Ah, mathematics. That single word, mathematics, can divide – and strike fear in the hearts of – individuals like no other term.
Or, at least, some individuals. As a high school student, I did everything in my power to avoid devoting myself to this section of the SAT. I “forgot” my test prep materials in my locker. I identified a new error to immediately correct in the Critical Reading section. I tutored my friends in the Language Arts portions, then conveniently forgot to ask for help with mathematics.
Somehow, I managed to do alright. I got into the university I’d hoped to attend. But I knew, deep down, that my Mathematics score didn’t truly reflect my ability. Now when I tutor students with the same attitude toward mathematics, I give them the advice below. Whether or not you see yourself in the description above, learn and utilize these three tips. They can make all the difference in achieving the Mathematics score you set for yourself.
1. Learn the lay of the land. Now. With any luck, “now” is also early in your preparation process. If you’ve read my past articles, you may be starting to think that I sound like a broken record. Bear with me, because the sooner you familiarize yourself with the directions and types of questions on the Mathematics portion of the SAT, the better.
You don’t need to memorize a dozen algebra and geometry formulas to succeed on this test. In fact, the SAT booklet will give you the formulas that you need to use. While this may lead you to think you’re all set, think again. Familiarizing yourself with the types of questions in the Mathematics section should be your first priority. What are the major mathematics concepts that the SAT will test you on? If you know the directions and question types before you sit down to take the SAT, you will save yourself precious moments that you can devote to performing calculations.
2. Become a close reader. When you first open your test prep materials, you may be surprised to find that the Mathematics section looks easier than you expected. A direct comparison with other tests, such as the ACT, shows this may be generally true, but try to remember one thing: the SAT likes to trick its test-takers.
Why is this such a problem for high school juniors and seniors? The same reason it’s a problem for so many people. Forms of interaction like text messages and Tweets enable us to pay attention for only a second or two. You may think you know how to answer a mathematics question after this same length of time, but chances are that the individuals who write the SAT expect you to skim, not read. To ensure you reach the correct conclusion, keep the following guiding questions in mind: “What is this problem asking me to do? What am I meant to find?”
3. Get in touch with your visual side. 11 + 22. 20 X 5. For even the least mathematically-inclined individual, these calculations may be simple to complete; so simple that you figure them out entirely in your head.
Resist this urge. Most SAT mathematics problems are multi-step, and most incorrect answers are due to simple mistakes. It isn’t the complicated, new procedure that trips students up – it’s the old, familiar one that they rush. No matter how confident you are that you can correctly complete a calculation, write it down if it is one in a series of steps. And for problems that test your knowledge of spatial relationships, consider drawing a picture. You may find that the answer jumps out at you.
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