How to Complete the Math Section of the SAT Faster

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Last Updated on April 20, 2023

I frequently speak with students who ask how to complete the math sections of the SAT faster. However, there is no easy and fast response to such a question. Rather, there are many levers one can pull to solve SAT Math questions faster. The good news is that, by learning to solve questions faster, you can significantly improve your SAT score.

How to Complete the Math Section of the SAT Faster

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

Let’s begin by discussing the format of the SAT Math section.

The Makeup of the SAT Math Section

There are two math sections on the SAT: sections 3 and 4. Section 3 is the non-calculator section, and section 4 is the calculator section.

Section 3 consists of 20 questions and is 25 minutes long. Section 4 consists of 38 questions and is 55 minutes long. So, you have an average of 1 minute and 15 seconds for each question in section 3 and an average of 1 minute and 25 seconds for each question in section 4. In both sections 3 and 4, the questions are multiple-choice and grid-in. There are, of course, more sections of the SAT, but we will focus on the SAT math sections in this article.


You have an average of 1 minute and 15 seconds for each question in section 3 and an average of 1 minute and 25 seconds for each question in section 4.

Now, as you have a relatively small amount of time, on average, for each math question on the SAT, you’ll want to be able to move as quickly as possible through the questions while still maintaining your accuracy. However, moving faster, on its own, is not the answer.

Trying to Go Faster Is Not the Answer

Consider everyday activities such as driving, editing a paper, or even baking. If I asked you in what one way you could mess up all three of those activities, a perfect response would be RUSHING!

Well, I have news for you: SAT math is no different. If you try to get faster at SAT math by simply rushing, you will likely make mistakes. If the goal of the SAT were to get the most questions wrong, then sure, I’d tell you to rush. But the fact is, rushing hurts more than it helps.


If you’re wondering how to increase your speed on the SAT math sections (without giving up accuracy), blindly rushing is not the answer.

So, now that we know what to avoid, let’s discuss some tips you can follow to improve your speed and remain accurate when solving SAT math questions.

Tip 1: Focus Only on Accuracy at the Beginning of Your Prep

Yes, I know the SAT is timed. However, speed is not something you need to worry about on day one of your prep. Rather, your initial concern should be accuracy. In other words, focus first on learning to get SAT math questions correct consistently.

Remember, if you rush, you train your brain to do the same on test day. Thus, rushing is a habit you want to avoid. If you focus on accuracy, as you become accurate, speed will organically follow. After all, in learning to get questions correct consistently, you’ll also be developing the skills you need to answer questions quickly.


At the beginning of your SAT math studying, focus just on accuracy.

Tip 2: SAT Math Needs to Become Second Nature

Before making my next point, I’ll admit that it may sound incredibly obvious. However, here it is anyway. The deeper your knowledge of SAT math, the quicker you’ll be when answering SAT math questions.

However obvious this point may be, you’d be shocked at how many SAT students forget about it! In other words, they forget that content mastery is the key to speed on SAT math.


Greater content knowledge means greater speed when solving SAT math questions.

So, now let’s discuss how to develop SAT math knowledge and improve your skills.

Tip 3: Topical Studying Is How You Should Learn SAT Math

Since there are so many topics tested on the SAT, following a topical study plan is a great way to learn the material. In other words, follow a study plan that allows you to learn one SAT math topic at a time, and then practice that topic until you have achieved mastery.

Let’s consider the topic of trigonometry. Many SAT students hate SAT trig questions. However, imagine carefully learning trig topic by topic — SOHCAHTOA, the unit circle, converting radians to degrees (and vice versa). Then imagine practicing 25+ questions on just those topics. Once you’re finished, I bet you would be a “trig machine” and would even look forward to trig questions on the SAT. Moreover, not only would you answer those questions correctly, but you would do so with speed!

Conversely, would it be effective to try to study functions, quadratics, and geometry all in one sitting? I think you know the answer …


Topical learning and practice will bring your SAT math skills to an elite level.

Topical Learning Allows You to Quickly Recognize and Attack SAT Math Questions

We’ve discussed how topical learning can help you master many SAT math topics. This mastery will allow you to quickly and accurately solve SAT math questions. Your speed will come from skill in recognizing SAT math questions and attacking them efficiently.

Consider the math topic of geometry. If you spent hours studying all the geometry formulas and principles, then practiced 50+ geometry questions, imagine how quickly and precisely you could answer geometry problems. It would not matter whether you saw a question on similar triangles, rectangular prisms, or lines and transversals. You’d have the skills to see the battlefield and attack the question head-on.

