SAT Math Topics Breakdown: What Math is on the SAT?

Are you brand new to the SAT and wondering, does the SAT have a math section? Or are you familiar with the SAT’s general structure and format but still have questions about the math section of the test? Either way, this article is for you! We’ll discuss the structure of the SAT math section and provide an SAT math topics breakdown, which will list the topics you might see on any given SAT exam.

SAT Math Topics

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

Let’s first discuss the general format of the math section of the SAT.

The Math Section of the SAT

The SAT exam comprises four sections. Section one is Reading, section two is Writing and Language, and the final two sections are Math. Section three does not allow the use of a calculator on any questions. In section four, a calculator can be used for all questions. Below is a breakdown of the two math sections on the SAT.

SAT Math Topics Breakdown

Now that we see the structure of the SAT math sections, let’s look at an SAT math breakdown of topics and question types.

What Math Does the SAT Cover?

The good news about the math tested on the SAT is that you are already learning many of these topics right now in your high school math classes. So, as you advance through SAT math, many topics may seem familiar to you.

Regarding the topics tested, let’s first look at how the folks at College Board define the four main categories of SAT math that you will see on the exam. Keep in mind that there have not been any new SAT math topics added in a number of years, and even with the rollout of the digital SAT, additional math topics are not likely to be added.

The 4 main categories of SAT math:

  1. Heart of Algebra
  2. Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  3. Passport to Advanced Math
  4. Additional Topics in Math


SAT Math is broken into four major categories by College Board.

The above math topics seem a bit esoteric, so let’s dig into what math is on the SAT, in each category.

Heart of Algebra:

  1. Solving Linear Equations
  2. Inequalities and Absolute Value
  3. Coordinate Geometry
  4. Linear Functions
  5. Systems of Linear Equations

Problem Solving and Data Analysis:

  1. General Word Problems
  2. Rates
  3. Unit Conversions
  4. Ratios
  5. Statistics
  6. Percents

Passport to Advanced Math:

  1. Exponents
  2. Roots
  3. Quadratic Equations
  4. Functions
  5. Coordinate Geometry
  6. Graph Interpretation
  7. Table Data

Additional Topics in Math:

  1. Geometry
  2. Trigonometry
  3. Complex Numbers

As we can see, there are about 22 major math topics tested on the SAT. However, it’s important to understand that there are hundreds of subtopics within those major topics. Let’s discuss that now.

There Are Many SAT Math Subtopics

You may think that 22 major math topics does not seem like so much. However, there are hundreds of subtopics to learn within those major topics. For example, consider the topic of Functions. In learning that topic, you must learn about subtopics such as FOILing, factoring, graphs of functions, zeros of functions, linear and exponential growth, and more.

In short, to succeed on the SAT, you must learn hundreds of math subtopics.


Under the umbrella of the 22 major math topics on the SAT are hundreds of subtopics.

Although you must learn all of these subtopics to prepare for SAT math, predicting which subtopics you’ll actually see on test day really isn’t possible. Let’s discuss.

Don’t Try to Predict Which SAT Math Topics You’ll See 

If you have been studying for the SAT for some time, you’ve seen the official practice questions that College Board has released. Thus, you may have a solid sense of the kinds of questions you might see on the SAT. However, the exact makeup of your SAT is difficult to predict. The fact is, what you see is going to be somewhat random.

Despite College Board’s releasing numerous official SATs, you can’t assume that what you see on those exams will be exactly what you see on test day. For example, if you see a unit circle question on a practice exam, there is no guarantee that you will see one on your exam. There are 8 official practice exams that College Board has released, for a total of 58 x 8 = 464 math questions on those exams. Your SAT will contain just 58 questions. So there are many questions on practice tests that you will not see on your SAT. Likewise, those 464 practice questions do not encompass every question type that you could encounter on the SAT.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s very useful to carefully review those 8 practice exams. But if you bank your SAT math score just on those 464 questions, you will most likely have an unpleasant surprise when your SAT score is posted.

So, if you’re wondering, “What math is on the SAT the most?,” unfortunately there is no specific answer to that question. What does all this mean? Well, let’s not play roulette with what you learn for the SAT. To set yourself up for success, learn all SAT math topics.


Don’t try to predict the exact makeup of your SAT.

With that point in mind, let’s discuss a great way to learn SAT math.

How to Study for SAT Math

Thus far, we’ve discussed how learning a wide range of concepts is necessary to succeed in SAT math. A great way to learn all of these topics is through topical learning. Topical learning entails learning one topic at a time and focusing solely on that topic until you have mastered it. By studying in this way, you can ensure that you truly learn each topic before moving to the next one.

Do you think it would be effective to jump from Linear Equation questions to Functions to Geometry questions? I think you know the answer …

Learning an SAT math topic takes time, care, and attention. So, jumping around from topic to topic will hinder your ability to learn.


Learn each SAT math topic one at a time.

