4 types of math on the sat student-tutor

The 4 Types of Math You’ll See on the SAT

If you’re getting ready to take the SAT…chances are, you’re a little nervous about the math section. And it’s probably just because you’re not really sure what’s coming.

Will I have to do calculus? Will I need a protractor? Will I have to use pi???

But like any good warrior–or high school student–knows, half the battle for the SAT exam is knowing what to expect. And this is where I get to help you out!

In this article, I’ll go over the general structure of the math portion, the types of math covered on the SAT, and what you can skip studying.

Ready? Let’s go!


What does the math portion look like?

Well, it looks something like this…

sat math portion how is it structured student-tutor

But wait one second! What’s a grid-in?

Glad you asked. Basically, with multiple choice questions, you work out the problem and then choose an answer that’s already sitting in front of you.

But with grid-ins, you work out the problem…write your answer in boxes, and fill in the corresponding bubbles.

Sound confusing? It’s really not! Take a look at the test booklet directions below.


Grid In Directions


And that’s all you need to know about the structure of the math portion of the SAT. Easy-peasy, right?

Now, let’s move on to…


What types of math are on the exam?

Alright trooper, listen up. The math section is like a war zone, and you’re going in blind. The key is to know the enemy, understand their tactics, analyze war plans……

Ahem.What was I talking about again?

Oh, right. SAT. Math section. Types of questions. Got it.

So the math section has FOUR different types of questions, and I’m listing them here in order of which types of questions are asked the most.


1) Algebra and Functions  ( 35-40% of total questions )

Ah, good ole’ Algebra. We all know the drill. 5x=10.  y=mx+b.

Alphabet soup. Exponents. Quadratic equations!

Here are some example categories:

  • Substitution and simplifying algebraic expressions (so, turning 3x+x into 4x.)
  • Properties of exponents (Can you add ’em? Multiply ’em? Divide ’em?)
  • Algebraic word problems (Somebody bought a ton of something, and you need to put it into an equation.)
  • Solutions of linear equations and inequalities (4x+8=?)

See? None of these are too scary. Next up…

2) Geometry and Measurement ( 25-30% of total questions )

Shapes! Don’t be a square (heh) and make sure you study up on all your circles, triangles, and funky trapezoids!

This is what the test will provide for you:

Untitled 1

Here are some example categories:

  • Area and perimeter of a polygon (that means rectangles, triangles…anything with sides and angles!)
  • Area and circumference of a circle
  • Volume of a box, cube, and cylinder
  • Pythagorean theorem and special properties of isosceles, equilateral, and right triangles (Remember how isosceles triangles have two equal sides? And right triangles always have a 90 degree angle? Brush up on those facts!)

3) Numbers and Operations  ( 20-25% of total questions)

This one is pretty straightforward. I mean, numbers! You know what to do with numbers.

Here are some example categories:

  • Arithmetic word problems (including percent, ratio, and proportion)
  • Properties of integers (even, odd, prime numbers, divisibility, and so forth)
  • Rational numbers
  • Sets (union, intersection, elements)

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

4) Data Analysis, Statistics, and Probability ( 10-15% of total questions )

Last but not least…make sure you study this one too!

Here are some example categories:

  • Data interpretation (tables and graphs)
  • Descriptive statistics (mean, median, and mode…we all know these, right?)
  • Probability


Now, this is just really a brief overview, so if you want more in-depth information about the categories you’ll see on the math section, click here.

And I’m sure you’re probably wondering…


Is there anything I DON’T need?!

Fortunately, you’re in luck! The answer is Yes.

Here is a quick breakdown of things you don’t need to know for the math part of the SAT:

  • Imaginary numbers  (anything with the letter i)
  • Logarithms
  • Trigonometry
  • Matrices
  • Long, drawn out problems (Everything can be done easily by hand!)
  • Geometry proofs
  • No radians (Only degrees!)
  • Standard deviations

Want a more detailed descriptions of the things you don’t need? Click here.



Well, there you have it. Now you have a better idea on what to expect from the SAT exam!

Let’s do a quick recap:

  1. There are three sections on the math portion–two 25 minute sections, one 20 minute section.
  2. And there are 54 questions–44 multiple choice, 10 student response.
  3. There are four categories of questions…
    •  Algebra
    • Geometry
    • Numbers and operations
    • Data analysis, etc.
  4. You don’t need to know everything! Avoid studying concepts like imaginary numbers and geometric proof.

Also, keep in mind that calculators are allowed, as long as they are “approved” (no keyboard, can’t access internet, etc.)

Can’t get enough math? Are numbers swimming around in your head? Try out our SAT for Free course! Click here for more information.

What kinds of math problems are you most worried about? Do you have any study tricks? Let us know in the comments!

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

co-authored by David Sobota

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Dressler Parsons

Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
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