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What kind of math is tested on the SAT?

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The SAT tests algebra, but it may not look like how you learned it in school.

What kind of math is tested on the SAT?

New students and parents will often ask us about what kind of math is tested on the SAT. Fortunately there is no high-level calculus and fewer brain teasers than in the past. However, students may have to apply math skills they've learned in a different way. You're being tested on the math you learned in high school, but you may not quite realize it. 

Have a look at the question below. This is a medium level difficulty question from an actual SAT practice test. (SAT Practice test 3, section 4, problem 8) This section does not allow calculators, so try this one without a calculator. 

 

The average number of students per classroom at Central High School from 2000 to 2010 can be modeled by the equation y = 0.56x + 27.2, where x represents the number of years since 2000, and y represents the average number of students per classroom. 

 

Which of the following best describes the meaning of the number 0.56 in the equation? 

 

A) The total number of students at the school in 2000 

B) The average number of students per classroom in 2000 

C) The estimated increase in the average number of students per classroom each year 

D) The estimated difference between the average number of students per classroom in 2010 and in 2000

 

This is one of the SAT problems beginning students frequently miss, but it's not because it involves any complex calculations. This question tests whether a student can apply the y=mx+b formula in another context. The math in this problem is not complex, but having the ability to step back and utilize what you've learned in high school algebra may be an unfamiliar sensation.

The correct answer is C. If you have difficulty visualizing this problem, try drawing a line using y=mx+b. It should look something like this:

 

This is the kind of problem students will need to get right if they plan to take a statistics course in the future. Statistics courses are often requirements for business and economics majors. Students majoring in other social sciences should seriously consider taking statistics if they hope to be competitive for graduate school. 

If this explanation wasn't enough for you, here are a few other explanations you can refer to:

1. MathCabin explanation (video)

2. PWN Prep Test

3. Here is the official explanation.  Sometimes these explanations are clear, sometimes they are not. 

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When Should I take the SAT's?

You should take your SAT when you are most ready. If possible, try to get your final SAT score by junior year.

Why not senior year? Because your first-semester senior year is likely going to be the most intense and stressful semester of your high school career. You will likely have your hardest classes, club leadership responsibilities, and college applications. During your senior year, getting enough sleep will be a big enough challenge, so why add pressure to perform well on the SAT? Also, if you procrastinated on your SAT studying, you will likely procrastinate on your personal statement writing as well. Take your SAT's early so you can procrastinate on something else! 

We understand that most students don't plan ahead enough. Enrollment in SAT classes tends to peak during the summer between junior/senior year and fall of senior year. Despite encouraging high school juniors to start studying earlier, we often don't see these students until they are stressed out a year later. That's understandable. High school juniors are still teenagers and likely to perceive a year in the future as quite long. 

One note about taking the SAT your senior year: if you think that you can improve your score by 100+ points, then definitely feel free to take the test again. That is a big enough improvement and worth your time.