Test Prep

Don’t Let SAT Math Get the Best of You

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Feeling intimidated by having not one but two Math sections on the SAT? Totally understandable! Even some of the simple tricks we’ve shared might not be enough to calm your nerves. If that’s the case, let me share some of the common mistakes that prevent students from getting the scores they want—and how you can avoid them!

The first step for dealing with these errors is to recognize them, so here’s a list of some slip-ups to avoid. You can really amp up your SAT prep by working around them!


Don’t Waste Time

One of the nice things about the Math sections is that you should be able to easily identify what you can immediately answer. Does a formula look familiar? Have you seen a certain type of figure before? If something looks familiar to you, tackle it! If it doesn’t, don’t waste your time. (Do, however, take note of questions you might be able to puzzle out, and come back to those if you have time at the end of the section.)

The questions in the Math sections of the SAT are in a rough order of difficulty, but your Personal Order of Difficulty (POOD) is far more important. When a question is difficult or time consuming for you, skip that question and come back if you have time later.

Finally, on questions that are full of words, don’t waste time reading all the words up-front. Instead, start by Reading the Final Question (RTFQ) first. Read the last few lines, find what you need to solve for, and then decide whether you need to read everything or if you only need some easy-to-spot pieces to solve the question.

Obvious Answers Can (and Often Will) Be Wrong

By using RTFQ, you’ll avoid many trap answers that just simply don’t answer the question. However, it’s also crucial to recognize a trap when it’s staring you in the eye. On the Math sections, that can often come in the form of an answer that’s just a little too obvious. The writers of the test know the common mistakes students make, and you can bet they’ll put those answers on the test as well. So if you seem to arrive at an answer a little too easily, double-check it.

Here’s an example: Remember that order of operations acronym PEMDAS you learned in math class way back when?

Parentheses

Exponents

Multiplication

Division

Addition

Subtraction

Well, it can still come in handy here! But the makers of the test know that sometimes students forget to use something as simple as that. Say you subtract before multiplying. You’ll still get a number, but will that number be correct? Sometimes, but not usually. You might be thinking that it’d be a dirty trick to put that number on the test, and while I might agree with you, the test makers wouldn’t. All’s fair on the SAT — well, on the test makers’ side, that is.

Letting Your Head Do All the Work

It can seem like a huge time saver to do as much math as possible in your head, especially on the no-calculator section. Why waste time writing things down when you can simplify things a little in your head? Keeping track of numbers that way can lead to easy mistakes, that’s why!

You might not be able to make extra notes on your answer sheet, but the test booklet is free rein, and you should use it like you own it! (You did pay for it, after all.) Plus, keeping track of your work on the page can make it easy to follow up on mistakes if you get an answer that doesn’t line up with any of the given options.

You have plenty of formulas, tricks and tools to help you succeed on the Math sections of the SAT, but you’ve also got to keep on top of the ways it can go wrong to stop yourself from being tricked. Don’t let the test makers fool you! Instead, remember these most common mistakes, practice avoiding them on free practice tests, and don’t let yourself make any come test day.

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