I Stink At SAT Math: What Next?

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Help! I Stink at SAT Math!

It’s pretty much inevitable that at some point during your SAT, you’re going to look at a problem and think, “Nope. Not happening.”

Or maybe it will be a few moments after, which can be even more frustrating—you work through what seems like the best way to attack a problem, but then after a good minute or so of work you’re still nowhere near an answer and don’t know what you’re even trying to do anymore.

What you do at that point is key, because the SAT is timed, after all. Every moment you spend looking blankly at a question is a moment gone to waste.

That’s part of why SAT math isn’t really like the rest of the math you do in school. One of the most important skills in the math section is knowing when to guess. That’s one thing you don’t really get from math class.

The principle is pretty simple: if you’re just starting to answer a question and you don’t know what to do, spend ~15 seconds exploring (don’t worry too much about the exact time, but realize this step has to be quick). Rework any equations you have. Label any measurements of a figure that you can infer. Write out the first elements in a series or look for other patterns.

And if, after exploring, you don’t know what to do next, don’t go back to square one and re-live your frustration. Instead, look first at whether there are any answer choices you can definitely rule out. Then circle the question in your test book, select a your best guess the answer sheet (this is why ruling out any answer choices you can is so important), and move on to the next question. Remember that every question in a section is worth the same, so it’s key that you give yourself enough time to get right every question that you can get right. Only after you’ve done that should you resume chewing your pencil and loathing that roadblock question.

As a side note, though, if you find yourself getting stuck on SAT math questions often but, at the same time, really think you know all the material that you need to for the test, then you might want to take a stab at the ACT instead. There’s a huge overlap between the tests, but there’s also a pretty subtle difference in SAT vs ACT math: the ACT tends to be a little bit more straightforward, so knowing the material is enough to answer most questions—it’s less often that you need to figure out subtle twists like what the SAT might throw at you.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

MagooshThis post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep. For more SAT resources, check out Magoosh SAT vocabulary flashcards and the Magoosh SAT Blog!

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What if I Need to Retake the SAT?

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SAT: Take 2 (or 3 or 4)

Some treat taking the SAT over again as though it were the same thing as walking down the aisle to take one’s marriage vows for the second time. If stigma should be attached anywhere, it should be on not re-taking the SAT—a second time, third time, and a fourth time. I’m not saying become an SAT test-taking junkie. Rather, you should feel utterly at ease with retaking the SAT. Here’s why!

1. Colleges only see the scores you decide to send them

The colleges aren’t like Big Brother (the all-knowing presence from Orwell’s 1984). That is, they won’t know your scores unless you submit them. You have the option of doing so, for free, during the test. However, you can also send them any time after the test (for a small fee). Unless, you send a specific college your score report, it will never know what you got.

2. You can send your best score in any one section

You can pick and choose your best performance, section-wise, from any test. So your total score can come from as many as three different tests.

Let’s say you scored 750 in math and were surprised at how well you did. However, you bombed the verbal because you didn’t study vocab. For the next test, you go into agro vocab mode and you end up with an amazing 680 on verbal (but you end up doing not so well on math and writing). On a third take you could just focus on the writing section and essay so as to get your best score. If you don’t do so well on the third test, take it again.

3. Knowing that you can retake the SAT multiple times should make it less stressful

All of this is good news because it makes taking the SAT much less stressful. So even if you think taking the test four times is ludicrous, because, hey, you have better things to do with your Saturday, that’s fine. Knowing that you can retake the test will, if nothing else, make the experience a little less stressful.

4. Just because you take the SAT again doesn’t mean you’ll do better

It’s important to note that taking the SAT again doesn’t mean you’re going to score better. Only retake the test if you feel you’ve prepped more than before and are going into the test with more knowledge and better strategies. You might also want to use different prep materials than you did the first time around. For suggestions, check out the Magoosh book reviews in our SAT eBook.

5. There is more to life than taking the SAT

For those of you at the very other end of the spectrum—those who know you can and should retake the test—don’t keep doing so just for those extra few points. There are other things that colleges look at—things you could be doing instead of learning more esoteric SAT vocabulary (do you really need to know the difference between the words “venal” and “venial”?). Volunteering at a hospital, working on that special talent, or studying for one of the SAT subject tests (I know—it’s hard to truly get away from the SAT) might make you seem a little more well-rounded.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

Magoosh SAT This post was written by Chris Lele, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

ACT, SAT, PSAT…What’s the Difference?

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One of the most important elements of every standardized test you’ll ever take is the time pressure.

When we compare standardized tests to each other, there are usually two points of view that people take: either they’re all the same, or you have to prepare for each one separately. The truth—surprise, surprise—is actually somewhere between those two ideas. But that’s boring to write about (who actually likes compromising, anyway?), so I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to argue a point that might be a bit surprising coming from a test prep tutor. It’s one that I don’t wholly believe, to be fair, but it’s worth consideration.

