SAT Math No Calculator (Multiple Choice)
Let us start with a now all-too-familiar-refrain: practice, practice, practice. Practice is the only way you are going to learn your personal abilities and limitations with these math questions.
Take a free test through Khan Academy and then practice (where have we seen that word before?) the areas where you are having the most difficulty.
Time management tips
With practice (seriously, is there an echo in here?), you’ll get a good feel for how much time it takes you to answer the questions and how much time you may have left at the end. So, if you are struggling inordinately with a particular question, answer with a guess and move on. Just make a mark in your book that you guessed in case you get a chance to come back with time left later.
And just in case it needed to be said, practice includes becoming completely familiar with the instructions so you don’t waste precious time reading them once the test has started!
Mark what you are trying to answer
This is helpful advice for all sections of the SAT, but especially so for the math questions. You are allowed to write in your test booklet, so don’t be afraid to mark it up — particularly by marking what it is that you need to answer. The test writers will intentionally include incorrect answer choices that provide the right answers to the wrong questions, including other values referred to in the question.
On a related note, be on the lookout for such key question words as not and except. Be on the lookout, too, for changes in units of measurement. We’ll show you some practice questions that utilize these techniques just to ensure you see what we mean!
Process of elimination (POE) is your friend!
This might seem self explanatory, but without proper practice and preparation, many test takers panic and overlook this useful tool. Unless you read the question carefully and are 100% certain you know exactly how to solve it, use your workbook to scratch out any answer choices that can’t make sense. If you know the answer choice must be positive, eliminate any negative choices, etc.
Simplify problems wherever possible
Process of elimination is your best friend in answering SAT math questions, but simplification comes next. The SAT is not designed to make you do unnecessarily long calculations. If you find yourself tangled in a string of numbers, chances are that you have overlooked a way of simplifying the equation. On this note, all SAT questions are meticulously designed. If you are given a piece of data such as 1 mile = 5,280 feet, there is a reason it was given, and it is most likely related to a perhaps not-so-readily-apparent way to simplify the problem.
Work backwards if you can’t work forward
Working forward is the most effective and efficient way of solving a math problem when you instantly recognize the proper formula and method needed to answer it. (In that case, the best way to manage your time is to solve the problem, choose the corresponding answer choice, and move on to the next question.) Working backwards, however, is an effective tool when you have forgotten how to answer the question.
Often times, the multiple choice answers will be arranged from lowest to highest or highest to lowest. If you’re completely stuck on a question, work backwards with the answer choice for B or C. If it works, you got the answer. If not, you will either know the answer is higher or lower meaning you either answer it with complete confidence or you have a 1 in 2 chance. (In case you don’t have time to work backwards for that answer choice.
This was written as clear as mud, wasn’t it? Let’s show you a simple example:
Question: 3x + 1 = 10. Solve for x.
If this stumped you and you plugged in the answer choice for C, you would realize x does not equal 1 as 3x + 1 = 4. Therefore, you would need to choose D as it’s the only value greater than 1. Conversely, if you were almost out of time and had plugged in the answer choice for B, you would have realized 3x + 1 = 0 and therefore guessed between C and D. Hence, working backwards once either gives you the correct answer or at least increases your chances of answering the question correctly from 25% to 50%.
Use easy numbers when you need to plug in a value
With these questions, you will have to do the “leg work” yourself. Therefore, use easy small numbers. For percent questions, we suggest you use 100.
Approximation is useful when the answer choices are widely disparate
Should you encounter answer choices that are widely disparate, try approximation. For example, let’s say you can closely guesstimate the answer to be 30%, and the answer choices are 4%, 13%, 29%, and 48%. In that case you will know the correct answer must be 29%.
Draw diagrams when they are not provided and they would be helpful
Many students find this a useful technique. Just keep the drawings simple and don’t fret over just how accurate they are. You will not receive any bonus points for drawing the sharpest right angle triangle inside your test booklet!
Remain calm and rational
If you see a question (it would most likely be a word question) that you have no idea how to solve, examine the answer choices for help. This frequently happens with “time” questions. Here is an example:
Bob can finish a book report in 3 hours and Linda can complete the same book report in 2 hours. How long would it take both of them to complete a book report if they worked together?
This may look very intimidating at first glance. However, logic tells us that since Linda can do this report herself in 2 hours, there is no way it should take both of them working together more than this amount of time. (No assumptions about goofing off are required for the SAT.)
The real answer, if you are curious, is 1 hour and 12 minutes.