April 19, 2013

SAT Math Section and College Admissions

This week, it's time to focus on the SAT’s math section. There are many factors that make the math section of the SAT easier to game than the verbal. Keep in mind though that SAT scores are normalized on a bell curve so your competition isn’t the test as much as it is fellow test takers. Here are some important tips:

1. The math section does not require having taken high-level math classes in high school.

This is probably the single most important point about the section that people should know. Many people who believe they lack mathematical aptitude immediately decide that since they are not going to perform well on this section. Nothing could be further from the truth. The SAT’s creators are simply not allowed to create questions that even a minority of test takers have never encountered, so trust me, you have the knowledge to do very well. However, the test must sort through students who are good and bad at math somehow right? So what do they actually test?

2. Most of the SAT math section involves “trick” questions.

Remember, the SAT’s questions get harder as each section progresses. The first batch of questions will require little to no outside the box thinking. As the questions get harder, there are usually increasing number of stumbling blocks. Usually an individual question will require one or two key insights that will allow you to solve the problem. If you have solved a problem near the end of a section with great ease, it is likely that you have made a mistake. This is especially confirmed when you get an answer that is amongst the answer choices. It is likely that you have fallen for a trick and the answer was a trap answer. The SAT math section is full of trap answers. If you are doing a hard question and can’t seem to find the part where they try to fool you, it may be advantageous to just skip the question.

3. Check your work.

Let’s face it, we all make silly mistakes. It is of incredible importance that you briefly check any simple math that you do. There is no bigger crime than knowing how to tackle a problem and not getting the points you deserve because you mistakenly added instead of subtracted. Review any basic math that you do. Make sure you have brought a calculator with you as you are more likely to make a mistake trying to do it mentally or on paper than a calculator is.

4. There will be no need for calculators.

This does not mean you shouldn't bring one, though. What I mean by this is that since the SAT’s website says you don’t have to bring a calculator. This means that in the process of solving a problem you will not get any numbers that are extremely difficult to work with without a calculator. If in the process of solving a problem, you begin to get ridiculous numbers, you have likely made a mistake.

5. On word problems, check your answer by using common sense.

The questions on the SAT are very designed and checked again and again. Not only will you not get ridiculous numbers to work with, all of your answers will “make sense.” For example, on a geometry problem Janie will not build a fence with a perimeter of one million feet or one-tenth of a foot. This will also help you on geometry problems. For example, your perimeter or radius will not be a negative number. If you see any answers like this, you can immediately cross them off. Everything on the SAT will make sense in this sense of the term.

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