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Common SAT Math Mistakes

Taking the SAT soon? Not a big Math fan? Dreading being tested on Math on the SAT? If you said “yes” to all three questions, it’s ok. You don’t have to love Math in order to do well on the SAT Math section. First step: avoid losing easy points by sidestepping common SAT Math mistakes.

If Math isn’t your strongest suit, then being tested on it when taking the SAT isn’t fun. Avoid these common SAT Math mistakes for a better final Math section score.

To make life easier, here are specific helpful SAT Math formulas to memorize before the test.


sat math mistakes

Don’t Over-rely On Your Calculator

Don’t let the calculator become your crutch.

Despite the no-calculator section, you are allowed to use a calculator for most SAT math-related questions. The benefits are clear; in theory, you can answer questions fast and move on.

However, it’s important to note that those questions are also designed to be answered by hand too. There will never be a question you can’t answer without the use of a calculator.

More importantly, sometimes it’s actually quicker to write it out than punching everything into the calculator. When getting ready for the test, work on solving problems without a calculator as much as possible. You’ll have a better understanding of what concepts are tested.

Forgetting Key Formulas

You don’t need to know every single formula in existence.

Important formulas you’ll need to have committed to memory include:

  • Equation of a line
  • Quadratic equation
  • Equation of a circle
  • Pythagorean theorem

There is more to work on, but this list is a good start of where you should focus your time and energy. Spend time working on practice problems with these formulas.

The goal to achieve is answering questions both quickly and accurately. Don’t sacrifice correct answers for speed alone. Use both regular math problems and SAT practice test questions to sharpen your formula usage.

Skipping Written Steps When Answering

Write down every single step when answering questions.

You may already have strong mental math skills, but how good are they when you’re subjected to pressure? How fast can you answer a math question mentally if you know that you only have 1 minute to answer it?

Under those circumstances, even the best students can accidentally miss a step by rushing through a mental calculation. Get into the habit of writing down every single step when answering math questions.

You can easily trace your thought process and quickly identify the wrong step. That wrong step will cost you valuable points.


Misreading Word Problems

Translating words to numbers and formulas get tricky.

Many SAT math questions are presented as word problems. It is your job to translate them into the necessary equations and find the correct answer. Some students who have problems with time pressures often make interpretation errors.

Thankfully, there are ways to quickly translate key phrases into equation symbols like =, +, -, x, etc. Key phrases and their interpretations are:

  • Is, was, are, gives, results in, were, will, yields: =
  • Combined, increased by, more than, sum, together, total: +
  • Decreased by, difference, less/fewer than, younger/shorter than: –
  • Multiplied by, of, product of, twice: x
  • Divided by, out of, per, ration of: ÷

Solving Questions In Original Order

You don’t HAVE to answer questions in the provided order.

Time management is key to a lot of common errors. The easiest tactic to improve your odds is simply answering questions in order of difficulty. When starting the section, quickly scan over the questions that you are 100% certain you can answer correctly fast and tackle them first.

These are questions that at a glance you can immediately solve without hesitation. Go ahead and get those out of the way first. Don’t get cocky though and rush through without being mindful. Answering fast doesn’t mean anything if the answer is incorrect.

Once those easy questions are wrapped up, then go back and work on the harder questions. If anything else, you give yourself the confidence of gaining guaranteed points. If all else fails, you can guess at the very end with the hardest questions.

If you’re interested in this topic you might also like our article about SAT Math Strategies.


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Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Written by Dr. Shaan Patel MD MBA

Prep Expert Founder & CEO

Shark Tank Winner, Perfect SAT Scorer, Dermatologist, & #1 Bestselling Author
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