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Ken’s SAT Math Strategy

Ken’s SAT Math Strategy

I tutor SAT Math and over the years I’ve learned a lot. This crib sheet is short and sweet, but it’s the result of years of experience helping students boost their scores.

SAT Math is an interesting test. Being good at Math is not enough to score high. You also need test taking techniques. This crib sheet reveals my personal method.

First, in terms of test dates, latest news and how to register for the Math SAT go to the people who write and administer the test, The College Board The College Board

Alert! Big changes are coming to the SAT Math test. The paper and pencil test is going away and it will become totally online in 2023 for international students and in 2024 for US students. It will also be shorter and an on screen calculator will be available for the entire test. It's also possible that grid-ins will be replaced. Always check with the College Board for the latest information.

Now let’s start.
No matter how good or bad you are at Math we’re going to boost your score.

The current pencil and paper SAT Math test has two parts:
No Calculator: 25 minutes. 20 questions (15 multiple-choice, 5 Grid-in).
Calculator allowed: 55 Minutes. 38 questions (30 multiple-choice, 8 Grid-in).

A grid-in is just another way of supplying your answer. You mark them on a grid on the answer sheet. So make sure you know how to grid-in, play with this for a while until you’re totally comfortable. You don’t want to waste valuable time on test day learning how to grid-in. Do that now. How to do grid-ins

OK, so now you can supply your answers with multiple choice or grid-in. Good. These things are just test mechanics.

Now let's look at strategy.

Notice the test is timed. So time management is critical. Absolutely critical. It's important that you attempt every single question on the test. That’s why we’re going to use a 3 pass method. That’s right, you’re going to scan and answer questions in 3 separate passes.

Pass 1: The easy pass.
Read every question, but only answer those that you feel very confident about. Very confident you know the answer. Read the whole test and answer these. Skip any question you don’t like. Don’t waste time on these questions. Don't even start work on them. Skipping a question means skipping it instantly.

Pass 2: The maybe pass.
Now go back and read the questions again. This time answer those that you feel you have a reasonable chance of answering. Do not get hung up on any question. If you can’t answer a question in a reasonable time, go to the next question. Wasting time is a score killer. Never spend more than 1 minute trying to answer a question.

Pass 3: The impossible pass.
Now go back and read the questions again. By now the only questions left are the impossible questions. These are those where you have absolutely no clue. So you’re simply going to guess an answer. If there are 4 multiple choice answers you’re simply going to pick one. So your chance of being correct is 1 in 4. Yes? Not always. In many cases there’s a trick to put probability on your side. To illustrate this consider the following question from a real SAT Math test:

For which value of c does 2x^2 + c = 8x have exactly 1 solution?

A) -8
B) 0
C) 2
D) 8

Imagine you have no clue. So you’re simply going to guess. That’s a 1 in 4 chance. But before you guess, look at the answers. Why is 8 mentioned twice? One is 8 and the other is -8. It's for those people who can answer this by doing actual calculations but may make a mistake in the sign of their answer. So the answer is 8 or -8 and now you have a 1 in 2 chance of being correct. But wait, in the equation c is positive, so why not guess 8 as opposed to -8. And you would be correct. That's a slew of extra points just by using intelligent guessing. The moral of the story: with multiple choice questions, the answer options can often help you, even if you have no clue of the math involved. Intelligent guessing is a powerful way to boost your score.

Content written and posted by Ken Abbott
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