The ABCs of SAT Math

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By now, you would think that I’d be able to calculate the score of my students’ practice exams in my head. However, the calculator is still my best friend. Many, like me, were scared when they heard that there is a non-calculator section on the new SAT. But after studying the new exam, there should be no fear. Below are some important things you need to know about the math questions on the new SAT:

1. The test is aligned with the Common Core

This means a lot of students will be preparing for the SAT in school without even knowing it! The Common Core algebra course that many 9th graders are enrolled in prepares them for this exam. Therefore, students should save their notes!

2. There are many word problems, almost all of which are different versions of y = mx + b (slope-intercept form)

Students must understand what each variable means, how to get each variable, and the relationship each variable has to one another (How do certain variables affect the others?). It’s easy to get lost in the wordy descriptions, so using a few seconds to take inventory of the information given is very important.

3. Focus on solving multistep problems

Multistep problems have several levels that students need to complete and build off of in order to get to the final answer. Students should be sure to know what is being asked, what they already know from the problem, and what they need to know in order to solve the question. The first variable they solve for will probably not be the final answer, but a component to use in the next step – so they shouldn’t jump the gun by marking it as the solution!

4. Students need to brush up on old skills for the non-calculator section

The non-calculator sections include things like long division and arithmetic problems with fractions and large numbers on which students can make careless errors. The calculator sections go up through trigonometry (SOH-CAH-TOA, radians measure, co-functions, etc.) and quadratics (vertex parabolas, etc.) to mimic the Common Core.

5. Be ready for a lot of chart reading

Students have been learning how to read charts since they were born and these questions are often the easiest. In most cases, all the information needed to solve the problem is right there on the paper! This means that these questions are less focused on recalling information learned in math class, and more on the ability to accurately read a chart – a skill that can be used systematically time and time again.

As you can see, even people like me who suffer from arithmophobia (fear of math!) can handle whatever the SAT math sections throw at us. It’s all about treating each problem like a procedure, following the clear steps instilled in you by teachers and tutors alike. Once you practice completing enough of these questions, you too will recognize the commonalities and patterns in the process of solving them!

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