Math Section Strategies

Math Section Strategies

  • Know the math they want you to know.  There’s no way around it, you have to know how to solve certain types of math problems.  Fortunately, there are not that many types of problems you have to know.
  • Write it down!  Don’t do steps in your head, or any arithmetic more complicated than adding or subtracting single digit numbers.  Students miss many, many problems due to trying to do too much in their heads.  You can write as much as you want in your test booklet, use it to your advantage.
  • Don’t get hung up.  The questions vary widely in degree of difficulty.  Don’t spend too long on any one question; they are all worth the same.
  • Get rid of fractions and radicals first.  This is almost always the first step to solving any algebra problem on the SAT.  
  • Draw a picture.  When they do not give you a picture, draw one yourself.  This works for “in the xy-plane…” problems as well as geometric figures.  When drawing graphs, they don’t need to be perfect, just directionally correct.
  • Get your timing down.  Make sure you know the rules for approaching both math sections.  Most students should be skipping the hardest multiple choice problems, doing the grid-in problems, and then coming back to the hardest problems at the end.

Rule for answering: 

  • Always answer the question that is asked!  The test makers will almost always include answers that reflect what you would get if you misread the question, or only completed part of the problem.  Don’t get caught by this!  Underline the final step of what the question is asking.  If the question asks, “what is xy ?”, you can be nearly certain they will have answer choices that reflect the correct value of x and by themselves.
  • Make sure your answer is reasonable.  This applies mostly to the grid-in questions, but if they are asking about average speed of a car on the freeway, and your calculations gave you 317mph, it’s time to revisit your math.