Remember, this idea applies to all SAT math topics. Whether we’re talking about word problems, functions, ratios, or percents, quickly answering questions comes down to your ability to recognize and attack questions.


Speed on SAT math questions comes from quick recognition and efficient execution.

Let’s practice with a couple of examples to display the importance of recognizing and attacking SAT math questions.

Example 1

Complete sat math faster

In the right triangle above, what is the length of the side labeled x?

  • #$8\sqrt{3}#$
  • #$\frac{8}{\sqrt{3}}#$
  • #$4\sqrt{3}#$
  • 4

Recognition: If you have 30-60-90 right triangles down cold, you should be able to quickly recognize that you are dealing with a 30-60-90 right triangle question.

Execution: Once you recall that the sides of a 30-60-90 right triangle are in the ratio of y : #$y\sqrt{3}#$ : 2y, you can execute by noting that the ratio of 8 to x should be equal to the ratio of 2y to #$y\sqrt{3}#$.

Now, let’s discuss how to solve the above geometry problem.

Since the given triangle is a right triangle and one of the acute angles is 30°, the triangle must be a 30-60-90 right triangle.

The hypotenuse of this right triangle has a length of 8, and the side opposite the 60-degree angle has a length of x. Since the sides of a 30-60-90 right triangle are in the ratio of y : #$y\sqrt{3}#$ : 2y, we can write:

#$\frac{y\sqrt{3}}{{2y}} = \frac{x}{8}#$

#${8\sqrt{3}} = 2x#$

#${4\sqrt{3}} = x#$

Thus, we see that the side labeled with x has a length of 43.

Answer: C

Example 2

The equation x2 + 9 = 6x has how many real solutions?

  • 0
  • 1
  • 2
  • more than 2

Recognition: If you have quadratic equations down cold, you should be able to quickly recognize that you need only to move all terms to the left side, and then factor the quadratic.

Execution: Once you recognize that you have a basic factoring question, go ahead and move all terms to the left side of the equation, and then factor the resulting quadratic:

x2 + 9 = 6x

x2 – 6x + 9 = 0

(x – 3)(x – 3) = 0

We see that the only solution to the equation is x = 3. Because there is a double root of x = 3, there is only one real solution.

Answer: B

Tip 4: Memorize Math Facts, Formulas, and Equations

A great way to get faster at SAT math is to memorize math facts, formulas, and equations. No matter how complicated or seemingly unimportant a math fact, formula, or equation may seem, you might need it on the SAT. Furthermore, you’ll be shocked at how quickly you can answer some SAT math questions by recalling just the right math fact, formula, or equation.

Let’s consider a few instances in which knowing a handy formula can help you quickly answer an SAT math question.

Example 1

Last year, Eric’s company had a profit of $40,000. This year, the company earned a profit of $50,000. What is the percent increase in his profit from last year to this year?

  • 15%
  • 20%
  • 25%
  • 50%

What You Should Memorize: The percent change formula is Percent Change = #$\left( \frac{New – Old}{Old} \right) \times 100\%#$. If you know this formula, you can easily answer this question in less than a minute.

Now, let’s move on to the solution.

Using the formula Percent Change = #$\left( \frac{New – Old}{Old} \right) \times 100\%#$, we should substitute 50,000 for “New” and 40,000 for “Old.”

Percent Change = #$\left( \frac{New – Old}{Old} \right) \times 100\%#$

Percent Change = #$\left( \frac{50,000 – 40,000}{40,000} \right) \times 100\%#$

Percent Change = 10,00040,000 × 100%

Percent Change = 0.25 × 100%

Percent Change = 25%

We see that Eric’s company had a 25% increase in profit from last year to this year.

Answer: C

Example 2

How to increase your speed on the SAT Math

What is the area of the right triangle above?

  • #$4\sqrt{5}#$
  • 6
  • #$6\sqrt{3}#$
  • #$6\sqrt{5}#$

What You Should Memorize: The Pythagorean theorem states that if the lengths of the two legs of a right triangle are equal to a and b, respectively, and the length of the hypotenuse is equal to c, then a2 + b2 = c2. Knowing this fact will allow you to solve this question in seconds!

Now, let’s move on to the solution.

Remember that the area of a triangle can be found using the formula 12baseheight. If we can determine the length of the unlabeled side, we can substitute that value for the base and substitute 4 for the height to calculate the area.

