Monthly Archives: January 2015

The New SAT: A Shift in Content

Having taught an SAT prep class 3 times a year I’ve become very familiar with the content on the current SAT. They’ve made a few changes since I took the test in high school (mainly adding a 3rd writing section), but overall the math content has been pretty stable. Here is a snapshot of the basic breakdown of math content taken from Gruber’s Complete Guide to the SAT, the prep book I use in my course.

Basic Math: this is a review of Middle School concepts and includes fractions, decimals, percents, and rates problems (these can be pretty tricky).

Algebra: It starts with concepts as simple as equation, inequalities, and graphs but continues into topics like exponents and roots.

Geometry: This is an area where many of my current students struggle. Questions include area, perimeter, and volume as well as the properties of shapes. Students are expected to have memorized the properties of all kinds of triangles, quadrilaterals, and polygons.

Miscellaneous: Finally, there is a category that contains all sorts of misfit problems. Many of these types of problems come from probability and statistics and others are pretty random. Set theory is one example of this, a topic many students don’t cover in high school.

For the New SAT I’ve created a chart to show you the main topics, what types of questions it contains, and most importantly how many questions are included in this category. All of the main topics are hyperlinks to the College Board website if you’d like to read about it in detail.

Topic Content # of Questions
Heart of Algebra Analyzing and fluently solving equations and systems of equationsCreating expressions, equations, and inequalities to represent relationships between quantities and to solve problemsRearranging and interpreting formulas 19
Problem Solving and Data Analysis Creating and analyzing relationships using ratios, proportions, percentages, and units.Describing relationships shown graphicallySummarizing qualitative and quantitative data 17
Passport to Advanced Mathematics Rewriting expressions using their structureCreating, analyzing, and fluently solving quadratic and higher-order equationsManipulating polynomials purposefully to solve problems 16
Additional Topics in Math Making area and volume calculations in contextInvestigating lines, angles, triangles, and circles using theoremsWorking with trigonometric functions 6


The first thing to notice is that “additional topics” which is mainly geometry comprises only 6 questions on the whole test. This reflects a movement in the math education world away from teaching geometry. Their argument is that it is not essential for college-level mathematics. I wouldn’t overreact and cancel all plans for a geometry class just yet, but it is something to keep in mind.

The other takeaway is that the content isn’t as broad, but it is deep. So it is going to be more important for your child to master a few skills very well than for them to make it to the final chapter of their math textbook.

But there’s more to come on how to prepare for this new test in an upcoming post…