The MuchSmarter Blog

How To Master ANY Standardized Test Math Section

Tom Schecter
September 2, 2015

When you get to the point of starting to think about standardized tests, you notice a lot of noise being made about the differences between the SAT and the ACT: one test is faster, the other asks weirder questions, they cover different amounts of material…you name it.

What you don’t hear a lot about is the one thing both tests have in common—and it’s a big one:

The process you need to follow to answer virtually EVERY SINGLE QUESTION correctly is the same!

Standardized test math, in general, is not really testing your math skills. The SAT even goes as far as to give you a bunch of formulas as a reminder at the beginning of each math section! And both tests give you the option to use a graphing calculator, too! 

So how do they “get” you? What are they actually testing? Most of it boils down to these two things:

  1. If they ask you a weird question, or a normal question in a weird way, can you figure out what they want you to do?
  2. Can you pay enough attention to detail to do a multiple-step problem?

So…here are your priorities for Standardized Test Math:

  1. Understand the question. I cannot stress this enough. I have seen too many kids solve for “x” when the question is asking you to solve for “3x,” or get stuck on “Special Operations” questions because they didn’t just read the question carefully and follow its directions. If you don’t understand what they are asking you to do, you will have a much harder time doing it!
  2. Pay attention to detail. Early on, a lot of my students drop a lot of points on the most basic, fundamental stuff. They don’t carry parentheses down, or they forget to distribute a negative and change the sign of their answer without noticing. And then everybody face-palms when I point out the mistake because “UGGGGH I HAD THIS ONE!” Don’t worry. Sloppy mistakes are easy to fix! You just need to practice…which brings us to priority #3:
  3. Show ALL of your work on paper. This is where the math comes in. For those of you who rely so heavily on your calculators that you don’t use your pencil except to bubble in the answers? This is your step. Actually do the math. If you hit a wrong button on your calculator and it screws up your answer, it’s way harder to retrace your steps. You don’t get partial credit for showing work on these tests, but you DO get a set amount of time to answer as many questions right as you can. The minutes you save re-doing a question from scratch because your answer didn’t match any of the answer choices will give you a chance to get a better score.

And that’s it. The math is, at most, the third-highest priority here. And you may not be used to doing it this way, but I promise you, it works.

So…if you want a hand getting significantly better at standardized test math, press the Get a Coach button above and drop us a line. We’ll help you learn how to play the SAT or ACT math game confidently, and put you on the path to being smarter than you ever thought you could be.

Talk soon. TS

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