On the SAT math section, you will have a cumulative 80 minutes to solve a total of 45 multiple choice questions and 13 grid-ins. The grid ins are basically open form short answers in response to a given prompt.  In the first part of the math section, a calculator will not be allowed. You must rely on your knowledge base and the select formulas that are provided by the test itself. In the second part, you will be allowed a calculator but it must be a simple one. One without the ability to save numbers or equations.

Algebra will play a role in the exam as you will be asked to solve for variables, linear equations, inequalities, and functions. They will also ask you to graph many of these functions. Y=mx+b will be an essential formula to understand.

Tattoo it on your forehead if you must because you don’t want to forget it. It is used to graph a linear equation on the Y-axis. There will be questions giving you some of the variables in that equation and asking you to solve for the unknowns.

multiple rulers on a piece of graph paper with a pen
Topics on the SAT Math section include Algebra, Trigonometry, Linear Equations, and more. Photo cred: Benjamin Smith on Upsplash

Trigonometry will also be included in the math section. Here you will need to be able to understand angles and other values relative to shapes like triangles, squares, trapezoids, and hexagons. Calculating the resulting angles of the intersection of two points will be a concept that is repeated many times. It is a core idea in math that expands to many other realms. Chord lengths and areas of sectors will follow from the other trigonometric questions so if this is a weak point for you, make sure to practice these questions many times over.

Make sure you understand complex number equations and how to calculate the volume of various shapes. These seem like separate items but they can be combined in some of the SAT questions. There will be prompts that will stump you. It's not fun but you’re there for a high score and it wouldn’t be right if you didn’t put all your effort into it. You are fortunate in that the SAT can be retaken as many times as you like to improve your score but that seems to defeat the purpose of the test. Think of it as an opportunity to show your college how skilled and knowledgeable you truly are.

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Where to even begin?

You find yourself in a coffee shop scouring the internet for tips, tricks, and guides for the SAT exam. It’s absolutely daunting because there are so many options to choose from. Some are free, others are crazy expensive but you know that you need to start studying.  SAT math prep is the essential starting point for those that plan on taking the test. Whether you are starting from scratch or are an experienced test taker, the multiple-choice and write in aspects will present a new challenge to you. You will need to develop new strategies and plan your study schedule. The schedule will need to fit with the rest of your life because if it doesn’t, you won't study. If you don’t study, your odds of reaching the score you’re working for is far less likely.

Finding Your Ideal SAT Score

Practice will be key. When you first start your journey to SAT math glory, you will be looking around wondering which path to take. Your budget should be a consideration because there are some classes that can be quite pricey. There are also free options like Kahn Academy and YouTube. Whereas private tutors can help you make a plan.

The first plan of attack is to go through your current section and answer all the questions you are sure of. Once you have done that, return to the beginning of the book. When you look at a question, start thinking about which answers are incorrect. Look through the 4-5 potential answers and think, ‘Why is this one wrong?’ If it’s wrong, put a line through it. You have just increased your odds of finding the right answer. On every question, your goal should be to prove why at least two of the options are incorrect, and then it will make your decision on the right one much easier.

While you are going through the questions and you’re in the flow, you get stumped. This one question just isn’t making any sense. Try rewriting the question in your own words. This can be super helpful because it forces you to rethink the question and pull out what it is really asking.

pen in hand working on some homework
You can find official practice tests on the College Board website.  Photo cred: Green Chameleon on Upsplash

Where Are The Practice SAT Tests?

College Board designs the SAT test. They are also providing official practice tests. Taking the PSAT will be a huge leap forward in preparation for the actual exam. They used to offer 10 official practice tests to the public for free. The College Board has since removed 2 of the tests. There are still various sites online that continue to host the two tests that have been taken down.

The College Board has also partnered with the Kahn Academy team to develop a program that provides SAT exam prep to the masses. An added benefit of this new program is that it will even give you feedback regarding your performance once the test is completed. Years ago, the only feedback one received whether an answer was correct or not.

Taking the SAT is not only about answering the questions. Strategy and endurance need to be a consideration in your pretest routines Think of test prep like you’re training for an upcoming race. You already have the day of the event planned but you need to starting running and getting your endurance up. There are various types of exercises that will add strength in different ways. Focusing on your weak points will improve the overall racer. Exercises have benefits extending beyond the actual exercise itself. Tempering the mind for the many hours the test takes and working on staying focused will be essential for making it to the end of the test.

There are also a ton of practice tests online all over the web. They can be great practice because they will focus on subjects like math and reading and comprehension but the way the questions are worded or the style of those unofficial tests can be different so you risk training for the wrong race. Generally, it is recommended to stick with the official tests because they will look and feel most similar to the real exam. You will learn the language and diction they use and hopefully figure out some of their tricks as well.

slide rule on a blank white background
Private tutors are especially helpful as a resource for exam strategies and tips.  Photo cred: Wim van 't Einde on Upspalsh

SAT Test Prep with a Private Tutor

Is it better to enroll in a formal class? To choose a private SAT math teacher? Should you go the self-practice route and not even get a tutor? Each option has its pros and cons. An SAT math tutor will provide a personalized guide and path for your learning. They will be able to carry over their past experiences and professional insights. They will know how to best attack the test. They will suggest which topics to focus on. They will show you other tips that can help increase your odds of selecting the correct answer.

Weaknesses are an important factor to consider as well. Everyone is strong in certain areas but more often is a lack of awareness as to their weaknesses. Through practice, the student will display a lacking in algebra for example which means that this should be a focus of improvement. Solving for variables is a topic in the math section of the SAT. From working on these weaknesses, you will see your greatest improvement. The improvements will translate into a much higher score when the test results come in.

The desired score will also be a factor in determining whether to get an SAT math tutor or keep training on your own. Considering the maximum score for the overall exam is 1600 points, your goal should be relative to the college or university you are applying to. If you are applying to an Ivy League, you’ll likely need to score in the 1400-1600 range. They want to see a near-perfect score on the exam whereas other universities may be more lenient.

Another factor to consider is that there are myriad websites with accurate and insightful videos regarding math problems that will be encountered on the SAT. YouTube is a fantastic resource for self-study because there are innumerable videos to choose from on any given topic and if you don’t vibe with the instructor, you can just go to the next video. The other great aspect is that the algorithms they use will prune the uploaded videos and the best ones will rise to the top of the search. This means that generally on any given search, the best video will populate. It has risen to the top likely because it is accurate, insightful, and explained in a way that it will be easily understood.

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Seth