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SAT Math Rules

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Like every section of the SAT, the Math exam has its own set of unofficial guidelines or “rules.” Today we’re going to look at some of these rules that the College Board consistently applies when creating SAT Math exams. Keeping these in mind will make studying for the SAT much easier and help ensure that you don’t waste time studying concepts that will not be tested on the Math exam.


No “Clues” for Terminology

On the SAT verbal sections you can usually figure out the meanings of tricky words through context clues or synonymous language. This is not the case on the Math section. The questions usually provide little or no context about the terms that are being used. If you don’t know what an exponent, integer, or prime factor is, you usually won’t be able to figure it from the test itself. Fortunately, you don’t have to memorize a ton of terminology because of the next rule.


Limited Scope

Like all sections of the SAT, the Math exam tests you on a finite number of concepts. The SAT will test you on only the following mathematical subject matter: properties of integers; word problems; number lines; squares and roots; fractions and rational numbers; factors; multiples; remainders; prime numbers; ratios, proportions, and percentages; sequences; set theory; permutation and combination; algebraic expressions; exponents; equation usage; inequalities; quadratic equations; linear and quadratic functions; basic geometry; and statistics. This might seem like a lot of material, but the degree to which the SAT tests you on each concept is fairly limited. For example:


No Need to Memorize Formulas

The SAT Math section tests you on formula usage, not formula knowledge. You don’t need to remember any geometric formulas, but you do have to know to use a formula when the exam presents you with one. Focus on applying the formulas that appear on SAT practice tests rather than trying to memorize what those formulas are.


Relatively Easy Calculations

The kinds of calculations you need to do to successfully answer SAT Math questions are relatively simple. The questions never require students to make the sorts of complex, multi-step calculations that intermediate and advanced high school math classes do. The calculations simply cannot be overly complicated because of the next rule.


All Questions Can be Solved (Very) Quickly

Any SAT Math question must be able to be solved in 30 seconds or less. Anything longer than this would make it impossible for even the most skilled mathematician to finish the exam within the time limits that the College Board imposes. If it takes you longer than half a minute to answer a particular question, you are probably making the question more complicated than it actually is or committing some sort of basic mathematical error.


Drawing are Usually to Scale

Visual representations on SAT Math problems are almost always to scale. In the rare case that a drawing is not to scale, the question will tell you so. Sometimes measuring or estimating a drawing is all you need to do to successfully answer a question. If a question contains a drawing, try this before you do anything else.


All Necessary Information is Provided

Unless one of the answer choices is “insufficient information,” an SAT Math question must provide all the information needed to successfully answer the question. Each piece of the puzzle must be somewhere in the question, even if it doesn’t look like it at first glance.


Wrong Answers Aren’t Random

If you’ve read our blogs on ACT and SAT verbal, you’ll recall that those exam sections use the same types of incorrect answer choices are over and over. Something very similar is going on with the SAT Math exam. Rather than being chosen at random, each incorrect answer choice represents a certain kind of mistake that the College Board thinks students will make on the exam. These patterns are a bit more involved their ACT/SAT verbal section analogues, but they occur just as consistently and are just as finite in number.




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