Notes on the Math Section

Young Asian man studying with pencil in a library.

Students in the US will take the new digital SAT starting in March 2024.

There are a few structural changes to the new digital SAT math section. While they’re important to be aware of, in general they don’t make for a huge overhaul to SAT math. 

The first change is that the old no-calculator section has been eliminated. Instead of one 25-minute no-calc section and one 55-minute with-calc section, students will now take two 35-minute math modules, with calculators allowed on both. The digital SAT comes with an in-app graphing calculator built into the test-delivery system so students don’t even have to bring one (though they may bring their own if they prefer).

Another global change has to do with timing. The total math time is shorter (70 minutes), and there are fewer questions. Overall, the new digital SAT allows about 15% more time per question than the old version.

Just like on the old test, the new math section is a mix of multiple choice and student-produced response, or “grid-in” questions. There’s just a small tweak here: “grid-in” questions are now mixed in throughout the math modules, instead of placed all together at the end of a section. In a move to reduce the reading burden in the math section, the number of word problems (what the College Board calls “in-context questions”) has been cut back, and these questions are written in a more straightforward style than on the old test. So far, the test seems to make up for this cutback with a slight increase in the number of questions testing geometry and trigonometry.

Most students are likely to find these updates appealing in terms of the actual test-day experience. In terms of prep, we find that not much has really changed. The shifts to the test format don’t reflect a big change in the high school level math skills tested on the SAT. Despite the availability of calculators throughout the test, students who are looking for high scores will do well to improve their facility with mental math, which cuts down on time per question and greatly increases students’ confidence. We teach our students to move beyond rote memorization and into a deeper understanding of how numbers behave. For truly standout scores, students need to be able to approach problems flexibly and see what’s happening from multiple angles. High level reading skills will continue to be an asset throughout all sections of the new digital SAT, including the math.

One thing students will want to be aware of is the new multi-stage adaptive testing format, which means that how a student does on Module One of a section will impact the difficulty level of questions they see on Module Two, and ultimately, the score they’re able to achieve. Strategies like Zinc’s skipping and coming back, which works with the brain’s natural way of processing information, will remain important for helping students maximize right answers and keep their focus while bypassing anxiety. We’ll look more at the adaptive test platform in a future post.

To learn more about the new digital SAT, check out College Board’s Digital SAT webpage.

To find out how Zinc can help your child approach the math section (and the math they see in school) with flexibility and confidence, email our Client Services team to set up a complimentary consultation.