A common question we are often asked by test-takers is, how long is the SAT math section? As we have mentioned in past articles, there is a lot that you need to know to succeed in SAT math and get a great SAT score. While we will discuss some of those topics in this article, we will also discuss the format of the SAT math sections, including the SAT math section time. Finally, we will discuss some tips on how you can efficiently move through the math sections.
Here are the topics we’ll cover:
- The Makeup of the SAT Math Sections
- What Is Tested in SAT Math
- SAT Math Has Two Major Question Formats
- The SAT Calculator Section
- How to Ensure You Complete the SAT Math Section on Time
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- What’s Next?
To start, let’s discuss the general makeup of the SAT math sections.
The Makeup of the SAT Math Sections
The SAT is made up of four sections. The first two sections are the reading section and the writing and language section. The third and fourth sections consist of just SAT math. So, let’s discuss some specifics of the two math sections.
To start, we can answer a common question: How long is the no-calculator section of the SAT?
Section 3: No-calculator SAT math section
- 15 multiple-choice questions
- 5 grid-in questions
- The use of a calculator is not permitted in this section.
- The total time to complete the section is 25 minutes.
Now let’s look at the calculator section.
Section 4: Calculator SAT math section
- 30 multiple-choice questions.
- 8 grid-in questions.
- The use of a calculator is permitted in this section.
- The total time to complete the section is 55 minutes.
So, between the two math sections, the total time is 80 minutes, or 1 hour and 20 minutes. The total number of questions is 58.
There are two math sections on the SAT that you have a total of 80 minutes to complete.
Next, let’s discuss the math concepts that can show up in the SAT math section.
What Is Tested in SAT Math
There are a variety of topics that are tested in SAT math. The folks at College Board have classified SAT math into four major categories:
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
- Additional Topics in Math
Since these categories may seem a bit vague, let’s break down the SAT math topics in a greater detail:
- Linear Equations
- Quadratic Equations
- Coordinate Geometry
- Absolute Value
- Unit Conversions
- General Word Problems
- Table Data
- Graph Interpretation
As you can see, there are 19 major topics to learn in order to be successful in SAT math. Of course, some topics take longer to study and are more challenging than others.
TTP PRO TIP:
SAT math consists of 19 major topics.
Next, let’s discuss the problem types you can expect to see on the SAT.
SAT Math Has Two Major Question Formats
On the SAT or any official SAT practice tests, you can expect to see two different math question types: multiple-choice and grid-in questions. As we explained previously, you will see 45 multiple-choice questions and just 13 grid-in questions. To start, let’s briefly discuss multiple-choice questions and work through a couple of examples.
SAT Multiple-Choice Questions
I have some good news! You are likely very familiar with the format of SAT multiple-choice questions. Those questions are exactly what you would expect, with one minor twist. You are probably used to seeing multiple-choice questions with five answer choices, but on the SAT, there are just four answer choices: A, B, C, and D, with one correct answer.
Let’s practice a few multiple-choice math questions now.
SAT Multiple-Choice Example 1
x² – 10x = -16
Which of the following is equivalent to the equation above?
- (x – 4)(x – 4)
- (x – 8)(x – 2)
- (x + 4)(x + 4)
- (x + 8)(x + 2)
First, let’s re-express the given equation by putting it in standard form.
x² – 10x + 16 = 0
We now have a quadratic equation in the form ax² + bx + c = 0, and a = 1, b = -10, and c = 16. Thus, to factor the quadratic expression on the left side of the equation, we are looking for two numbers whose sum is -10 and whose product is 16. Testing the pairs of constants from the answer choices (-4 and -4), (-8 and -2), (4 and 4), and (8 and 2), we see that all pairs yield a product of 16, but only (-8 and -2) yield a sum of -10.
Therefore, the equation x² – 10x + 16 = 0 can be re-expressed as (x – 8)(x – 2) = 0.
The multiple-choice question above is representative of the majority of multiple-choice questions you will encounter on the SAT. However, on occasion, you may encounter one in which three statements are presented and you must decide which one(s) of them are true. Let’s look at an example.
SAT Multiple-Choice Example 2
At a large university, students in a Statistics class collected responses to the question “Do you agree with the recent change to university policy that increases the number of credits required for graduation?” from 800 randomly selected students. All 800 students answered the question. Of those queried, 240 students, or 30%, agreed with the recent change. Based on the results of the survey, which of the following statements must be true?
I. If another random sample of 800 students were taken, then 30% of that sample would also agree with the recent change in university policy.
II. The results of the survey reliably indicate that the percentage of the entire student body that agrees with the recent change in university policy is likely around 30%.
III. Of all students at the university, 30% agree with the recent change in university policy about the number of credits required for graduation.
- I and II
- I and III
- II only
- III only
The fact that one random sample indicates a 30% agreement rate does not guarantee that a second random sample will exactly duplicate those results. Thus, Statement I might not be true.
However, the fact that the students used a valid sampling method tells us that 30% is a reasonable estimate of the percentage of the entire student body that agrees with the recent change to university policy. Thus, Statement II is true.