To get a better idea of how topical learning works, let’s take a look at the Target Test Prep (TTP) study plan.

Topical Learning With TTP

The cornerstone of the TTP study plan is topical learning and practice. The study plan is broken up into missions, each of which contains one major math topic. Students learn that topic, and then answer practice questions about that topic until they master it.

For example, mission three is the Quadratic Equations chapter. So, the first task in that mission is to learn all about quadratic equations. Topics include FOILing quadratics, factoring quadratics, quadratic identities, the quadratic formula, completing the square, etc.

After finishing a particular section, you answer a few example questions to practice what you have just learned. Then, at the end of the chapter, you take chapter tests rated by level of difficulty, to drill every concept that was presented in that chapter.

Topical Learning With TTP

Now that you see topical learning in action, you should have a good idea of how to structure your math studying. Next, let’s review the two types of questions that you will encounter on the SAT: multiple choice and grid-in.

There Are Two SAT Math Question Types

The two types of SAT math questions are multiple choice and grid-in.

Of the 58 math questions on the SAT, you will encounter a total of 45 multiple-choice questions and 13 grid-in questions. We can further break these down by section. In Section 3 (No Calculator), you’ll have 15 multiple-choice and 5 grid-in questions, and in Section 4 (Calculator), you’ll have 30 multiple-choice and 8 grid-in questions.


Of the 58 math questions on the SAT, you’ll be presented with 45 multiple-choice questions and 13 grid-in questions.

Let’s discuss each question type in further detail, starting with multiple-choice questions.

Multiple-Choice Questions

Multiple-choice SAT math questions are a question type with which you are very familiar, except for one twist. Usually, multiple-choice questions have five answer choices (A, B, C, D, and E). However, multiple-choice questions on the SAT have four answer choices (A, B, C, and D).


Multiple choice questions on the SAT have four answer choices.

Keep in mind that all of the 22 major math topics on the SAT are fair game for multiple-choice questions. Let’s practice with an example below.

Multiple-Choice Question 1

Which of the following describes the domain of the function v(x) = x^5 + x^3?

  • x > 5
  • x < 3
  • The domain is all real numbers.
  • 3 < x < 5

First, recall that the domain of a function specifies all allowable x values. Generally, for SAT purposes, we have domain restrictions when we have (1) a denominator that is equal to 0 or (2) a function for which we would take the square root of a negative number. For example, if we had f(x) = 2/(x – 4), we would have a domain restriction of x = 4 because that value would make the denominator of the fraction equal to 0. A second example would be sqrt(x – 5). If x were any number less than 5, then we would be taking the square root of a negative number.

Clearly, the domain of the function v(x) has no restrictions, since we can take any real number to the fifth power or the third power, and we can add these two quantities for any real value of x. Thus, the domain of v(x) is all real numbers.

Answer: C

Let’s try one more.

Multiple-Choice Question 2

Harold is 30 years older than Paloma. If in 10 years, Harold will be 3 times as old as Paloma will be then, how old will Harold be in 3 years?

  • 38
  • 33
  • 28
  • 24

The major topic tested here is General Word Problems, and the subtopic is age problems.

First, let’s define two variables:

H = Harold’s age today

P = Paloma’s age today

Next, we can create two equations from the information presented in the problem stem.

Since Harold is 30 years older than Paloma, we have:

H = P + 30

In 10 years, Harold will be (H + 10) years old, and Paloma will be (P + 10) years old. Thus, at that time, Harold will be 3 times as old as Paloma, and we have:

H + 10 = 3(P + 10)

H + 10 = 3P + 30

H = 3P + 20

Next, we can substitute P + 30 for H in the second equation:

P + 30 = 3P + 20

10 = 2P

5 = P

Thus, Harold is currently 5 + 30 = 35 years old, so in 3 years, he will be 38 years old.

Answer: A

Now, let’s discuss SAT grid-in questions.

Grid-In Questions

Technically, the make-up of grid-in questions differs from that of multiple-choice questions. A grid-in question will always have a numerical answer with no variables in the answer. It’s important to note, too, that many grid-in questions have multiple possible answers. You need only grid in one of these answers.

Despite those differences, the skills needed to answer a grid-in question do not differ from those required to answer a multiple-choice question. The primary difference between multiple-choice questions and grid-in questions is that there are no answer choices to select from in a grid-in question.

There are 8 grid-in calculator questions and 5 grid-in non-calculator questions. Also, grid-in questions are always presented at the end of a section.


There are 8 grid-in calculator questions and 5 grid-in non-calculator questions.

An example of a blank grid is shown below:

breakdown of sat math

There are a few rules to learn about filling in the grid:

  1. You must bubble in your answer. Writing your answer in the boxes at the top of each column is insufficient.
  2. Only positive numbers can be bubbled. Thus, if your answer is a negative number, you have made an error in your calculations.
  3. If your answer is a decimal number, round it to 3 decimal places, if necessary, and make sure you bubble one position for your decimal point. A leading zero is not required for decimal numbers between 0 and 1.
  4. Fractions need not be reduced. They can be entered in traditional fraction fashion, with the “slash” mark bubbled to separate the numerator and the denominator. Alternatively, you can express your fractional answer as a decimal number.

