SAT Tip of the Week: Breaking Down the Math Section

SAT Tip of the Week - Full Last week, we discussed how to break down the Writing Section of the SAT. Today, we’re focusing on Math.

Anyone can get an 800 on SAT Math. It doesn’t matter if you struggle just to get through class in high school or you’ve tested out of advanced Calculus. The content of the SAT Math section is designed in a completely different manner than that of conventional math class. This is good news for anyone who wants a high score on the SAT. This means regardless of how you might fare in class, you can succeed on the math section . All it takes is knowledge of Algebra I and II, Geometry, and basic arithmetic. If you have all that down (and work hard to understand patterns of SAT questions) you will be on the road to success! Here are some helpful tips that will assist you dominate the SAT math sections.

ORDER AND DIFFICULTY. There are three sections on the test. There is one twenty five minute, twenty question section (all multiple choice). There will be another twenty five minute, eighteen question section (eight multiple choice and ten grid in questions). Finally, you will have a twenty minute, sixteen question section near the end of the test composed solely of multiple choice questions.

The SAT math questions follow the “order of difficulty rule.” More specifically, question one is the easiest and question twenty is the hardest. The same rule follows on the sixteen question, twenty minute section. The order of difficulty resets on the grid in section, with questions increasing in difficulty from one to eight and then restarting from nine to eighteen. The one caveat to this rule is when you have a graph of table and two questions referring to the example. In this case the first question is fairly easy and the second question is significantly more difficult. If you find yourself having trouble with these remember that the question is generally more challenging than the normal question for that stage of the test. These types of questions appear almost always near the middle of a section.

TYPES OF QUESTIONS. It’s important to be aware of where each question lies on the spectrum of the test. If a question is in the early stages and you are having trouble with it, it is fair to say you are probably doing something wrong. These questions are usually pretty easy and only take a step or two to solve. On the other hand, if there is a question near the end of the test and you solve it pretty quickly, you might have fallen into a trap laid by the SAT. These questions are multi-step problems that require a level of critical analysis before using math to find the answer.

In addition to the order of difficulty it is helpful to be cognizant of the type of questions that come up on the test. A lot of times, a more difficult question will deal with geometric figures. Occasionally, this will be asking for the volume of a cylinder or something of that nature. However, the bulk of these types of questions deal with circles. The circles can have circumscribed squares or triangles, they can be on graphs, or they can be asking for the arc, radius, or area of segments. Whatever the case may be, it will serve you very well to familiarize yourself with the difficult circle questions. Many students are able to solve one or two difficult questions each test just from practicing the multiple variations of these types of problems.

CONCEPTUAL TRICKS. In addition to geometric figures, the SAT will also try to get you with abstract concepts through the use of multiple variables. The best thing to do in this case is to plug in numbers for the variables. Whenever you do this it takes abstract ideas and turns them into concrete concepts. Doing this helps you avoid traps the SAT sets knowing students will try to solve these problems using letters instead of numbers.

If you understand the structure of the test, do enough practice tests and sections, and remember to study geometric figures and plug in numbers, there is no doubt you will succeed on the Math sections of the SAT.

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Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.