To determine the length of the unlabeled side, we will use the Pythagorean theorem, which states that a2 + b2 = c2, where c is the length of the hypotenuse and a and b are the lengths of the legs. Let’s substitute a = 4 and c = 6, and solve for b:

#$a^{2} + b^{2} = c^{2}#$

#$4^{2} + b^{2} = 6^{2}#$

#$16 + b^{2} = 36#$

#$b^{2} = 20#$

#$b = \sqrt{20} = 2\sqrt{5}#$

Thus, the area of the triangle is #$\frac{1}{2} \times 2\sqrt{5} \times 4 = 4\sqrt{5}#$.

Answer: A

Example 3

The standard deviation of set X = {8, 13, 17, 23, 27} is 6.8. Set Y is obtained by subtracting 5 from each element of set X. What is the standard deviation of set Y?

  • 1.8
  • 3.4
  • 4.8
  • 6.8

What You Should Memorize: If the same number x is added to or subtracted from each value in a data set, the standard deviation of the data set will not change. Using this fact, you can answer this question in mere seconds!

Now, let’s move on to the solution.

We know that if we add the same number to or subtract the same number from each element of a certain set, the standard deviation of the new set will be equal to the standard deviation of the original set. Since set Y is obtained by subtracting 5 from each element of set X, the standard deviation of set Y is equal to the standard deviation of set X. Thus, the standard deviation of set Y is also 6.8.

Answer: D

These are just a few examples, but we have plenty more in the Target Test Prep SAT Online Course.

Tip 5: SAT Math Flashcards Will Be a Game-Changer for Your Speed and Recognition

We can all agree that mastering the many SAT math concepts and formulas will greatly improve your speed when answering questions (even difficult ones) and, of course, help you improve your score.

As you prepare for the SAT, you will discover numerous important formulas and concepts you need to memorize. Don’t let those pass you by. Instead, put them on flashcards!

For example, you don’t want to waste 30 seconds drawing a sketch to discover that the sum of exterior angles of a polygon is 360 degrees. Rather, you want to have this fact at the ready in your memory so you can effortlessly use it. Flashcards make memorizing such facts much easier.

I realize that, on exam day, you have a formula sheet of some specific formulas that you can reference. I recommend adding those formulas to your flashcards. After all, it will be time-consuming to keep flipping back to that formula sheet. The more formulas you know like the back of your hand, the faster you will be!


Use flashcards to memorize essential SAT math concepts and formulas, so you can more quickly apply that information when answering SAT math questions.

Let’s now discuss how you should use your flashcards.

Flashcards Allow You to Study Even When You’re Not Sitting at a Desk

Flashcards are a fantastic tool because they allow you to study when you are “on the go.” For example, you can pull out your flashcards if you take the bus to school. Likewise, pull out your flashcards if you are hanging out after school, waiting for sports practice, and so on.

What I’m getting at is that you don’t have to study only when sitting down at a desk! Think about the additional study time you could squeeze in using flashcards. If you put in just 15 minutes of “on-the-go” study time each day, you will add 105 minutes of study time to your weekly total.


Make sure to get in some flashcard review each day.

Tip 6: Don’t Forget What You’ve Learned

As you move through your SAT math study plan, you will learn a lot of information. So, if you do not conduct weekly review sessions, you’ll likely forget much of what you learned. Thus, you will lose your ability to quickly attack SAT math questions.

So, to stay on top of so much material, ensure that you review your flashcards often and do mixed review sets, which also mimic practice tests.

For example, let’s say it has been more than a month since you studied linear and quadratic equations and exponents. It would be a good idea to complete a mixed problem set covering those topics, to ensure that you haven’t forgotten any concepts or formulas. The data from that set will allow you to see which concepts still need work and which are rock solid. Also, by completing these mini SAT math tests, you will be that much more prepared come test day.


As you progress through your study plan, make review a top priority.

Key Takeaways

Here is a summary of tips you can use during your SAT prep in order to answer math questions faster:

  • Focus only on accuracy at the beginning of your prep.
  • SAT math needs to become second nature.
  • Topical studying is how you should learn SAT math.
  • Memorize math facts, formulas, and equations.
  • SAT math flashcards will be a game-changer for your speed and recognition.
  • Do review so you don’t forget what you’ve learned.

What’s Next?

Now that you know how to get faster at SAT math, you may want to check out this article on how to improve your overall SAT score.

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