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SAT Math Tips & Advice

SAT Math time management

SAT math questions are arranged in ascending order of difficulty. With practice, you will learn your personal abilities and limitations with math questions. However, when you take the test, you should probably not spend too much time on the first questions, as these are the easiest and you probably answered them easily.

If you have trouble answering an early question, go back and re-read it. Chances are you simply misinterpreted what was being asked.

Try not to skip any of these initial questions. You may not have time at the end to come back to finish them, and leaving them blank may lower your score. At a minimum, you should be able to at least eliminate a few answer choices through our dear old friend, process of elimination.

Mark what you are trying to answer

This is helpful advice for all sections of the SAT, but especially so for the math questions. You are allowed to write in your test booklet, so don't be afraid to mark it up -- particularly by marking what it is that you need to answer. The test writers will intentionally include incorrect answer choices that provide the right answers to the wrong questions, including other values referred to in the question.

On a related note, be on the lookout for such key question words as not and except. Be on the lookout, too, for changes in units of measurement. We'll show you some practice questions that utilize these techniques just in case you do not see what we mean!

Simplify problems wherever possible

Process of elimination is your best friend in answering SAT math questions. Simplification comes next. The SAT1 is not designed to make you do unnecessarily long calculations. If you find yourself tangled in a string of numbers, chances are that you have overlooked a way of simplifying the equation. On this note, all SAT questions are meticulously designed. If you are given a piece of data such as 1 mile = 5,280 feet, there is a reason it was given, and it is most likely related to a perhaps not-so-readily-apparent way to simplify the problem.

Work backwards if you can't work forward

Working forward is the most effective and efficient way of solving a math problem when you instantly recognize the proper formula and method needed to answer it. (In that case, the best way to manage your time is to solve the problem, choose the corresponding answer choice, and move on to the next question.)

Working backwards, however, is an effective tool when you have forgotten how to answer the question. Working backwards means plugging a value from one of the answer choices into the appropriate formula and seeing if it works. We recommend you always start with choice C, which will be the median value of the answer choices. If choice C yields an answer that is too large, then you will instantly know the answer must be A or B. Conversely, if choice C yields an answer that is too small, then you will know the answer must be choice D or E. 

Use your SAT practice time to practice this skill. You should soon be comfortable working backwards no more than 2 times per question, i.e. if choice C is too small and choice D is also too small, then you will know the answer must be choice E. This approach will help you manage your test time more efficiently and help you achieve the highest possible score on the SAT.

Use easy numbers when you need to plug in a value

With these questions, you will have to do the "leg work" yourself. Therefore, use easy small numbers. For percent questions, we suggest you use 100.

Approximation is useful when the answer choices are widely disparate

Should you encounter answer choices that are widely disparate, try approximation. For example, let's say you can closely guesstimate the answer to be 30%, and the answer choices are 4%, 13%, 29%, 47%, and 81%. In that case you will know the correct answer must be 29%.

Draw diagrams when they are not provided and they would be helpful

Many students find this a useful technique. Just keep the drawings simple and don't fret over just how accurate they are. You will not receive any bonus points for drawing the best right angle triangle inside your test booklet!

Remain calm and rational

If you see a question (it would most likely be a word question) that you have no idea how to solve, examine the answer choices for help. This frequently happens with "time" questions. Here is an example:

Bob can finish a book report in 3 hours and Linda can complete the same book report in 2 hours. How long would it take both of them to complete a book report if they worked together?

This may look very intimidating at first glance. However, logic tells us that since Linda can do this report herself in 2 hours, there is no way it should take both of them working together more than this amount of time. (No assumptions about goofing off are required for the SAT.)

The real answer, if you are curious is 1 hour and 12 minutes.

Where to go from here:

SAT problem solving practice questions

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