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The Real Trick to SAT Math

A question we get all the time from SAT students is, “aren’t you going to show me some SAT test tricks and tips that will send my score soaring?” The answer is, “yes and no.” Of course we’re going to teach you all of the inside SAT test tips and tricks that we’ve taught thousands of students. Those will get you some quick points and you’ll be glad you knew them.

This is the third article in a series in our SAT Math Overview. The series includes:

The Real Trick to SAT Math

At the end of test day, however, a student who knows all of the SAT math concepts cold is always going to do better than a student who knows all the SAT test tips and tricks. What good are test-taking strategies when faced with a question about the interior angles of a rhombus?

Once you understand the basic SAT test math concepts, then you can supercharge your score with the TestSherpa strategies. Not the other way around.

SAT Math Reference Information

Before worry about SAT tips and tricks, it’s best to spend as much time as possible with the basics. At the beginning of the SAT Math section, the testmakers give you a SAT Math Reference box like the following filled with what looks like valuable information about geometry and formulae:

SAT Math Reference Information

As you’re working through the test, you may be tempted to think that the answer to many of the questions is somehow hidden in this box. The truth is, you will need to know the information, but you shouldn’t waste time by referring to the box on test day. If each time you flip the page and look up a formula takes 15 seconds, you could easily lose two points just by running out of time because you didn’t know these formulae down cold.

Your second thought might be that you should memorize the formulae. The concepts in the formulae are only important if you really understand what they mean and how they are presented on the test. For example, you will not get a question that says, “which of the following is the formula for the area of a triangle?” But you will be shown triangles and need to apply the formula to get to the correct answer, such as figuring the side of an isosceles or comparing the area of two triangles.

Higher SAT Scores with Critical Thinking Skills

The TestSherpa SAT Prep course will give you familiarity with specific questions and how to approach them with the critical thinking skills you need for the highest SAT scores possible.

Consider the following example:

Which has the largest area, a right triangle with sides of 3, 4, and 5 inches, or a circle with a radius of 3 inches?

The first temptation is to start plugging numbers into formulae. The area of a circle is πr2 and the area of a triangle is ½bh. In this case, πr2 is equal to π32 which is equal to π9 which is equal to about 28.26. And ½bh is equal to ½ x 3 x 4 which is equal to 6. So the answer is the circle. But that might take a while to plug in those numbers.

SAT Math BasicsAnother approach would be to draw a sketch like this and come up with the answer more intuitively, and more quickly, saving time for other questions.

Just by looking at the sketch you know the circle has to have a larger area. If you saved an extra 30 seconds on five of these questions, you might be able to pick up a couple points by spending more time in the hard section.

Don’t worry if this doesn’t seem obvious at first. It takes a lot of study and practice to learn the critical thinking skills that will save valuable time in the SAT Math section. But with every TestSherpa module and every practice test you take, think about what you could have done to get to the answer faster.

If an obvious solution doesn’t jump out at you right away, there’s nothing wrong with doing it the old-fashioned way. Not every question has an appropriate intuitive path and even if they did, you couldn’t be expected to find it 100-percent of the time. In general, however, the SAT is deliberately designed to reward you for critical thinking more than for raw computation. It is worth investing a few moments in each question to see if an intuitive approach you learned in your practice jumps out at you.

Next, read about the SAT Math Calculator Policy.

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