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Chris Lele

How the New SAT Math is Changing

Changes to New SAT Math

The SAT has undergone profound changes: four answer choices have replaced five, vocabulary exercises have been banished, the essay nearly so (it’s optional now), and the sections are much longer. Amidst all this chatter, however, let’s talk about how the math section has changed and has been relatively muted.

SAT Math

While some of the changes to the math section are not as noticeable as the absence of words like platitudinous, they are equally profound. So if you are used to the old test format, then you might be interested in the following changes:


1) The SAT has become less of a logic game/IQ test and more of a direct measure of how well you remember the math you learned in school.

Going over math questions on the SAT in class, I’d usually get a couple of “a-has” from my students (so that’s what it was asking for). The test was wrapped up in relatively straightforward math, with tricky wording and confusing diagrams. As soon as you saw what the test was asking for or saw that one little “trick” needed to solve the question, the test became easy.

With the new SAT, you’ll likely have to write out more steps. And if you don’t remember a specific concept, you are likely to get the problem wrong. Know the concept and things will fall into place.

2) There will be more advanced high-level math

Granted, there won’t be a whole lot of trigonometry but compared to the zero trig on the old test, the couple of trig questions you’ll see test day is something you’ll need to prepare for.

There will also be a lot of high-level polynomials and you will have to face off against a couple of questions that can only be solved by using the quadratic formula (yes, you’ll need to memorize this).


3) There will be more – and longer word problems on the SAT

While the SAT was never short on word problems, the test writers have really stepped it up with the latest test, including word problems as long as twelve lines. In one section, there were eleven problems in a row that had at least 5 lines. Essentially you might be doing more reading than “math-ing”. But if you pay attention to the underlying math to a question you’ll be able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary words.


4) One new SAT section will prohibit the use of a calculator

Back when I was young, the SAT didn’t allow a calculator on any part of the test. Times changed and the SAT cared more about your ability to understand mathematical concepts than to do arithmetic. Well, apparently times have changed back again, somewhat. You will only be allowed to use a calculator on one of the two math sections. In this math section, you might be expected to do stuff like figure out the exact figure for a sum of money compounded semiannually for four years (the set up would look something like this: 100(1.025)^8 and good luck doing that in your head!).

The no-calculator section will thankfully offer up tamer specimens for mental or pen-and-paper math. Still, it might be a good idea to start doing mental math drills or practicing long division on paper. I know, that might sound like a drag, but that’s the way the test is changing. My inner teacher, however, is saying that knowing how to crunch basic numbers is a basic facet of life, even with a smartphone constantly at your fingertips. So don’t tell yourself you are learning a worthless skill. Or, if you can’t convince yourself otherwise, know that you’ll still have to be on your “number game” come test day.


About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 8 million views.

You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog!

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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