SAT Math – Test Taking Strategies

  • TIMING: The ideal time you should spend in a question is 30 seconds. If it is beyond that limit, skip it and return back to it after you have finished all of the easy questions. It is all about producing correct answers fast.
  • The first sets of questions in this section of the test are usually the easier questions, so don’t spend too much time answering them.
  • Minimize careless mistakes. Does your answer make sense/work? Guestimate.
  • Confidently perform basic calculations, such as multiplying, dividing, and sketching the graph of a line, without a calculator.
  • Picking numbers is a strategy that replaces variables with numbers that fit the criteria in the question, turning algebra into arithmetic.
    • For percentage problems, the number that is easiest to work with is almost always 100
    • If you need to pick 2 numbers, pick numbers that are far away from each other
    • use 0 or 1 when matching two expressions
  • Backsolving involves plugging the answer choices back into the question to see which one works.  
  • Memorize formulas and facts. If you memorize them well, you are more likely to ‘see’ a solution. For example, if you see “parallel lines” on the xy coordinate plane, you should recall that “no solution” and “the same slope” are common answers for this type of questions. Being able to spot solutions quickly will help you move through the section accurately and efficiently.
  • Take Estimates. Ballpark answers often allow to narrow down options.
  • If a question seems complicated and time consuming look for a shortcut to the answer. Don’t get involved in detailed calculations that are going to require a lot of time. Look at the answers provided and see if you can rule out any as incorrect answers. This will help narrow down your selection of possible correct choices.
    • Eliminate the obvious answer. If it seems too easy, it’s probably incorrect.
    • Eliminate repeat numbers. If a question shows a number in the problem and the same number is an answer choice, it’s probably a trick–don’t let them lure you in!
    • Eliminate the least or greatest number if it says “find the least or greatest number that fulfills certain conditions.”
    • Eliminate the answer “it cannot be determined from the information given.” This is usually a lure for students who are not able to solve the problem and likely to be incorrect in the difficult section.
  • If you come across a question with a strange symbol, just substitute the accompanying definition when attempting to figure out the correct answer.
  • Take the SAT More Than Once. Superscoring helps.
  • Find out your weakness and work on them
  • Multiply by Unit Conversion Factors when Converting Units
    Ex: 5 yrs * (365days / 1 yr) = 1825 days
  • Percentages: Ex: Adding 7 % results in factor 1.07 , losing 7% in .93 .
  • Word Problems Translation: “10k is 6 more than 8” results in 10k=6+8 and
    “10k is 6 less than 8” results in 10k=8-6 . Digest this.
  • Linear Functions: Use y-y1=m(x-x1) when given slope m and Pt(x1,y1) ,
    use y=mx+b when given slope m and y-intercept (often given in word problems)
  • System of Equation: Use Elimination over Substitution (unless given an isolated equation such as y=3x+8)
  • Solve Inequalities in the same way as solving Equalities.
  • Quadratics: Know Standard , Factored and Vertex Form.
  • Practice Analyzing Time-Distance and Time-Speed Graphs.
  • Learn from your Mistakes. Avoid them in the future!
  • Guesstimate: mostly on Geometry and Graph problems.
  • Know your Calculator: know how to graph functions, find intersections, Know how to use the Solver
  • Doublecheck Answers if time permits.
  • Revisit Problems: Place Checks when you feel confident, Place Stars for problems that are puzzling, leave the remaining problems unmarked and doublecheck those to avoid stupid mistakes.
  • Bubble in ALL problems in the last 3 minutes to stay in zone – only do if you know you will.

Watch this systematic approach:

Contains SAT tricks:

Common phrases that you will encounter and their meaning

  • Sum, more than = add
  • Difference, less than = subtract
  • Product, of, times = multiplication
  • Twice = 2 times
  • Quotient = division
  • Squares = multiply by itself
  • Is = equals
  • A number = a variable such as “x”
  • Integer = numbers without fractions or decimals (…-2, -1, 0, 1, 2…)
  • Consecutive integers = x + (x+1) + (x+2)…
  • Consecutive odd or even integers = x + (x+2) + (x+4)…

When taking the SAT Math Section, you should be sure to…

  • Divide and conquer,
  • Plug in and test the answer choices,
  • Estimate,
  • Learn the beautiful language of math!
  • Find out your weakness and work on them
  • Work on your Math content gaps
  • Choose SAT practice resources wisely
  • Monitor your time during practice tests
  • Memorize Math formulas
  • Learn some mental math tricks 

Mental Math Tricks:


This may sound silly, but if you don’t read carefully, you might solve for x when in reality the question asks for x+1. Guess what, if you get 5 for x, then 5 will be an answer choice even if the correct answer is 6 because you’re supposed to add 1. Imagine doing the hard part right – solving for x – but then you miss the question because you didn’t read carefully and didn’t add 1. Be careful!


When it comes to math, you need to understand exactly where you need to focus your studying. Do a timed practice and an untimed practice. Is your issue accuracy or time? If it’s accuracy, then drill down on which concepts you are struggling with most. If you’re scoring well but it takes you longer than the time limit, then you should focus your attention on time management.


On the math section on which calculators are allowed, use them. There is no shame in using your calculator. The colleges don’t know if you solved question 20 with a calculator or not. Even if you’re doing 5+3 and you’re the type of person who might make a mistake when stressed or working too quickly, use your calculator.


There is a huge strategy in the math section when you have variables in the answer choices. Remember, what is a variable? A variable just replaces a number. So instead of solving for n, m, or p, just make up numbers for those variables and solve the question. This is an excellent strategy to make the math much more straightforward. Just avoid ever using 0 or 1 because they have special properties.


The SAT loves to ask questions that would take minutes to solve, so look for patterns. If the decimal 0.2379823798 repeats every five numbers, then recognize that pattern instead of counting out 89 spots to find the 89th digit to the right of the decimal.


When you aren’t confident in your ability to answer a difficult question on an exam, it can be a good strategy to mark the question and come back to it. This approach will allow you to use your time efficiently and focus on the easier, less time-consuming questions first and then go back to the harder ones. Remember, if there is a question you believe you have no shot of answering correctly, then just guess and move on.


These tests are so predictable! They test the same concepts from algebra, geometry, algebra II, and arithmetic, so you have to put in the time to review all those equations. When’s the last time you really talked about prime numbers? So many students show up to the test thinking 1 is a prime number, which is not correct. What is the smallest prime number? Two is the smallest prime number!


This tip gets back to reading carefully. So many questions change units. They go from seconds to minutes, from inches to feet. You must be ready and you have to read carefully.


Never feel like you have to solve the questions in your head. If a diagram is described, draw it. If you’re given a diagram, label it. Use that information to help you visualize math problems.


This tip is very important. You will only grow in math if you are honest with yourself on where your gaps of knowledge exist. The math section is hard; you have to know five years of equations and content to do well on this section, so be honest with yourself on what you need to review to make sure you know fundamentals, equations, and formulas and how to apply them.