Update on the New SAT: Math

Update on the New SAT: Math

On the redesigned SAT to be released in 2016, the Math section will come in two parts: a 55-minute section with 37 questions on which students may use a calculator, and a 25-minute section with 20 questions on which students may NOT use a calculator.

(See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for changes to the Reading and Writing sections, respectively.)


Most questions will be still be multiple choice and what the College Board calls “student-produced response questions”—questions in which students have to grid-in their answers. However, there will be one new format: the “extended-thinking item set,” in which students will have to solve a series of complex questions relating to a given situation. Here’s the College Board’s example of this type of question, which will require a student-produced response and will be worth four points (as opposed to the single point the other questions are worth):

(See page 155 of the College Board’s redesigned SAT specs for answers and explanations.)


The content tested in the Math section is changing significantly. In addition to emphasizing “real-world contexts” like the one you may have noticed in the sample question above, the new SAT is going to focus more heavily on algebra and data analysis. The redesign also expands the topics tested on the SAT to include new items in statistics, geometry, and trigonometry. Read on for more.


The sample material includes questions on tax rates, physical properties like mass and pressure (don’t worry, formulas are provided for these scientific contexts), and the geometry and measurement of real objects, like a hexagonal nut. For example:


The breakdown of topics tests shows that the new SAT will focus in greater depth on fewer topics:

The Heart of Algebra (equations, inequalities, systems)                           35%

Problem Solving and Data Analysis (statistics, ratios, percentages)      28%

Passport to Advanced Math (quadratic equations and polynomials)     27%

Additional Topics in Math (geometry and trigonometry)                           10%


Basic topics will continue to be tested. New topics are bolded below. For more details, see the official specs on pages 139–145 of the College Board’s document.

  • basic algebraic equations and inequalities (may involve exponents, radicals, and absolute value)
  • linear equations
  • functions and their graphs
  • arithmetic on polynomials
  • mean, median, and mode
  • percentages, ratios, and proportions
  • unit conversions
  • range and standard deviation of data
  • interpreting scatter plots
  • linear vs. exponential growth
  • frequency
  • conditional probability
  • evaluating text and graphics
  • justifying conclusions and evaluating data collection methods
  • coordinate geometry
  • lines and angles
  • radian measure
  • area and perimeter of triangles and quadrilaterals
  • area and circumference of circles
  • sector area and arc length
  • chords
  • equations of circles
  • trigonometric functions applied to right triangles and complementary angles
  • trigonometric functions with radian measure

While this list of topics might seem intimidating, keep in mind the distribution of subjects.

Judging from the sample material released, the new SAT math section will not have the tricky, brainteaser quality it currently does. While problems will be presented in relatively straightforward ways, they will still involve critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. It seems like students will need to develop mastery of math skills, a high level of focus, and the ability to understand math’s real-world applications in order to succeed on the redesigned SAT.

Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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