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The Key to Scoring a 800 on the SAT Math Section


Test Overview


The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is composed of 4 sections and an additional fifth essay section, 2 of which are focused on mathematics. Section 3 is the Math section with no calculator and Section 4 being the Math section with calculator. Both sections use multiple-choice questions and grid-in questions and provide mathematical equations on the first page.


Section 3 (No-calculator) - 25 minutes, 20 questions

Section 4 (Calculator) - 55 minutes, 38 questions

Topics - Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus

# of Choices per multiple choice question - 4

Points off for wrong answers? No

Types of questions - Multiple choice and free response


#1 Substitution (Plug in Values)


For questions asking for equivalent expressions to one that is described in the problem, you can use substitution to solve the questions easier. Additionally, plug in the value that’s neither the largest nor the smallest to potentially eliminate answers you wouldn’t have to test.


Ex: 2x^2 = 81


SAT usually lists values in ascending or descending order from A to D. If you choose to test the largest number, notably choice A or D, you only eliminate one of four answer choices. Whereas if you had chosen the number that is second largest, you would be able to eliminate 2 answer choices, if not determine the answer.


#2 Geometry Formulas


You do NOT have to memorize formulas for geometry because you can always refer back to the first page for equations!


Ex: If length l of a rectangle is 2 times the width w, and the perimeter of the rectangle is 60, find the area of the rectangle.


If you refer back to the first page of the section, you can see that A = lw. Now you know that to determine the area of the rectangle, you must first find variables l and w.



#3 Manage Your Time


The math sections are VERY time consuming but don’t get too stuck on a single problem. It is important to remember to pace yourself or else you will fall behind as most people do. Here is our pacing:


If you find yourself stuck reading a question for 10 seconds or not fully understanding how to solve the question in under 30 seconds, move on, and refer back to this question later. Doing so would allow you to maximize the amount of time you have left for harder questions and for checking answers.


It is important to remember that if you fall behind and have only limited time to check your answers, don’t waste time reviewing answers you know you got right. Instead, we suggest that as you go through the test to mark the questions you found difficult and prioritize those for review at the end. We also recommend you fill in the bubbles at the very end so you don’t get distracted by marking too many things at once.


#4 Solving Equations In Your Head

Instead of wasting valuable time by writing on the test booklet, just do it in your head. After a while of practice, this will become incredibly easy and save you A LOT of time on the SAT. Writing the equations takes a longer amount of time due to your naturally reading and processing the information as you write.


Ex: What is the value of x if 5x + 2 = 7x - 10?


#5 Read the Question Carefully

This may sound like an obvious trick, but you would not imagine how many people miss points on the Math section of the exam because they misread a question.


Example: If a+b = 22 and a*2 = 4, what is the value of a - b ?


In this question, if you did not read the question carefully you would most likely have done the problem and put the value of a or b. However, the correct answer is not a or b but the value of a - b. This means that when you arrive at question types like these you should leave yourself a note by underlining what the question is asking for in order to ensure that you get the right answer.


#6 Confidence is everything


Okay, this is not really a strategy in itself, but trust us when we tell you that confidence is key. Keeping high moral on this fast-paced test will aid you in ways you can’t even imagine. If you are struggling with a problem don’t stay on it rather MOVE ON. There are plenty more questions to do and remember that in the end you can always go back and fight for the point, so don’t let it bother you during the test and just maintain a high confidence level. This will improve your score dramatically.


#7 Percentages (Use Decimals)


When it comes to questions involving percentages, you can use decimals to make solving these questions more efficient. To get into what I mean, I will give you an example.


Let’s say that the questions ask what is 30% of 80, which it never will because this is the SAT but this principle can be applied anywhere.


In order to get 30% of 80, just multiply 80 by .3; however, do not be followed if the question says the value of 80 decreased by 30% because this means that 70% of the number remains, making the answer .7 * 80


#8 Systems of Equations


SAT often tests you on systems of equations, and often variables with different coefficients. However, it commonly implements a shortcut that allows you to eliminate the variables quickly.


Ex: 2x + y = 16 and 4x - 2y = 4, factor 2 from the second equation and add the two equations together to eliminate variable y


#9 Study your Special Right Triangles!


There are often questions that test the students’ ability to determine a variable from either 45–45–90 or 30–60–90 special right triangles. Memorizing these would allow you to solve the question quickly without resorting to calculating trigonometry. Luckily, SAT also gives you the formulas for these special right triangles at the beginning of the section.


Ex: Right triangle with one leg with length 5√3 and angle 30°, with hypotenuse x.


Without calculating sin(30) = 5√3 / x, you can use 30–60–90 special right triangles to determine that x is 10.


#10 Learn How to Learn, Study Smart


Some students are able to achieve the SAT score they want quickly not because they are naturally smart, or ahead of other students. They practice the topics that they often get wrong over and over again to ensure they do not get the same topic incorrectly next time. By only focusing on topics they need to prepare for and ignoring the others, these students can focus on other sections that may give them more trouble.



With SAT Math, it’s important to continue practicing to fully grasp the concepts College Board tests you on. It’s also important to not fall into their tricky wording and make silly mistakes. A great practice source we recommend is signing up for our daily questions mailing list. We also recommend you purchase the most recent Official SAT Study Guide, which includes detailed explanations for all sections and 8 real practice tests. Another great resource is The College Panda’s SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT 2nd Edition, which is commonly recommended for all SAT test takers due to its detailed but surprisingly easy-to-understand explanations for all SAT Math concepts.

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