SAT Mathematics

The Math section of the SAT is also 70 minutes long and spread out over three sections; likewise, two of these are 25-minutes sections, and one is 20 minutes long. There are 54 questions: 44 multiple-choice questions and 10 free-response questions.

Learning How to Solve the Questions

The math that is tested on the SAT Math section is not very advanced. You won’t have to do any calculus on the SAT; you won’t even need to know trigonometry (though it may help sometimes). Indeed, unlike the ACT Math section, which covers some pre-calculus topics, the SAT Math section goes little beyond what the average student completing geometry has learned. This characteristic of the section contributes to its validity as a predictor of a student’s potential to succeed in future math classes, as opposed to its being an indicator of what has been learned.

Now, do not take this as meaning that the Math section is particularly easy—basic, yes; but easy, not necessarily. You will still have to use a rather significant degree of reasoning to work through the questions. The best way to get good at solving SAT Math questions is to solve SAT Math questions; it is that straightforward. As I previously discussed in the section about The Blue Book, you need to take the time to understand why you missed a question and how to solve it correctly. The SAT won’t ever ask two questions that are perfectly analogous (i.e., just having different numbers plugged in); but the same types of problem- solving methods will predictably recur, and you will be able to recognize the most effective strategy for approaching that problem.

Among these typical strategies are plugging in numbers (an often-cited technique for good reason: it works well very frequently), drawing diagrams (usually for sorting out data), illustrating the question, or using the graphing feature of your calculator (often helpful as a shortcut way to solving some of the function questions). With respect to that last technique: if you are not comfortable using a graphing calculator, know that graphing will never be necessary to solving a question.

With practice, many students who do not actually consider themselves to be particularly strong at math are nonetheless able to score 700 or higher on the Math section.

See here for a basic and concise overview of nearly all of the knowledge that you will want to have to succeed on the Math section. Remember, though, that your problem-solving skills will be more important than your knowledge once you have the basics.

Solving Quickly but Correctly

The main thing preventing you from getting a 800 will be timing and errors. With practice you can nail the timing. Errors are much trickier.

The most obvious ways of protecting against this (the elimination of all errors cannot be ensured, but the chances can be minimized to nearly negligible levels) are through maintaining unrelenting concentration and establishing an appropriate pace. Many people, when taking practice tests, are perhaps a bit too casual: they dismiss silly mistakes as something that will not happen when they are taking the test “for real.” Like pace, concentration can be improved with effective practice. “Perfect practice makes perfect”.

An additional strategy is to mark the questions that you deem to be of highest risk for error and then go back to redo them. It’s unclear how beneficial this is but it’s better than just superficially scanning your answers and “rechecking”, which is rarely effective.

If you miss one and drop to 770, oh well. Life happens :)