Math on exams like the SAT and ACT has always been tough and seems to be getting tougher. Every year, we’re seeing more advanced concepts from Algebra 2, trigonometry, and statistics added to the tests with very little of the core arithmetic, algebra, and geometry being removed. Plus, both tests continue to emphasize math conceptual understanding and problem solving. What is a college-bound high schooler to do?
Obviously, careful attention during math class over the extent of a student’s academic career will build the foundation for strong test scores. Furthermore, exceptional test preparation will close faulty gaps in knowledge and understanding. But test takers looking for every advantage on test day need to embrace any strategy that can help manufacture points under pressure. We don’t just want accuracy… we want speed. How can you save precious seconds on every question to ensure a decent shot at every point on the math section of the SAT or ACT?
Master Mental Math
Today’s sophisticated calculators can do so much, assuming you know how to use one. But they can’t tell you how to answer a question. Plus they don’t always work and you can’t always use them when you need them, such as on the ACT Science and SAT Math-No Calculator sections. Whether you have access to your calculator or not, you’ll work much faster if you can do some reckoning in your head. You don’t need to be able to multiply six digit numbers on the fly, but you’ll be much better off knowing the following:
- Multiplication tables from 2-12
- Fraction to decimal conversions
- Perfect squares from 2-13
- Divisibility shortcuts
Of all the concepts tested on the math sections of these exams, few carry as much enduring real-world value as percents. If you’ve yet to be convinced of this fact, trust us: you’ll be calculating percents at work, while shopping, and any time you have to leave a tip. So learn how to calculate quick percents by moving the decimal one place to the left to get 10%, then multiplying as needed for higher percentages. This should be quick and easy work.
The way you learned to answer problems in math class doesn’t always lead to the fastest or most certain points on the SAT or ACT. Many standardized test math problems are designed to permit multiple solution methods. Master the magical arts of picking numbers to make abstract problems concrete or working backwards from the answer choices. Neither strategy make sense every time, but in those instances where they do apply, they’ll carry you to the answer quickly, easily, and accurately. What more can you ask for?
Cultivate Answer Awareness
The quickest points come when you avoid calculation entirely. Sometimes, a problem will tell you enough about what kind of answer you’re looking for without having to do any work. Estimate and eliminate answer choices judiciously. Once you eliminate three (SAT) or four (ACT) wrong answers, you’re stuck with the right one!