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The SAT: How to Study for SAT Math

how to study for SAT mathMore and more Canadian universities are requesting the SAT test as one of the requirements for admission. I am delighted to have a guest blogger today, sharing how to study for the Math portion of the SAT test for your homeschooler. Be sure to check out the great links she’s included! And watch for a post next week on the writing portion of the SAT. ~ Kimberly

SAT Math problems can be tricky, and the best way to succeed on the three SAT Math sections is to 1) thoroughly review all the tested concepts, and 2) approach each Math question with a solid, step-by-step strategy. There are two types of questions on SAT Math: Multiple Choice, and Grid-ins. The multiple choice questions will always offer you 5 answer choices, 1 of which is correct. The grid-ins are formatted in exactly the same way except they don’t have any answer choices. You must arrive at a numerical answer on your own, then bubble them in on the answer sheet. Good news: the grid-ins have no wrong answer penalty, so always guess!

Here’s how to approach each SAT Math question for maximum effectiveness:

Step 1 – Write down what the questions is really asking. You may need to find 1/y, instead of y. Or you may be asked about the “ratio of lemons in a jar to limes in a jar,” but have to solve for the two parts of the ratio first. Write down the end goal before you start solving.

Step 2 – Write down any key numbers, variables, or equations provided by the question. Don’t just skim the question and start solving. Forcing yourself to slow down and process each piece of information will give your brain time to sort through it. If you see an inequality for example, you might want to draw it on a number line quickly.

Step 3 – Examine the answer choices. Are they numbers, or variables? If they are numbers, would it be easier to plug in the answer choices (or backsolve) rather than doing the algebra? We can always use the fact that 1 out of the 5 is correct to our advantage, testing each choice! If they are variables, can we pick numbers to make the question simpler? For example, we can use “2” and “5” for “x” or “a number.” You can also choose numbers for unknown values in the question-stem. For example, on percents questions, always pick 100 for the starting value! It makes the math much easier.

Step 4 – Solve, writing every step down! Once you’ve decided how you’re going to solve (doing the math, backsolving, or picking numbers), go ahead and put it into effect! Many students make errors by trying to do steps in their head, or all on their calculator. Neatly write each step out so there’s no risk of making a simple math error that would cost you an easy point you should have gotten!

Step 5 – Double-check that your answer makes sense. Before you bubble in your choice, double-check your answer against what you wrote down in Step 1. Are you really done? Make sure you didn’t accidentally stop halfway by mistake. Many SAT Math problems have “intermediate” steps, and it’s easy to lose track of where you are as you solve!

Don’t forget to review your algebra and geometry concepts (luckily, there’s no Trig on SAT Math!). You’ll also need to review some number properties – factors/multiples, odds and evens, etc. Finally, even if you see a question that you have no idea how to solve on SAT Math (there’s likely to be a few), see if you can approximate or estimate. If the answer choices are very far apart, there’s often no need to fully solve. Can you round decimals to the nearest integer to approximate, or is there 1 or 2 answer choices that don’t seem logical?

This brings us to our final SAT Math tip: if you can eliminate at least one answer choice, GUESS! You’ll get +1 for each correct answer, and -1/4 for each incorrect answer, so as long as you can confidently eliminate at least one choice, always, always guess!

Vivian Kerr is a Los Angeles-based test prep tutor, blogger, and content creator for Learnist with 7+ years experience. She offers tutoring online via Skype for all sections of the SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT with GMATrockstar.com.

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Kimberly is a homeschooling mother of two living with her dear husband of over 25 years in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She works from home as a homeschool coach and offers OBM, writing, editing, social media, and tech services. In her free time she likes to hand-spin, knit, read, volunteer in local theatre, and horseback ride.

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