Unless you’ve received a perfect score on every test you’ve ever taken, you can probably recall at least one time when you made a careless mistake on a relatively simple problem. Whether it be failing to read the whole question and missing out on important information, failing to understand what the question is asking, or just giving up because you think you don’t know how to solve it, everyone makes errors. On the SAT, however, most of these errors are avoidable. Try to avoid these three common pitfalls on the SAT math section:
#1: Thinking you’re done with a problem…when you’re not.
Most SAT math questions have TWO PARTS to them.
Why do they do this? Well, it’s because they want to make it difficult to backsolve the problems. Backsolving is when you use the answers given to speed up or “hack” into the problem even when you don’t know how to actually solve it (Brooke goes into further detail in her Math Hacks video). Yes, you may find that this method works for SOME of the math problems. But for the MAJORITY, the SAT math section has been designed to prevent students from doing just that.
Often times the easiest variable to find isn’t the one that you actually need and so students don’t actually finish the question. What do I mean by this? Inevitably, what happens to many students taking the SAT is rather than solving for the what the question asks, say 2x+3, they simply find “x.” While that may sound like an oversimplification of SAT problems, it’s an easy mistake for students to make. Many students will try to anticipate the question instead of reading thoroughly. In general, SAT math problems will not ask you to solve for just an independent variable. However, if they do, there are intermediate steps to get there. Make sure you know what information they are giving you and what they are asking for.
Solution: BE CAREFUL, always expect two parts, and reread the question completely before you put down your final answer or write down the variable/idea you need to find so there is no mix-up.
#2: They don’t read carefully enough.
When students are pressed for time, it’s not a surprise that they start skimming over questions in order to get through them faster. I do it; we all do it. But that puts students in danger of making careless mistakes because of simply not reading thoroughly. Percentages, fractions, units, and rounding, are all common concepts that students will slip up on.
Example: Jane and three of her friends split the cost of a large celebratory dinner.
That’s four people in total, not three (Jane + 3 friends)!
Example: Boys and girls are in a ratio of 4 to 7.
That means 4/11 of the kids are boys, not 4/7.
Solution: SAT wording can be tricky, so be CAUTIOUS and careful to understand what you are reading. Slow down if necessary to avoid sloppy mistakes.
#3: They get intimidated and/or give up too quickly.
Often students read a question and it’s overwhelming—numbers, fractions, decimals, and confusing wording all wrapped up into one question. But rather than take it apart one step at a time, students assume they can’t do the problem and skip over it altogether. Yes, you should do as many of the easy problems as you can and leave the challenging ones for last. But don’t just give up—come back to them at the end!
What these students don’t realize is that they don’t need to know the whole path to the end of the problem. They just need to see one step forward. From there, they will see there are more options and more steps can be taken until the point they are familiar with what type of problem they are facing. It’s this simple step-by-step strategy that can save students from missing out on big points.
Solution: If you feel like you can’t solve a problem, break it down step-by-step. Keep in mind that every question on the SAT is designed to be solvable!
These are just a couple of tricks to attain a higher score on the SAT math section. Remember: Read through the problem all the way, be careful and thorough, and don’t give up on a question even if it seems difficult.
Learn more about mistakes to avoid on the SAT, such as the most common mistake on the SAT reading section.