FOUR THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR SAT MATH
Half of SAT Score
Remember that math makes up 50% of your overall SAT score. The Reading and Writing sections
combined are worth 800 points (400 points each), whereas the Math sections are worth 800 points. It is therefore crucial that students dedicate the appropriate amount of time to practicing math questions.
One of the ironies of SAT math is that too much dependence on a calculator can actually become more of a burden than an asset. To be sure, there certainly are some math problems that are much easier to work through if one has a calculator, and students should definitely bring their calculators with them on test day. However, there are far more examples of SAT math problems that appear to require a calculator on first look, but are actually easier to solve without one.
The current SAT has two math sections: a “NO CALCULATOR” section and a “CALCULATOR
ALLOWED” section. Is this to suggest that the “CALCULATOR ALLOWED” section has questions that
can only be done with the assistance of a calculator? Of course not. There is a difference between
“CALCULATOR ALLOWED” and “CALCULATOR NEEDED.” In my experience, a calculator is of
great help (in the sense that it will help you solve the question more quickly) to about 10% of this section. The vast majority of questions can be solved without a calculator; in fact, there are many math questions on this section that are easier to solve without a calculator.
Many students, when they begin prep for SAT math, will get some kind of prep book (Barrons, Princeton Review, Kaplan, etc) and go to the section of the book that lays out a bunch of math information that students will need to be knowledgeable about (almost like yet another math textbook). In my opinion, this is a waste of time. The first thing you should do is go right to work on a practice test (remember that the College Board website has eight free practice tests posted on its site). Work through several math sections (both “NO CALCULATOR” and “CALCULATOR ALLOWED”); doing so will quickly give you a sense of of the types of questions that show up regularly vs. the types that show up occasionally or rarely. You will also quickly get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Why spend time going over math material in a prep book when you probably remember most of it? Don’t waste your time. Work through real questions. Any problems you encounter (forgetting a math concept, or a formula, etc) can then be addressed.
This is a crucial point. After any particular math section, check the answers—but do so with rigorous honesty. What do I mean? Let’s say you get 17 our of 20 correct on a no-calculator math section. Well, that’s awesome! However, it will be important for you to know how many of the 17 that you got correct were arrived at as a result of knowledge vs. how many were correct as a result of luck. Another consideration is the length of time it takes to answer a particular question. If you got a question correct, but it took you two or three minutes to get it, then you need to find a way to do it more quickly. There are NO math problems on the SAT that should take more than ninety seconds to two minutes to solve. You most definitely need to find a quicker way to work through it. So be happy that you got 17 correct. Do not, however, miss out on some significant learning opportunities that will help improve your performance.