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How to Study for the SAT Math?

The SAT Math sections are two of the most difficult sections of the SAT. It covers a wide breadth of topics, and test-takers are only allowed to use a calculator for one section. 

The first math section, which does not allow students to use a calculator, gives students 25 minutes to answer 20 questions. For the second section, where calculators are allowed, students have 55 minutes to answer 38 questions.

In order to answer all of the questions for the SAT Math sections, students will only have an average of 1 minute 15 seconds per question for the no-calculator section and 1 minute 26 seconds per question for the calculator section.

If math is not your forte, the strict time limit for the SAT Math sections might seem daunting. However, these sections are nothing you can’t handle if you devote a few hours to studying each week.

Preparation is the key to success. If you know how to study effectively, you will be able to answer more and more questions correctly, and you will find that it is easier and easier for you to answer all of these questions without running out of time.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for the SAT Math sections:

1. Familiarize yourself with the test

Before you start to study for SAT Math, you need to know the content that is covered on the test.

The SAT Math sections consist of four content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.

Heart of Algebra

Most of the Heart of Algebra questions involve linear equations, inequalities, functions, and graphs.

To answer these questions you may have to do tasks like graphing a linear equation, determine how a graph would change based on an equation change, simplify an expression, or interpret a linear function.

Problem Solving and Data Analysis

The Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions focus on ratios, percentages, and interpreting data from charts, graphs, and tables.

When answering these questions, you will have to do tasks like using tables to analyze data and trends, use info from a chart to determine population sizes or exponential growth, or use scatterplots to calculate the mean, mode, or range of a collection of data points.

Passport to Advanced Math

Unlike Heart of Algebra questions, Passport to Advanced Math questions involve nonlinear equations.

Solving these questions will require you to do tasks like solving quadratic equations, determining the curve of a graph, dividing polynomial expressions, and using rational exponents to solve equations.

Additional Topics in Math

While this segment only makes up about 10% of SAT Math, it is still important for you to study for the Additional Topics in Math questions. These typically include geometry, trigonometry, and complex numbers.

To answer these questions, you will have to do tasks like determining the area or volume of a shape, calculate arc length, or use sine, cosine, and tangent to solve word problems.

Understanding the topics covered in the math sections will help you know where to focus your efforts when studying for the test.

2. Create a study plan

Making a set study plan will allow you to maximize your time and balance your schedule so that you don’t let any topics slip through the cracks and you don’t become too overwhelmed to study effectively.

In order to create an efficient study plan, you should complete the following steps:

Take practice tests

Before you dive into your SAT Math prep, you’ll want to have a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses on this section of the test.

Start by taking a practice test to determine your baseline score and areas where you need to improve, and then make sure you take more practice tests periodically so that you can monitor your progress.

When you take these practice tests, try your best to mimic the actual conditions that you’ll encounter on test day and review the correct answers when you’re finished. This will help you have a good picture of how well you’re going to do on the test.

Set a target score

Determine the score that you want to reach for SAT Math based on the scholarships you are interested in applying for and the top percentile scores for the schools on your list.

Once you have a target score in mind, you will know how much studying you need to do to improve your baseline score to reach your goal.

Use your target score to create a study timeline

Look at the difference between your baseline score and your target score. 

If you need to improve your baseline score by 0-30 points, you will need to spend at least 7 hours studying.

If you need to improve your baseline score by 30-60 points, you will need to spend at least 15-18 hours studying.

If you need to improve your baseline score by 60-150 points, you will need to spend at least 25-30 hours studying.

I recommend breaking this study time into several weeks. For example, if you want to improve your SAT Math score by 75 points in a month, you might follow a timeline that looks like this:

  • Week One: Spend six hours taking a practice test and learning the structure of the test.
  • Week Two: Spend six to seven hours studying for the Heart of Algebra and Problem Solving and Data Analysis questions and learning SAT Math strategies.
  • Week Three: Spend seven to eight hours studying for Passport to Advanced Math and Additional Topics in Math questions and taking a practice test using SAT Math strategies.
  • Week Four: Spend six to seven hours reviewing your mistakes from the practice test and reviewing all four content areas.

3. Learn SAT Math strategies

Now that you know all of the math topics that you’ll need to master before you take the test as well as the amount of time you need to dedicate to each section, you’re ready to start studying. Here are a few studying tips to help you prepare for the SAT Math sections:

Memorize key formulas

While there are some formulas that are provided for you on the SAT, you won’t want to waste your limited time during this section flipping to the formula page in your test booklet.

Take the time to memorize key formulas like the quadratic formula, Pythagorean theorem, and formulas for calculating the area of various shapes. When you are familiar with these formulas and can recall them quickly, you will be able to save time on your test.

Practice plugging in answer options

If you’re having trouble with certain math problems, it can help if you try backsolving. Backsolving is a strategy that involves plugging in available answer options into the formula or equation presented in the question to see which answer fits.

Getting in the habit of backsolving whenever you get stuck on the SAT Math sections can help you answer more questions correctly without wasting too much time.

Become familiar with your calculator

SAT Math is divided into two sections: SAT Math with Calculator and SAT Math- No Calculator.

All too often, students take the calculator section using a calculator that they’ve never used before. Whether they borrow one from the test site, or they just aren’t in the practice of using their calculator regularly, these students have to get used to that specific calculator when they’re taking the test.

Take all of your SAT Math practice tests (the sections that allow the calculator!) with the same calculator. This will help you develop muscle memory so that you don’t lose time searching for a specific key when you’re taking the test.

4. Get help from experts

The best way to prepare for the SAT Math sections is to enlist the help of experts. Taking an SAT Prep course or working with a private tutor will give you the chance to study for the test while learning crucial strategies and tips from expert instructors.

When you enlist the services of Prep Expert, you can work with instructors and tutors who scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT, guaranteeing that you will learn everything you need to know before test day.

Learn more about how Prep Expert can help you prepare for the SAT Math sections when you visit our website.

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