I'm bad at math. How can I improve?

There's lots of math on the New SAT, as you know -- but with a little guidance and some basics, you can make some serious improvements to your math score and skills! There's a lot to share with you, so grab a cup of tea or your favorite beverage, and take a moment to read through everything :) 

Get to Know the New SAT

The first step to conquering the New SAT (and all parts of it, not just math!) is getting to know the test inside and out. You need to know how much time you have per question, what will be expected of you on each section, and what some common high-value knowledge and weak spots are on the test. Thankfully, we've put together a totally free SAT eBook for freeImportantly, you'll want to know how it's different from the old SAT, because the changes on the New SAT render some practice materials much more valuable than others. 

What Are the Most Important Details?

Check out this post by our own David Recine! You'll want to know where you can and can't use a calculator so that you're not trying to do the right math with or without some digital help :) You'll also want to know what the most frequently tested details are, so be sure to check that out right here too

How to Study and Improve

This is the meat and potatoes of how you improve on SAT math. Everything beyond this point is must-read and must-know material. Let's get right to it:

  1. Learn from Your Mistakes: 

    The SAT makers include in the choices wrong answers that come out of simple slip-ups. It’s easy to switch positive and negative if you’re moving quickly, as it is to multiply and not add.

    And here’s the problem: many students will write a blunder like that off. They say, “I knew that. It won’t happen again.” But you’re still you—nothing’s changed! There’s no reason to assume you won’t make the another silly error on a question you could have gotten right on test day. That’s just throwing away points.

    You’ve gotta gotta GOTTA make note of any mistake you make. Find when and why they happen: whether they’re caused by not checking your work, rushing, an incorrect formula, not following PEMDAS, or whatever else. This helps to point you toward whether it’s the format of the test that’s tripping you up or it’s the material that’s tested. Then you’ll know what to spend more of your time and energy on.

    Your goal should be—and this is lofty, mind you—never to make the same mistake twice.

  2. Lessons, Practice, Analysis: 

    Simply reading about the test or listening to a teacher or a free online video work through concepts won’t get you points. You don’t learn to ride a bike by watching other people do it. You have to get on the bike and start moving. By the time you take your actual SAT, your mind should be in top shape from training on lots of practice questions and full-length practice tests. 

    What about all that work you did in the classroom, though? Didn't all of that count for something, and didn't you learn these concepts previously? Almost all of the math you'll see on the SAT is nothing new to you, after all, and generally, you’d be right. But let’s take the bike analogy a step further. The SAT isn’t just any bike ride; it’s the Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race, and you’re going to tear through the city at break-neck speed. If you lose focus or hit a rock at the wrong angle (or a dog, for that matter), you’ll crash. Sure, you’ve ridden your bike around town before, but will that prepare you?

    Before you go, you’ll want to do some light practice runs. Take it slow at first. Get to know the terrain. Then go a little faster. Do some question-by-question practice, revisiting old math that you’re not confident with when you get stuck. Then do some timed practice with mind-numbingly tough questions to work on your pacing. Keep varying up your practice depending on what your weakest areas are.

    And, again, when you do make a mistake, look at why you made it.

  3. Using Good Material: 

    If you tackle enough SAT math questions before the day of your test, you’ll have a good feel for the best strategies and when to use them, as well as what topics you can expect to see, how long you should spend on a question, and when you’re going down the wrong path. But in order to learn those lessons from your practice, you really need to have the best SAT resources at your disposal. Think of this as taking those practice runs on the bike course. The wrong book is like a whole different city. It might help you to build up some skills, sure, but are they the exact same skills you’ll need on your test?

  4. Follow a Study Schedule: 

    Don’t just rely on your nagging parents to get you motivated. Nobody benefits from your SAT prep more than you do; it’s time to get yourself going, and there’s no better way to do that than by setting up a plan for yourself.

    And to that end, by the way, we offer SAT study schedules to get you started if you don’t want to make one for yourself. There’s no easier way to get the ball (or bike) rolling!


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