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Planning and preparing for the SAT and ACT is tough proposition. Let our experts make it easier for you and your student by reviewing some of the many options available to improve scores, grow scholarship offers, and get into the best college!

8 SAT Math Tips You Need To Know

Many students dread the Math portion of the SAT, either because Math is a tough subject for them, or because they haven’t yet learned some of the more advanced topics in school.

The following is a list of tips and tricks I’ve drawn up to help make the Math tests a slightly easier challenge for you when you sit for the SAT this time around. Remember though, the best way to achieve success on the SAT is to complete as many practice tests as you can. So, when you’re done reading this list, get cracking on those Math test drills!

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Memorize Those Equations & Formulas

Memorizing equations and formulas will leave you feeling more confident and improve your speed on the Math tests.

To many students’ relief, the SAT includes at the beginning of each Math test a list of equations and formulas necessary for solving the problems featured within. However, don’t take this as invitation to skip the very important process of memorizing these equations and formulas. For one, having instant command of equations and formulas will make you more confident in your problem-solving abilities as you go through the test, leading to a better performance overall. In addition, in the time crunch of the Math tests, the ability to skip going back and forth between the front of the test and the problem you’re solving to check out an equation or formula will save you precious seconds or even minutes you could be using to solve other problems.

Write Out Your Solutions Step By Step

Writing out solutions will help prevent you from making simple mistakes and leaves you a record of your work to check.

If you’re a math whiz, you might be tempted to do most of the work of solving problems in your head, leaving a relatively clean exam booklet behind. However, it’s in your best interest to write out all your problem-solving steps, even the relatively simple ones. One of the reasons for this is that many points are lost on the SAT Math tests due to simple mistakes—factoring incorrectly, or leaving out a decimal place for instance. Writing out every single step reduces the risk of this happening.

Another reason to write out your solutions step by step is that it leaves you a record to check when you’ve finished the test and want to go over your work. You can’t check your work if you don’t have any work to check! So, go ahead and write it all out—you’ll thank yourself the first time you catch a simple mistake that would have cost you a point off your score.

Make Sure Your Calculator Is Allowed In The Test Center

The SAT doesn’t allow certain types of calculators for use on the test. Make sure yours is approved.

You will want to use your calculator on the Math test, so make sure the type you use isn’t banned from the test center. The College Board includes a list of permitted calculators on its website, so check in advance to make sure yours is on the list. Most of the Texas Instruments (TI) calculators students use in school are allowed, so if that’s what you have, you should be OK. However, some TI calculators with CAS (Computer Algebra Systems) are not allowed, nor are smartphones, or anything that makes noise. Be prepared—you don’t want to have to take the test without the aid of your calculator.

Furthermore, make sure you know how to use your calculator. It’s not much use to you if you don’t know how to use it to do things like graph lines or factor. And put in a new battery before the test, and even bring a spare with you, just in case of an emergency. Nothing could be more anxiety provoking than having your calculator die right in the middle of the test. This has happened to a few of my past students.

Don’t Become Dependent On Your Calculator

Knowing how to solve problems without your calculator will improve your confidence level and prevent simple mistakes.

Going hand in hand with the last tip, this tip is designed to prevent you from making simple mistakes and to improve your confidence on the test, too. Calculators are a tremendously useful tool on the second Math test, where you’re allowed to use them.

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However, if you use your calculator to solve problems in lieu of writing out the steps, at some point you’re likely to hit the wrong button, or to leave out a step without noticing. You’re also likely to panic or become anxious if you get to a problem and realize you don’t know how to solve it on your calculator. This is why knowing how to solve problems step-by-step without a calculator is so important. Your calculator should be used merely as an aid, rather than as a crutch.

Don’t Speed Trough The Test

Remember that all the problems are worth the same number of points—don’t rush to finish at the cost of losing points on the simple problems.

As you’ve noticed, many of the tips in this blog post are related to preventing yourself from making simple mistakes on the Math tests. A common way this happens is when students rush on the test. Because the problems get more difficult as you progress through the Math tests, many students think that they have to speed through the beginning part of the test in order to finish all of the problems in time. The problem with this, though, is that rushing causes you to make simple mistakes. If you rush on the easy problems, and then get many wrong due to simple errors, you’re still likely to lose points on the tougher questions, where the math is more difficult, and where in some instances you might not know how to come up with a solution.

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So, go at a deliberate pace. If you get all the easy and medium level questions right and are forced to guess on the last few hard problems, you’re still likely to get a higher score than you would have had you sped through the entire test. Remember, your goal is getting as many points as you possibly can, not finishing the test on time at any cost.

Take The First Step

If you’re stuck on a problem, take any step you know how to do and see if that opens the problem up. If not, move on to save time.

If you find yourself staring at a problem mindlessly, having no idea how to solve it, try taking any step you know how to take—whether that step be factoring, finding a common denominator, or even just doing some simple addition or subtraction. Oftentimes, after you’ve done this, you will see the problem in a new light, and the way to a solution will become more clear to you. If this doesn’t happen, however, circle the question, then move on. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 10 seconds looking at a problem and doing nothing before moving on. Spend your time on actually solving problems! If you have extra time at the end of the test, you can come back to the trouble problem, and by then, perhaps your unconscious will have unlocked the problem for you.

Draw Pictures Where You Can

Drawing pictures will help you see how to solve problems.

Any time a word problem describes a shape or a figure, draw it out. Drawing out problems helps make clear the steps you need to take, and the information you need to find, in order to solve problems, especially for things like geometry problems, where you’ll be using tools such as SOH CAH TOA and the Pythagorean theorem. Rather than taking extra time, drawing figures will save you time by helping you puzzle out problems more quickly and efficiently.

Bonus tip: where you are given a figure or a shape, don’t assume that it is to scale. You can only assume that a figure is to scale when you’re told so. The exception to this rule is that if you’re guessing, go ahead and assume the figure is to scale. Generally, it’s better to guess using possibly incorrect information than it is to guess using no information at all.

When All Else Fails, Plug In The Answer Choices

If you’re unsure how to solve a problem, plug in each of the answer choices and see if one of them works.

If you don’t know how to solve a problem, go ahead and try plugging the answer choices back into the original equation. In many instances, one of the answer choices will work as a solution, and then that’s your answer. However, you should only do this when you don’t know how to solve the problem on your own, because this is a time-consuming process (you have to check all the answer choices to be sure you haven’t made a mistake), and also, it won’t always work for you.

Clay Cooper

Clay has scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT, ACT, PSAT, LSAT, and ISEE, among other standardized tests. He has taught and developed courses for high school, college, and graduate-level standardized tests extensively around the country, and specializes in the field. He has studied law at Georgetown University Law Center and worked in the legal field as well, for attorneys, judges, and the Tennessee Attorney General.