SAT Math Test - Best Approach

How to Approach

The 2016 SAT Math Test is an assessment that evaluates problem-solving abilities in a variety of contexts. Knowledge of math is obviously important, but Math Test scores can benefit from test-taking approaches that make strategic use of memorization, time management skills, and familiarity with the test. The best possible student performance results from preparation that incorporates both subject-matter study and regimented practice with exercises that are specific to the new SAT Math Test.

Targeted Memorization and Time Management

The new SAT Math Test includes a reference section with 11 standard mathematical formulas (such as for the area of a circle). Students would be well-advised to consult practice tests and memorize all formulas in this reference section, which will save time when taking the test. It is a good idea to practice solving problems using these formulas to sharpen these computational skills. Memorizing the format of the SAT Math Test in terms of number and types of questions, time allotted, and division of skills will allow students to carefully proceed according to individual math strengths and weaknesses when taking the test. With 80 minutes given for a total of 58 questions, a literal interpretation would allow approximately 1 minute and 23 seconds per question. However, all questions on the SAT Math Test are not equal in terms of the effort required both from the general student population and in terms of the specific background of a given student. Test-takers should allow additional time for questions on mathematical skills with which they have more difficulty. Students should also anticipate devoting extra time to the gridded response questions, which take longer to answer due to the fact that a numerical response must be provided along with filling in the appropriate circles.

Guessing Answers

The 2016 SAT no longer penalizes students for incorrect answers. Students should therefore provide answers to all multiple choice questions, even if these are only guesses. Statistically speaking, guesses can make a substantive difference in a student's section and test scores. 45 of the SAT Math Test's 58 questions (almost 78%) are multiple choice, each with four answer choices, which correlates to a 25% probability of a correct answer. Guessing on eight multiple choice questions, for example, would be statistically likely to result in at least two additional correct answers in comparison to not answering those questions. This would boost the total number of correct answers (which the College Board refers to as the "raw score") by about 3.5%. Conversion of raw scores to test and section scores is a complex process meant to account for variations of difficulty level across multiple test administrations, but College Board data show that two additional correct answers can turn a 760 section score into a 790 or a 610 into a 630.

Verifying Answers, Effective Use of a Calculator, and Basic Math

If time allows, testing of answers to formula questions should be undertaken by plugging in random values for variables. This approach will confirm answer choices. The 2016 SAT Math Test includes both calculator and no-calculator segments. Students can benefit in the former segment by learning which types of computations are appropriate for calculator use. When used correctly, a calculator can save a significant amount of time on test day, but students may also waste time if they rely on a calculator too heavily. College Board test writers have purposely developed the calculator questions to challenge test-takers' understanding of this distinction, and students should be aware that some of the problems on the calculator segments of the SAT Math Test are most quickly solved without a calculator. The no-calculator portions of the SAT math test are deliberately intended to assess test-takers' ability to perform basic mathematical computations. Students should include ample practice in basic math problems while preparing for the SAT Math Test.

Preparation Options

Successful performance on the 2016 SAT Math Test is ultimately the result of careful and informed practice. Students taking the new SAT are presented with an overwhelming number of self-guided preparation options, from books and DVDs to online video-recorded lessons. Few students derive the greatest possible benefit from these approaches to SAT preparation. Self-study methods are less than ideal in their relative lack of accountability and personalized attention to specific student test prep requirements. Published research has convincingly demonstrated the value of professional SAT instruction. An experienced tutor or classroom instructor can usually provide the best results through assessment of individual student needs, live interaction during the preparation process, regular and specific feedback, and structure with respect to teaching and study time.