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Answering SAT Math Questions: An Approach

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Today we’re going to look at one possible approach to answering the multiple choice questions found in the Math section of the SAT. The idea behind this strategy is to learn as much about the question and the answer choices as you possibly can before you actually begin to do any math. Keep in mind that this is only one possible approach. No single strategy will work for every student. However, if mathematics isn’t your strong suit or if you are struggling to complete the questions in time, give this approach a try and see if it helps improve your score.


Carefully Read the Question and the Answer Choices

Read the question itself as carefully as you can within the time limits of the exam. As with the Reading section, students often overlook a single, critical aspect of the question. Make sure you know the meaning of every single word in a question before you begin to answer it.


Next, read the answer choices. You want to look at the answer choices before you begin actually answering the question because the College Board doesn’t choose incorrect choices at random. Each one represents a particular mistake that the CB expects students to make. So consider the relationship between the numbers found in the choices and look for patterns among them. Are they all the same number of digits? Are they all integers of one another? Are there any choices that don’t conform to the pattern established by the others?


Evaluate any Diagrams

Your next step should be to consider any diagrams. Ask yourself if the diagram is drawn to scale and if any dimensions of the diagram left out of the diagram itself are included elsewhere in the question. If the diagram is to scale, it is often (but not always) possible to solve the question by the diagram alone. If the diagram is not drawn to scale, the reason is almost always that doing so would give away the correct answer. Try redrawing the diagram to scale and/or including any information not originally found in the diagram itself. This will get you very close to the correct answer and may even give you the correct answer outright.


Consider What Type of Math You Actually Need to Use

Once you have evaluated the question, the answer choices, and any diagrams, you should have a pretty clear idea of which specific mathematical terms and concepts are involved in answering the question. These are your keys to figuring out what sorts of operations you’ll need to perform in order to successfully answer the question. Focus exclusively on these concepts. Don’t waste time considering types of math that don’t relate directly to the terminology found in the question.


Find the Fastest and Simplest Answer

All SAT Math questions are designed to be solved in less-than 30 seconds. Before you choose your final answer, identify the answer choice with the simplest and most straightforward path to the solution.


Double-Check the Answer Choices

Now that you’ve considered all of the above, you should have a clear idea of what the correct answer choice is. However, there is one final step you should take. Before moving on to the next question, double check the answer choices that you did not choose. At this point, you should be able to identify why the other choices are wrong and why the College Board decided to include them. If you can’t come up with a reason for why a particular choice is wrong, that’s a sign that you may have misunderstood some part of the question. If you can’t identify what is wrong with several of the answer choices, then you have definitely missed something important. Run through the steps again quickly, looking specifically for any bits of relevant information that you may have missed on your first pass.

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