Thursday, March 28, 2024

Preparing for the SAT isn’t always a matter of retaining what you’ve learned in your high school classes. For many students, it takes weeks to months of study to understand the concepts you’ll face on exam day. To help make the studying process easier, we’re sharing some powerful and practical tips to make preparation stress free and even enjoyable.

First, let’s unpack the test’s structure and what you can expect on test day so you have everything you need to get into the SAT mindset.

Breaking Down the SAT

The math portion of the SAT can be broken down into four sections:

  • Algebra
  • Data Analysis
  • Pre-Calculus
  • Miscellaneous Topics

Although you may encounter some problems that seem unfamiliar, rest assured that all of the materials are taken from topics covered in your typical high school Pre-algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus classes.

The topics covered haven’t changed, but 2024 has ushered in a number of changes to the SAT.

Instead of the 3-hour-long pen and paper test of years past, the SAT has officially moved to a digital landscape and will only take two hours. It will be section-adaptive, meaning your performance in the first half of the math portion will inform the difficulty of questions you receive in the second half. Reading sections will also be shorter, with just one question per reading section. Your score for the entire SAT will still be calculated using the 1600 scale.

Another change to the SAT this year is that calculators will be allowed throughout the entire math portion of the exam, instead of just a few sections. This is something you’ll want to take full advantage of as you prep for the exam and develop strategies for test day.

We’ll cover how to use a calculator to your advantage in more detail at the end of this mini course.

For now, let’s break down what problems you may encounter in each section.


  • Translate a word problem into an expression, equation, or inequality.
  • Solve a linear equation or inequality with one variable (including absolute values).
  • Solve a system of linear equations or inequalities with two variables.
  • Interpret a linear equation, expression, or inequality in context.
  • Understand how a linear graph relates to an equation or system of equations or inequalities.

Data Analysis

  • Use ratios, rates, and proportions to solve a problem.
  • Use percentages to solve a problem.
  • Perform unit conversions.
  • Predict a line or curve of best fit for a scatterplot.
  • Understand the difference between linear and exponential growth.
  • Calculate probabilities from data.
  • Calculate mean, median, mode, and range of data, and understand how these, along with standard deviation, affect the shape, center, and spread of data.
  • Make and justify statistical inferences from data (little to no statistical calculation required)


  • Use a quadratic or exponential function to model a real-life context.
  • Simplify an expression with exponents.
  • Manipulate and interpret a nonlinear expression in its context.
  • Isolate a variable in a nonlinear equation.
  • Solve a quadratic equation (via factoring, completing the square, and quadratic formula).
  • Perform operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) with polynomial expressions.
  • Solve an equation containing variables in the denominator.
  • Solve a system of equations consisting of a quadratic and linear equation.
  • Know how the zeros and factors of a polynomial relate to one another and to the polynomial’s graph.
  • Know how a nonlinear graph relates to an equation or system of nonlinear equations.
  • Understand function notation and how transformations/compositions are performed in this notation.

Miscellaneous Topics

  • Use volume and area formulas (provided on test).
  • Solve for missing information when parallel lines are cut by a transversal or when similar/congruent triangles are provided.
  • Solve a right triangle using the Pythagorean theorem or trigonometric ratios (sine, cosine, tangent).
  • Use the relationship between similar triangles, trigonometric ratios, and right triangles.
  • Calculate missing values in a circle (arc lengths, angle measures, chord lengths, sector areas).
  • Convert between degree and radian measures.
  • Find and interpret the standard form for the equation of a circle in the coordinate plane.
  • Perform operations between complex numbers.

With these details in mind, you’ll be well on your way to a perfect 800 on the math portion of your SAT. 

Studying for the SAT

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the types of problems you’ll face on test day, it’s time to create a study plan based on what SAT math topics you excel at and which you can improve upon. It’s often the most stressful part of studying for the SAT: figuring out where to begin! But it really doesn’t have to be. Read on to start studying for success.

Gauging Your Math Proficiencies

The SAT is a timed exam, and with the new shift to a digital testing format, you’ll have even less time to complete it than before (2 hours instead of 3). That being said, the first step to determining your mathematical strengths and weaknesses is to create a spreadsheet (Google Sheets works well) and take two practice exams: one timed and one untimed. Once you’ve finished, grade yourself and answer the following question honestly:

Is your biggest issue accuracy or time?

If you’re scoring well but running out of time, follow these steps to get started:

  • Identify which questions consumed the most amount of time. Add them to the first column in your spreadsheet.
  • Categorize each question based on the four SAT math topics (Algebra, Data Analysis, Pre-Calculus, or Miscellaneous Topics).
  • Note the specific subtopics covered by each question (refer to our last email for subtopics).

If you finish your timed practice exam ahead of the clock but find your accuracy needs some improvement, follow the same steps as above for each question you marked incorrectly, then complete these steps.

  • Add questions you got wrong to your spreadsheet
  • Specify the subtopics related to these questions

Now, take a close look at the subtopics you’ve added. This compilation is your master study list as you prepare for the SAT. It will guide your SAT Math practice as you work in StepWiseMath, emphasizing the areas that need the most attention. Don’t forget to also include the subtopics you haven’t added to ensure a comprehensive preparation.

Final Countdown Checklist

As you gear up for the big day, it’s also crucial to have a checklist to ensure nothing is overlooked. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps:

  1. Review Your Master Study List:
    • Go through the subtopics on your master study list.
    • Focus on reinforcing your understanding of the key areas you’ve identified.
  2. Mock Test Simulation:
    • Conduct a full-length mock test to simulate the actual test day experience.
    • Practice time management and ensure you’re comfortable with the pacing.
  3. Strategic Time Allocation:
    • Plan how much time you’ll allocate to each section.
    • Identify a strategy for tackling challenging questions efficiently.
  4. Healthy Habits:
    • Ensure you get a good night’s sleep before the test.
    • Eat a nutritious breakfast to fuel your mind and body.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re ready for test day!

Test Day Strategies

On the day of the SAT, implement these strategies to enhance your performance:

  1. Mindful Breathing:
    • Practice deep breathing to stay calm and focused.
    • Manage stress with mindfulness techniques.
  2. Pacing Techniques:
    • If a question is taking too long, use your best judgment for the correct answer, mark it, and move on.
    • Allocate time wisely to ensure you can address all questions. Blank answers are penalized more than incorrect ones, so be sure to mark a response for each question.
  3. Double-Check Answers:
    • If time permits, review your answers.
    • Double-check for any potential errors.
  4. Stay Positive:
    • Maintain a positive mindset, even if faced with challenging questions.
    • Focus on the questions you can answer confidently.

Remember, our goal is to make preparing for the SAT efficient and tailored to your needs. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need further guidance, and be sure to sign up for StepWise Math for SAT Math practice that helps you prepare for the test 24/7. Good luck!