Test Prep

More Tips to Help You Tackle SAT Math

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Math tends to cause a lot of stress for students taking the SAT. One thing I’ll always say is that the Math sections (yes, there are two on the SAT!) can become more manageable when approached with a bit of strategy. That’s not to say that you don’t still need to know the content! It’s just that having a variety of approaches can help you with those questions that at first glance seem unsolvable.

Take time in your SAT prep to familiarize yourself with Math strategies. Learn to recognize common trick questions on the test. Studying like this is a great start toward eventually breezing through the Math. Here are a few tips to set you in the right direction.


They Gave You the Answers — Use Them!

The key to most of the SAT is in remembering that the answers are, quite literally, right in front of you. Say a question asks you to solve for a variable like x; chances are good that you’re going to end up with a number, right? If finding that number is giving you any trouble, remember that you’ve been given a few possibilities in the answer choices, so don’t hesitate to plug them in! This can help you to use the Process of Elimination (POE) to narrow down your choices.

You have to be careful, though, because the test makers will often try to pull a fast one on you. When you use this method, make sure you fully read each question and know exactly what you’re solving for. You may have to find the value of 5x instead of just x, in which case you will have to manipulate the answers a bit before plugging them in. This tip can also only be used in certain situations. Look through our Math Workout for the SAT and try some practice SAT tests to get a sense of what’s appropriate.

Know What the Question is Asking Before You Answer

It’s no secret that the SAT is intentionally made more challenging by the test makers: They’ll use tricks to fool you and traps to lure you to a wrong answer. The example I mentioned above, with 5instead of x, is just one trick. The test makers know that you’ll likely first have to solve for and they’re then hoping that you’ll forget the coefficient of five.

If only the correct value of were offered, you’d realize that you had made a mistake. (Quick quiz: Did you realize that we were tricking you here? Remember: 5x, not x -- is what you’re looking for.) Likewise, if you had all the time in the world, you might see that both x and 5x were among the answer choices, but in a hurry, you might choose the wrong one. Don’t get fooled ever again — always remember the question.

This tip also applies to word problems. In fact, many students get caught up in how wordy a word problem is, therefore wasting time. So my advice is to know what the question is asking before you do any actual work, especially when facing word problems. Not only will you avoid traps, you’ll also find yourself working much more efficiently.

Keep Things As Simple as Possible

Once you’re sure you know what the question is asking, also make sure that you have a set plan for how to solve it. Don’t waste your time on unnecessary calculations; just because a problem looks complicated doesn’t mean that your solution needs to be. (Also, remember that if the answer choices are straightforward, your work should lead you toward simplification.)

Remember to consider that one of the most common myths about the SAT is that you’re going to have to recall your entire high school mathematics curriculum. You’ll never need to use something like calculus or logarithms to solve a problem, so be very cautious about approaching a question this way!

One of the most effective ways to help yourself score high on the SAT is to grow familiar with it, and students have been in your shoes for years. Our books, such as Cracking the SATare filled with useful information gained from those who’ve taken the test before, as well as practice tests developed to help you prepare for the real thing. All of these techniques and tools make for a great way to know all you need to know before you sit down to tackle the SAT in person.