Tips for the Mathematics Section of the SAT

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Here are some tips for writing the mathematics section of the SAT:

• Because most of the mathematics section of the SAT is multiple-choice, most of the tips on the multiple-choice test tips page apply.
• Because you are penalized ¼ point for incorrect answers in the multiple-choice section, random guessing is unlikely to be of any benefit to you. However, educated guessing, where you eliminate answers that are obviously wrong before guessing, will usually work in your favour.
• If you can't solve a question in the student-produced response section, guess a number between 1 and 9 (unless the question is asking for a year as an answer or something like that; in that case, enter a reasonable-looking year). Many of the answers to these questions are small numbers, so a number like that is often a good guess.
• Avoid time-consuming computations when writing the SAT. If something looks very complicated, it's very likely there's a shortcut.
• Diagrams on the SAT are drawn to scale unless noted otherwise, so you can often make a good estimate of the answer from them.
• Here are a few tips about calculators:
• You don't need a calculator for any of the questions on the SAT, but it's a good idea to bring one; on a high-stakes test on the SAT, it's easy to "blank out" and forget how to do things, and this is where a calculator comes in handy.
• You don't need an expensive calculator; for example, a calculator such as the TI-30XS scientific calculator can be purchased for under \$20 and has a lot of features useful for the SAT, including fraction display and a table of values feature. However, if money's no object for you, get a graphing calculator with CAS (computer algebra system), such as the TI-Nspire CX CAS graphing calculator.
• No matter what type of calculator you decide to use, ensure that you're familiar with your calculator and its features by using it regularly for 1 to 3 months before the SAT.
• Make sure to change or recharge your calculator's batteries the day before, and/or bring a backup calculator or batteries.
• Because the SAT is written under strict time limits, it's good to know how to perform arithmetic in your head; it's faster to do arithmetic in your head than on your calculator. You may want to practice doing mental arithmetic and learn about about calculation shortcuts.
• When studying, make sure that you understand plane geometry concepts, especially triangles and circles, which appear frequently on the SAT.
• When studying for the SAT, the best questions to solve are real SAT questions. You can find some free material on the College Board's web site; if you need more questions, the best place to find them is in the book The Official SAT Study Guide. Using these questions instead of ones created by third parties help you to be better prepared for the test because the same people write these questions using the same set of rules, they cover the same content, and they use the same vocabulary and have the same idiosyncracies as the questions you'll see on the SAT.
• Because the SAT is (for now, anyway) a written test, you might find that printed test prep materials help to prepare you better for writing the actual test than online materials.
• If you're buying test prep materials, don't buy used items that contain writing from the previous owner; it will make it hard for you to assess your own skill.
• When studying, don't spend time memorizing a lot of formulas; the SAT doesn't require you to memorize formulas, so you'll find most of your time to be wasted. It's better to understand the basic concepts underlying the formulas so that you can apply them in whatever way the SAT requires you to do.
• When studying, don't just focus on the content that the SAT covers; also focus on strategies and tactics that will help you solve questions and solve them quicker.
• If you suffer from "test anxiety," it's a good idea to take steps towards beating it before writing such a high-stakes test as the SAT. There are many ways of doing so; I would suggest reading Choke by Sian Beilock for some suggestions.

For more information on doing well on the mathematics section of the SAT, see my book, Succeeding in SAT Math: How to Ace the Mathematics Section of the SAT.

Note that these tips pertain to the current version of the SAT, not the new SAT that will be offered starting in Spring 2016 (although the majority probably would still apply to the revised SAT).