Let’s now practice with a couple of grid-in examples.

Grid-In Question 1

If a and b are positive integers and 312 = 3a3b, what is one possible value of a x b?


Since 3a3b = 3a+b, we can rewrite the given equation as 312 = 3a+b. Since our base is 3 on both sides of the equation, a + b must be equal to 12. We need to determine the two values whose sum is 12. Because a and b must be positive integers, there are only a handful of options for their values: {1, 11}, {2, 10}, {3, 9}, {4, 8}, {5, 7}, and {6, 6}. The products of these pairs are: 11, 20, 27, 32, 35, 36.

Therefore, any of the values 11, 20, 27, 32, 35, or 36 are correct.

Answer: 11, 20, 27, 32, 35, or 36

Remember that sometimes there are multiple correct answers to a grid-in question. You need to bubble only one of them into the grid to get the question correct.

Let’s try another question.

Grid-In Question 2

Alvin accidentally spilled his marble collection on the floor. If he was able to recover 24 of the original 120 marbles, what fraction of his marble collection was he able to recover?


The problem gives us these two pieces of information:

Number of recovered marbles = 24

Total number of marbles = 120

Thus, we know that the fraction of recovered marbles is 24/120.

Because this is a grid-in question, we cannot directly grid in the value 24/128 because there are not enough positions in the grid to accommodate this fraction. Thus, we have two options: (1) reduce the fraction or (2) convert the fraction to a decimal number.

(1) Reduce the fraction:

Since both 24 and 120 are divisible by 24, we can divide the numerator and denominator by 24:

24/120 = 1/5

(2) We can convert the fraction 24/120 to a decimal value:

24/120 = 0.2

Answer: 1/5 or 0.2

We could bubble either 1/5 or 0.2 into the grid.

Now that we’re familiar with the look and feel of the two SAT math question types, let’s discuss calculator use during the SAT.

A Note About the SAT Math Calculator

A calculator can be used only in the calculator section (section 4) of the math portion of the exam. Thus, the calculator must be put away and out of sight for all other sections.


A calculator can be used only in section 4 of the SAT.

A calculator is definitely a tool that can significantly help you on the SAT. However, it’s worth noting that even when the calculator is allowed, it does not have to be used for all questions. In other words, use the calculator when it makes you more efficient, and avoid it when it does not.

College Board has a list of which calculators can be used. We recommend using either a graphing or a scientific calculator because they have greater capabilities than a four-function calculator.

Ensure that you are comfortable using the calculator that you take to the SAT. Graphing and scientific calculators require practice and familiarity to be effective tools during your exam.


Use a scientific or graphing calculator on the SAT.

SAT Math Section Breakdown Summary

  • The SAT math section consists of 58 questions that you have 80 minutes to answer.
  • SAT math includes two question types: multiple-choice questions, which have 4 answer choices, and grid-in questions.
  • There are 45 multiple-choice questions and 13 grid-in questions.
  • The SAT contains two Math sections, and each section is a mix of multiple-choice and grid-in questions.
  • Section 3 is the non-calculator section, with 15 multiple-choice and 5 grid-in questions. You have 25 minutes to answer those questions.
  • Section 4 is the calculator section, with 30 multiple-choice and 8 grid-in questions. You have 55 minutes to answer those questions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Many Math Questions Are on the SAT?

There are a total of 58 math questions.

How Many Math Sections Are on the SAT?

There are 2 math sections on the SAT. Section 3 is the No Calculator section, which presents you with 20 questions. Section 4 is the Calculator section, which contains 38 questions.

How Long Is the SAT Math Section?

The SAT math section time is 80 minutes in total.

What Is Tested on the SAT Math Section?

The topics are generally those you have learned in high school math classes. A breakdown of SAT math topics includes:

Basic arithmetic, linear equations and inequalities, quadratic equations, roots, exponents, absolute values, general word problems, rates, unit conversions, ratios, percents, statistics, graph interpretation, table data, geometry, coordinate geometry, trigonometry, and functions.

Is SAT Math Hard?

SAT math is not a walk in the park. However, if you give yourself plenty of time to study, use a great study resource, and keep your motivation level high, there is no reason why you can’t excel in SAT math.

What Are the 3 Main Areas of Math the SAT Covers?

It’s best to break down SAT math into 22 major topics rather than just 3 topics.

What Are 10 Tips for the SAT Math Section?

If you need some tips for the SAT math section, then look no further than our blog about  improving your SAT math score.

What’s Next?

Now you know all about the structure of the SAT math section and the types of questions asked. If you want more information about how to tackle your SAT prep, take a look at my article about how to get started with SAT studying.

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