Of the three SAT sections – reading, writing, and math – the math section is perhaps the easiest section that one can prepare for and perhaps the only section that one can prepare completely for. The majority of math problems tested are not advanced level math and require a certain basic knowledge of the topic. Yet, the SAT math section can often be intimidating for many students because although the material rarely exceeds what they have learnt in school, the presentation and format of questions are usually different. The method of scoring is also very different – committing a computational error will not earn you any partial credit.
[Continue reading to find out how to best prepare for SAT Math…]
1. Understand the content. Although this might seem obvious, it must be reiterated and emphasized. Many students go into the examination venue thinking that they have learnt enough and could probably ‘wing’ the rest of the problem-solving process depending on the question. However, this creates two problems. First, although the SAT math questions are not incredibly difficult at the high school level, they are usually phrased in a way that requires you to have a good grasp of the concept tested. Half-baked knowledge just will not cut it. Also, remember that there is no partial credit given. Second, not having a good grasp on the concepts means that you will take longer to solve each problem, possibly creating the issue of running out of time for the math section.
While the SAT provides you with certain formulas, you will need to spend time truly learning the material well so that you will know straight away how to use the formula at hand. You will also be able to cut down on the time you spend referring back to the formula list during the actual test. Make sure that you have practiced using the formulas in previous math problems; I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. Additionally, memorize your geometric rules, multiplication tables, division tables, factors, fractions to decimals conversions and vice versa – basically any information that might spare you the unnecessary use of your calculator.
2. Sketch it out. One of the most common math problems is a geometric math problem. To tackle such problems, you should sketch it out! For such geometric problems or other similar pictorial problems that might have been described in words, it is best to have a drawing of the problem rather than trying to visualize it in your head, which also creates more potential for error. We will go through some of these math problems in future blog posts so keep an eye out for them!
3. Practice speed. As you practice for the SAT, one of the most important aspects is always the time factor. Knowing how to solve the problems usually isn’t enough – you also need to solve the questions within the allotted time frame. So, as you go through math practice tests, make sure that you don’t just skip over questions that you seem to know. Practice them! Making sure that you can do them quickly without making any errors will be a useful skill during the SAT.
Additionally, even if you are able to solve the math problem using your original method, step back to see if there are other ways that you can solve the problem more efficiently. For example, if you had been using a trial-and-error method to solve the problem, this is likely not the most efficient method to get the right answer. Try alternative methods or shortcuts that you have learnt from your teachers or friends. These alternative methods could also form your system of double-checking your answer!
About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!