The 30% agreement rate is an estimate, not a guaranteed value, for the percentage of the entire student body that agrees with the recent change to university policy. Thus, Statement III is not necessarily true.
TTP PRO TIP:
SAT multiple-choice questions present four answer choices.
Let’s now look at the second type of SAT math question, the grid-in question.
SAT Grid-In Questions
A type of question you are likely less familiar with is the SAT grid-in question. Grid-in questions do not have any answer choices. So, you must fill in a grid with your answer. While there is some strategy and extra thought involved in answering these questions, the tested topics do not differ from what you’ll see in multiple-choice questions. Also, there are only a total of 13 grid-in questions among the two SAT math sections.
The type of SAT math you see in grid-in questions does not differ from that in multiple-choice questions.
Let’s look at the grid you will have to fill in and discuss some strategies for solving grid-in questions.
Strategies to Consider When Solving Grid-In Questions
First off, let’s review what the grid looks like on the SAT.
Now that you see what you will be filling in, there are some rules and strategies to consider.
Rule Number 1: To successfully answer a grid-in question, you must fill in each bubble.
Failure to do so will result in an incorrect answer.
Rule Number 2: A correct grid-in answer is always positive. So, if your calculation yields a negative answer, you have done something wrong.
Rule Number 3: If you come up with a decimal answer, don’t forget that one of the bubbles contains a decimal point. Also, you do not need to include a 0 to the left of the decimal. In other words, answers such as .22, .1, or .333 are sufficient.
Rule Number 4: It’s OK if you do not reduce your fractions. For example, if you come up with an answer of 2/4, you do not have to reduce it to 1/2. But, note that your fraction must fit into the grid, including the “slash.” So, for example, the fraction 12/24 must either be reduced or converted into a decimal.
Now that we have learned some of the tricks of the trade for grid-in questions, let’s practice with a couple of examples.
SAT Grid-In Example 1
The ratio of the number of football players to basketball players at a sports camp is 5 to 3. If there are 42 basketball players at the camp, how many football players are there?
Using the ratio multiplier, we can represent the ratio of football players to basketball players as:
Football / basketball = 5x / 3x
Since there are 42 basketball players at the camp, we can equate 42 and 3x:
3x = number of basketball players at the camp
3x = 42
x = 14
We know that the ratio multiplier is 14, so we can use it to determine the number of football players at the camp:
5x = number of football players at the camp
5(14) = 70 football players at the camp
SAT Grid-In Example 2
John has m marbles. If he gives 4 marbles to each of his friends, then he will have 1 marble left. If he wanted to give 7 marbles to each of his friends, then he would need 17 more marbles. How many marbles does he have?
Let’s let m = the number of marbles that John has and f = the number of friends that he has. Using these variables, we can create two equations:
(1) “If he gives 4 marbles to each of his friends, then he will have 1 left” gives us the equation:
m – 4f = 1
m = 4f + 1 (Equation 1)
(2) “If he wanted to give 7 marbles to each of his friends, then he would need 17 more marbles” yields the equation:
7f = m + 17 (Equation 2)
Note that we use the expression (m + 17) in Equation 2 because he must increase his total number of marbles from m to (m + 17) in order to give 7 marbles to each of his friends.
We now have two equations and two variables. We can substitute 4f + 1 for m in Equation 2 and then solve for f.
7f = (4f + 1) + 17
7f = 4f + 18
3f = 18
f = 6
John has f = 6 friends. Let’s substitute 6 for f into Equation 1 to solve for m.
m = 4(6) + 1
m = 25
Let’s now discuss the use of the calculator for SAT math questions.
The SAT Calculator Section
Recall that you are given 55 minutes to answer 38 questions in the SAT calculator section. While it’s nice to be able to use the calculator, we must keep in mind that the calculator may not be needed for every question in the section. So, use the calculator when you are doing tricky or tedious calculations, but avoid using it when performing straightforward calculations.
TTP PRO TIP:
Try using the calculator only for the more tedious calculations.
Let’s look at some examples.
When NOT To Use Your Calculator:
- 2 + 5
- 10 x 100
- 120 – 9
The calculations above should not be done using a calculator. Remember, being able to do quick mental math will save you time on the SAT.
When TO Use a Calculator:
- 1.112 / 0.3
- 3.65 x 12.17
The calculations above, even though some could be done by hand, are most efficiently performed with the use of a calculator.
So, we now have an idea of the length of each SAT math section and the types of problems presented. If you are now wondering how you can complete the SAT math sections within the specified time limits, I’ll share some pointers in the following sections.
How to Ensure You Complete the SAT Math Section on Time
Since the SAT is a timed math test, timing is something to consider when you’re taking the exam. So, one has to wonder, how can I ensure that I complete each SAT math section on time? I have two important tips that will allow you to work quickly on SAT math.
- Develop the ability to quickly recognize what is being asked and execute a solution.
- Have concepts and formulas ready for quick recall.
Let’s dig into these core skills.
