Man, wouldn’t it be nice if I could really just put down some quick tips and tricks that’d lead you to the 800 on your SAT math section? It’s not that simple, which I’m sure you probably realize. There’s no one silver bullet—no “weird trick” that’ll get you a high score. That’s because the SAT isn’t a simple test; doing particularly well asks a number of different skills of you. That’s true of every section of the test, but it’s especially pertinent when talking about the math section.
So it’s not easy, right, but what do you need to do to ace SAT math?
Know the Material
You’ll see a range of different kinds of math on the test. A lot of those questions are going to be based in simple algebra and plane-old Euclidean geometry (get it!?), yes, but you’ll also see questions on combinations, 3D objects, parabolas, rates & ratios, and more that you might not have a ton of experience with. That means learning formulas that you haven’t needed to memorize before and reading up on topics outside of your normal studies. Doing your school homework alone won’t usually cut it, not unless you’re going through math classes that really cover all the bases; If you want to ace the test, you need to have seen and practiced even the rare stuff that your school math curriculum may not focus heavily on. And that brings me to my next point…
Practice Is the Only Way
Let me make this unequivocally clear: without practice, you can’t make progress. Learning by watching or reading is a start, true, but until you use the skills and strategies yourself, you won’t really improve all that much. By the time you take the test, you should be able to write a short book on SAT math. The best way to drive lessons home is to use them, and use them often. You want that top score? Then roll your sleeves up; there’s no shortcut out of this.
Use the Real Thing
Alright, so practice is enormously important, sure. But that’s all for nothing if you’re practicing with a 3rd-grader’s math workbook. And although most SAT prep material out there is better than that, there’s some material that’s straight up misleading. You need to have great SAT resources in order to really learn the subtleties of the test. Strategies that would be enormously helpful on the real test might be useless with poor practice questions, or vice versa.
Manage Your Time
In a perfect world, you’d have plenty time to pick apart every tricky question the SAT throws at you, but that’s not going to happen. There will be questions that make you sweat and watch the clock’s second hand. You have to know not to get stuck on those ones, to know when it’s time to guess, move on, and come back. If you want a top score, then you absolutely have to give a reasonable effort on every question in a section. Getting stuck on question number fifteen for seven minutes and then guessing randomly on every question beyond that doesn’t fly. A top scorer only guesses on a couple of questions, if even that, so knowing how to deal with the one that stumps you is vital.
Love the Test
If you don’t already know the SAT well, you might be surprised at how much fun it can be. The problems are puzzles, in the end. And if you see them for what they are, then you’ll A) be more engaged and B) be happier to practice—and we’ve already established how important that is.
There’s no quick and easy way to the top. It takes time, patience, focus and effort. If you’re shooting for a 90+ percentile score, then be real about where you are and what you’ll need to get there. It’s not something you can lock down in a week. If you scored a 500 last time you took the test, don’t expect a 750 this time unless you’ve been prepping like it’s your full-time job. But no matter where you are, keep in mind that above all, you need to practice and learn from your errors.