Tips to Prepare for SAT Heart of Algebra Questions

The SAT math section consists of 58 questions that fall under four distinct categories: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math and Additional Topics in Math.

Heart of Algebra questions account for approximately one-third of the SAT math section, or 19 questions, making it the most common SAT math question type. If you are especially worried about acing algebra questions, here is what you should know as you prepare.

Know What the Questions Involve

Heart of Algebra questions “focus on the mastery of linear equations, systems of linear equations, and linear functions,” according to The College Board. The common thread between these three topics is the word “linear.” You can assume that all Heart of Algebra questions will deal with lines and, as the name suggests, algebra.

For these reasons, it is essential for students to know the equation of a straight line — which is y=mx+b — and what each variable refers to, as well as the slope formula. These will not be given to you on the test, so you must memorize them.

[Read: 6 SAT Math Problem Solving and Data Analysis Concepts to Master.]

Heart of Algebra questions are further broken down into the following subcategories:

— Linear equations, linear inequalities and linear functions in context.
— Systems of linear equations and inequalities in context.
— Fluency in solving linear equations, linear inequalities and systems of linear equations.
— The relationships among linear equations, lines in the coordinate plane and the contexts they describe.

Do not worry if you are currently unsure of what each point entails. You will likely have covered most of these concepts by the end of your sophomore year math class.

Focus on the Most Frequently Tested Concepts

The words “systems” and “inequalities” appear frequently in the subcategory headings, making them two other high-priority concepts for Heart of Algebra.

Note that systems of linear equations questions can be solved in two ways: combination or substitution. Be sure to practice with both methods to see which works better for you, as well as which method leads you to an answer more quickly.

You should also plan to use SAT practice tests to identify the areas where you need improvement. Then, practice solving these types of questions with the appropriate formulas and rules in mind.

[Read: Nonmath Courses That Can Improve Your ACT, SAT Math Skills]

For example, if you struggle with inequalities, take several hours to closely review their rules and then focus on solving just these problem types for a day or two. Finally, don’t forget to flip the sign from negative to positive, or vice versa, when you divide or multiply both sides by a negative number.

Practice Reading and Interpreting Graphs

In addition to learning algebraic formulas, you should also understand how these formulas relate to graphing. You should be able to graph an equation by hand and deduce an equation from a graph. Practicing both skills will set you on the path to mastery of Heart of Algebra questions.

There are also a few key facts you must know about linear graphs.

First, from left to right, positive slopes rise and negative slopes fall.

Second, horizontal lines have zero slope; vertical lines have undefined slope. And yes, these mean two different things.

Third, parallel lines have the same slope and no points of intersection. In other cases, two lines on the same plane can intersect at one point or overlap completely.

Practice With Both Question Formats

Do not be caught off guard by the format of Heart of Algebra questions. Some will appear as multiple-choice items while others may be grid-in questions.

[4 Tips for Choosing Between SAT Math Levels 1, 2]

Multiple-choice questions offer watchful students significant advantages. If you are unsure about what a question is asking, review the answer choices to the math problem and see what they have in common.

Is the answer a whole number? A fraction? An equation? Does it contain variables? The answer choices for a question tend to share similar formatting, which may help you understand how to proceed. When in doubt, you can even plug in answer choices to see which numbers work.

For grid-in questions — where students must produce the answer rather than select one — there are fewer strategic options. Questions that require a student-produced response account for about 20 percent of the entire SAT math section, so students will encounter only a handful in Heart of Algebra. However, the answer you provide must be exact.

Make sure to review the rules regarding rounding and inputting decimals and fractions. Also keep in mind that when you are stuck on a grid-in question, you should leave it and come back only if time permits. The odds of correctly guessing the answer to a question that requires a student-produced response are particularly small.

More from U.S. News

Conquer the SAT Calculator-Free Math Section

How to Ace the SAT Passport to Advanced Math Section

Master Common Geometry for Competitive SAT Math Score

Tips to Prepare for SAT Heart of Algebra Questions originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up