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Thomas Broderick

SAT Math: Word Problems

You like words, Magooshers? You know, the things you’re reading right now? I bet there are certain words you’re always happy to hear: ‘dessert,’ ‘free,’ and ‘warm,’ are just a few nice words that come to mind. But we all have some words that we don’t like. If you’re studying for the SAT Math Test, the words in word problems can seem like the absolute worst.

“It makes no sense!” You huff. “Why do words have to be a part of a math test? Isn’t math supposed to be a universal language that even aliens would understand?”


SAT Math Word Problems -Magoosh


Okay, Giorgio, calm your jets. For now, SAT Math word problems are a fact of life. In this article I’ll go over the word problem basics: time management, types of word problems, and some SAT Math resources that will help you continue your word problem journey. Remember, this article is not the last word 😉 concerning word problems. If you still have questions when you finish reading, there’s no better place to go for help than your math teacher (and/or Magoosh’s SAT eBook!)

Word Problems and Time Management

For most students, succeeding on any standardized tests boils down to time management. On the SAT Math Test, you have 80 minutes to answer 52 multiple-choice questions and eight grid-in questions. During your first practice test or two, you may discover that even if you’re answering the questions correctly, word problems take longer to complete. And since the SAT Math Test is roughly 25% word problems, there’s the chance that you’ll run out of time long before you finish every question.

Like on any standardized test, always have your pencil ready. In fact, never put your pencil down at any time during the SAT. As you read a word problem, circle/underline any numbers along with the key terms listed below. Along with the terms, I have included their mathematical meaning.

  • Total of, added to, increased, sum: +
  • Decreased by, subtracted from, difference: –
  • Times, product: x
  • Same, equivalent, equals: =
  • Less than: <
  • Greater than: >
  • Greater than or equal to: ≥
  • Less than or equal to: ≤

Once you have isolated the important information, you can turn the word problem into an equation. Then you can stop thinking about the story in the word problem, and focus on the MATH.

Types of SAT Math Word Problems

Besides knowing the above tips and tricks, you also need to know the types of word problems you will see on SAT Test day. Let’s take a look at the two most popular question types!

Setting Up an Equation

Instead of ‘solving for x,’ these questions ask you to create an equation out of a word problem. It’s easy to identify this type of word problem, as the answer choices are different equations, not answers to an equation. On the SAT Math Test, you are likely to see these questions early on. Why? Well, setting up an equation is the first step to solving a problem. Though challenging for some, the SAT test makers consider this type of word problem ‘easy.’

Solving for X

Solving for X is the next step. Once you’ve set up your equation, it’s time to solve! Like all problems on the SAT Math Test, don’t forget to eliminate wrong answer choices, and if necessary, guess. Remember, since the SAT changed in spring 2016, there is no longer a penalty for guessing!

More on SAT Word Problems

If you want more practice with SAT Math word problems, never fear. Below I’ve compiled a couple helpful resources. Enjoy!

Final Thoughts

SAT Math Word Problems are nothing to fear. Once you get around the words, they’re just like any other math problem.

Till next time, Magooshers.

P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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