Before reviewing specific tips for the SAT Math sections, let’s ensure you know the basic rules that apply to the entire SAT test.
- Never leave an answer choice blank. There is no penalty for a wrong answer, so you should always provide an answer, even if it’s a guess.
- Never leave a mistake behind. You will repeat errors if you don’t learn from them, so you must understand the answer to every question you ever practice. The best way to make sure you actually know a concept is to teach it to someone else.
- Never do a timed practice without a scantron. Yes, you have to practice bubbling. It’s all too common that students make mistakes with their bubbling by filling in the wrong answer or skipping a line. You must practice this skill, too!
What is the structure for the SAT Math sections?
The non-calculator portion of the SAT is 20 questions in 25 minutes. Fifteen of those questions are multiple choice and five are grid-in. The calculator portion of the SAT is 38 questions in 55 minutes, with 30 multiple choice and 8 grid in. The overall timing is approximately 1 minute 22 seconds per math question, which is a little more than the 1 minute per question on the ACT.
Now for the 10 expert tips…
TIP 1: Answer the question being asked
This may sound silly, but if you don’t read carefully, you might solve for x when in reality the question asks for x+1. Guess what, if you get 5 for x, then 5 will be an answer choice even if the correct answer is 6 because you’re supposed to add 1. Imagine doing the hard part right – solving for x – but then you miss the question because you didn’t read carefully and didn’t add 1. Be careful!
TIP 2: Know thyself
When it comes to math, you need to understand exactly where you need to focus your studying. Do a timed practice and an untimed practice. Is your issue accuracy or time? If it’s accuracy, then drill down on which concepts you are struggling with most. If you’re scoring well but it takes you longer than the time limit, then you should focus your attention on time management.
TIP 3: Check your calculator
On the math section on which calculators are allowed, use them. There is no shame in using your calculator. The colleges don’t know if you solved question 20 with a calculator or not. Even if you’re doing 5+3 and you’re the type of person who might make a mistake when stressed or working too quickly, use your calculator.
TIP 4: Avoid tough algebra
There is a huge strategy in the math section when you have variables in the answer choices. Remember, what is a variable? A variable just replaces a number. So instead of solving for n, m, or p, just make up numbers for those variables and solve the question. This is an excellent strategy to make the math much more straightforward. Just avoid ever using 0 or 1 because they have special properties.
TIP 5: Look for patterns
The SAT loves to ask questions that would take minutes to solve, so look for patterns. If the decimal 0.2379823798 repeats every five numbers, then recognize that pattern instead of counting out 89 spots to find the 89th digit to the right of the decimal.
TIP 6: Mark questions when you’re unsure
When you aren’t confident in your ability to answer a difficult question on an exam, it can be a good strategy to mark the question and come back to it. This approach will allow you to use your time efficiently and focus on the easier, less time-consuming questions first and then go back to the harder ones. Remember, if there is a question you believe you have no shot of answering correctly, then just guess and move on.
TIP 7: Review algebra & geometry formulas
These tests are so predictable! They test the same concepts from algebra, geometry, algebra II, and arithmetic, so you have to put in the time to review all those equations. When’s the last time you really talked about prime numbers? So many students show up to the test thinking 1 is a prime number, which is not correct. What is the smallest prime number? Two is the smallest prime number!
TIP 8: Watch for unit swaps
This tip gets back to reading carefully. So many questions change units. They go from seconds to minutes, from inches to feet. You must be ready and you have to read carefully.
TIP 9: Draw diagrams or label theirs
Never feel like you have to solve the questions in your head. If a diagram is described, draw it. If you’re given a diagram, label it. Use that information to help you visualize math problems.
TIP 10: Be honest about your math gaps
This tip is very important. You will only grow in math if you are honest with yourself on where your gaps of knowledge exist. The math section is hard; you have to know five years of equations and content to do well on this section, so be honest with yourself on what you need to review to make sure you know fundamentals, equations, and formulas and how to apply them.
As a final note, remember the SAT math section puts a heavier emphasis on algebra and data analysis, so those skills are incredibly valuable in this section. Best of luck with your studying!
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