The surface area refers to the area of the exposed surfaces of an object—one has to know the formulas needed to calculate surface area in order to solve one of these problems successfully. On many standardized tests, the figure will be shown along with the figure's dimensions. It is important to make sure that the figure's dimensions are in the same units. For example, if the length is measured in inches and the width is calculated in feet, one must convert the feet to inches by multiplying by twelve. Sometimes surface area will be abbreviated on the test as *SA. *This is often italicized. To calculate the problem, make sure that the surface area for all of the exposed faces are calculated and then tabulate the sum.

In a word problem, the student may be asked to paint or otherwise coat a three-dimensional figure. Make sure it is a three-dimensional figure such as a box or a pyramid. If it is a plane such as a field or a single wall, using an area formula will suffice. One example of a surface area problem would be to calculate the paint needed to paint a box that has a height, width, and breadth of five feet. One would calculate the surface area, and then calculate the amount of paint needed for one of the faces. In tabulating the number of faces, remember that the box has a top and a bottom that will also need painting.