=21. No matter how you look at it, the value in B is always greater than the value in A, so you'd bubble in 'B.' If the two columns are ALWAYS equal, you'd answer C. If you can't find a solid answer (A could be bigger at some times, B bigger at others), then the answer would be D, which means that you can't tell which one is bigger because you don't have enough information.

Now that you recognize everything, here are some tips for slaying the math section:

  • Always use your scratch paper (that is, the pages of your test book). Make a mess; you're not getting graded on neatness.

  • If possible, always draw pictures. If the question says that someone has 3 beads, draw 3 little beads. It helps you visualize. Picture-drawing especially helps with the geometry questions. If the test states that a circle has a radius of 5, then draw a circle with a radius of 5.

  • For the grid-ins, remember that:
    • None of the answers will be negative.

    • Your answers can only be 4 bubbles long. You can use decimals or fractions for your answers. But the "." or the "/" will take up its own bubble. So if your answer turns out to be 14.58, you should bubble in 14.6 (because the "." takes up a bubble).

    • You can't have "mixed fractions" in your answer. That means that if your answer is 1 , that you have to enter it as either "3/2" or as "1.5"

    • You don't have to reduce your fractions (that is, 4/8 is just as good as 1/2).

    • Some questions may have more than one right answer, so don't freak if you have two.

    • Remember that YOU CAN'T LOSE POINTS FOR GUESSING! So even if you only have 30 seconds left and 5 more questions, put something in (we recommend a "1" or "0").
  • For the quantitative comparisons, if you're not sure of an answer, try plugging in 0 or negative numbers. These often help you figure out quick info.