Core Skills: Recognition, Execution, and Quick Recall
One of the biggest mistakes I see SAT test-takers make is thinking that they can work faster through SAT math questions by just speeding up! In truth, what makes an SAT student “fast” is his or her ability to smoothly glide through questions. That ability comes with dedicated, topical studying, which allows you to truly know each topic like the back of your hand, so that regardless of what question shows up, you have a plan of attack for dealing with it.
For example, let’s say you see a right triangle question in Geometry, and it’s given that the angles of the triangle are 30, 60, and 90. Well, imagine how quickly you’d be able to solve that problem if you knew that the side-to-angle ratio was 30 : 60 : 90 = x : x√3 : 2x.
Or let’s say you saw a Trigonometry question in which you had to convert degrees to radians. As long as you can quickly recall that π radians are equal to 180 degrees, you can solve that problem without hesitation.
To further prove my point, let’s practice with some examples.
Recognition and Execution Example:
In 2000, company X had total revenues of 100 million dollars and total expenses of 60 million dollars. 40 million dollars of those expenses were fixed expenses; the remainder were variable expenses. The variable expenses were what percentage of total revenue?
To solve this problem quickly, immediately after reading it, not only do you need to know that you are dealing with a “what percentage” question, but you have to have a process for dealing with it! So, ideally, you would remember that when you see anything in the form of “x is what percent of y,” you’d write it as:
x/y * 100 = ?
Now, let’s solve the problem above.
Since total expenses were 60 million dollars and fixed expenses were 40 million, the variable expenses are 60 – 40 = 20 million dollars. Now we can determine what percentage of total revenue were variable expenses.
(variable expenses) / (total revenue) x 100 = ?
(20) / (60) x 100 = ?
1/3 x 100 = 33%
TTP PRO TIP:
If, during the SAT, you recognize a problem as similar to one you have solved during your studying, you can quickly execute a solution.
Next, to ensure that you complete the SAT in the allotted time, you must have math concepts and formulas ready for quick recall. Let’s consider an example.
Quick Recall Example
What is the midpoint of the line segment connecting the points (1, -2) and (9, 8)?
- (4, 5)
- (5, 3)
- (8, 6)
- (8, 10)
If you hesitated for even two seconds after you read the question, you fell victim to being ill-equipped to perform quick recall of SAT math formulas, in this case the midpoint formula. And this inability will rob you of valuable seconds, and maybe even minutes, while you struggle to recall formulas that you should have ready at a moment’s notice.
If you struggled for just a short time to recall the midpoint formula, you can still pat yourself on the back for remembering it at all. (Many students do not.) But if you’re still unsure of the midpoint formula, or worse, you didn’t even realize that you needed to use the midpoint formula to answer this question, well, it’s time to hit the books!
Let’s go ahead and solve the problem, using — you guessed it — the midpoint formula, which is:
Midpoint = ( (x₁ + x₂) / 2 , (y₁ + y₂) / 2 )
From the ordered pairs, we see that the two x values are 1 and 9. The two y values are -2 and 8. Substituting these values into the midpoint formula, we get:
Midpoint = ( (1 + 9) / 2 , (-2 + 8) / 2) ) = ( 10/2 , 6/2) = (5, 3)
TTP PRO TIP:
If you have memorized commonly tested SAT formulas, you will be able to quickly recall them when you are answering SAT questions.
There are two math sections on the SAT: The no-calculator section and the calculator section. You will be presented with 58 math questions in total, and you’ll have 80 minutes to answer them.
There are two question types on the SAT:
- Multiple-choice questions give you 4 answer options, and you must choose the correct one. There are 45 multiple-choice math questions on the SAT.
- Grid-in questions require that you calculate an answer and enter it into a grid. There are 13 grid-in questions on the SAT.
You have encountered nearly all the SAT math topics during your math study in high school. Nevertheless, there are two critical skills you need to finish the SAT math sections in the allotted time. The first of these involves recognizing the question from similar ones you encountered during your preparation, and then quickly executing the correct procedure to obtain the answer. The second skill involves the quick recall of the many formulas that you’ll need to use during the exam. By having formulas memorized, you can quickly and efficiently use them when you need to.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How many total minutes are the 2 SAT math sections?
The no-calculator section includes 20 questions, which must be answered in 25 minutes. The calculator section includes 38 questions, which must be answered in 55 minutes.
What is the longest section of the SAT?
The reading section of the SAT is the longest, at 65 minutes. Even though you are given 80 minutes for math, there are two sections that comprise SAT math. The no-calculator section is 25 minutes long, and the calculator section is 55 minutes long.
How long is the SAT without a calculator section?
The no-calculator section presents you with 20 questions (15 multiple-choice and 5 grid-in), and you are given 25 minutes to complete the section.
Are there 3 Math sections on the SAT?
Although you may encounter 3 math sections on the SAT, only 2 of them count toward your math score. If you encounter a third math section (section 5 of the test), it does not count as part of your score, as it is an experimental section.
There are many tactics and strategies you can employ to get a great math score on the SAT. In this article, we have focused on being able to answer questions faster. You might also want to read our article with more tips and techniques for being successful on SAT math. Good luck!