All Standardized Tests Are Basically the Same

That’s right. You can talk about the SAT vs. ACT or the PSAT vs. SAT all you want—how the ACT math involves harder topics, how the SAT cares more about rare vocabulary words, etc.—and decide to take one or the other based on your preferences, but you’d really be talking about small differences and ignoring the enormous similarities between the two. Nobody ever lists the ways the two tests are similar, but maybe they should.

The Content Is the Same

No matter which test you’re looking at, it includes math, reading comprehension, grammar, and an essay. Every test includes at least something more than those four subject, and if you start looking outside of the high-school level tests, some don’t include all four, but still, they’re are at the heart of the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. Come to think of it, reading comprehension is actually on every single test I know of, including the dental school admissions test (there’s a test for everything, you know).

But those are pretty broad terms, right? After all, “math” can mean addition or it can mean integral calculus. So you might think that the specifics of each test can be pretty drastically different, but they aren’t. For example, most tests’ math sections, including the SAT and ACT, focus pretty heavily on number properties, algebra, basic geometry, and data analysis. Even if there’s a sprinkling of trigonometry or a dash of combinatorics, the real meat of a math section will based on the fundamentals. And the other broad subjects, such as reading comprehension, are also built on common sets of underlying skills.

The Format Is the Same

Because every standardized test is taken by many, many people, they can’t all be graded by hand. And computer grading means, pretty much without fail, multiple choice questions.

So it’s not only the content of the tests, but also the format. There are only so many ways you can ask a grammar question in multiple choice form. One of the easiest is to highlight a section of text with an error, then give some possible ways to correct that error. The PSAT, SAT, and ACT all have that type of question.

The fact is that most types of questions on either test are also on the other test. There aren’t that many ways to get creative when testing the same basic knowledge and skills with multiple choice questions.

The Timing Is the Same

I really can’t emphasize this one enough. One of the most important elements of every standardized test you’ll ever take is the time pressure. You know how many people say “I’m just not a great test-taker” or something similar? Well, that’s mostly about the clock. The way you react to the feeling of taking a test can hugely affect your scores. All tests bring this up in pretty much the same way. It’s not just about how good you are at math, but also about how confident you are, how calm you are, your breathing, your posture, and your focus.

Whether you score in the 50th percentile (higher than 50% of test-takers) or the 70th might be largely about based on how comfortable you are taking the test.

Back to Reality

Like I said at the start of this, they’re not really identical. There are some notable differences between the tests, sure. Don’t study only the PSAT if you’re going to take the ACT soon, of course. But on the other hand, they’re so similar in so many ways, it’d be wrong to treat them as entirely separate creatures. Most of the features of any one standardized test you take will be the same as another test you have taken or will take one day. And that’s a good thing, actually, because we get better at taking them with experience.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

Magoosh SAT This post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.

How Does the Essay Affect Your SAT Score?

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Love it or hate it, your essay will influence your SAT score.

Although the SAT essay is going to be optional before long (when the test changes in 2016), as of right now it’s a must. So, love it or hate it, your essay will influence your SAT score, and the admissions offices at the colleges you’ll apply to will see that score. So let’s answer one key question: how much does the SAT essay actually count for?

The Numbers

First, the essay is scored according to its own grading system. There will be two readers—real people, not a Scantron machine!—who read and judge your writing, each assigning a mark of zero to six. Zero is the worst (in case that wasn’t totally obvious), but it’s only used for the absolutely ungradable essays. If you write on a completely different topic than what’s assigned, for example, you will get a zero. That means no memorizing a fantastic essay ahead of time! You have to write on the topic they give you. You’d also get a zero if you wrote in another language, say, or simply put no clear thoughts on paper.

A six, on the other hand, is reserved for long, structured essays that are full of clear, concrete ideas, high-level vocabulary, and correct grammar. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the gist.

After each reader goes through and marks your essay, the two scores will be added to give you a score of 0–12 (if you actually wrote anything remotely relevant, that’s 2–12).

Then that score, in turn, is added to the raw score from the Writing multiple-choice questions, since the essay is just a part of the Writing Section. The multiple-choice sections count for more points, altogether.

Then, once they have the raw total of your essay score and your multiple-choice score added up, they convert that score into the scaled, 200–800 score.

The Importance of the Essay

The scaled score is a little bit hard to explain—how it’s calculated, I mean—and it’s not worth really getting stuck talking about. All that matters is the zero to twelve score ends up affecting how many hundreds are in that scaled score. And I did say that the multiple-choice counts for more than the essay, but that doesn’t mean the essay isn’t important.

In truth, the SAT essay score counts for around 30% your total writing score—in the ballpark of 200 points, altogether. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a significant piece of the puzzle.

And what about those who say the essay doesn’t matter? Simply put, they’re usually wrong. Most schools were really skeptical of the Writing Section when this version of the SAT first debuted it back in 2005. And sure, some are still not totally signed on, but for the most part it does factor into your admissions. And 99% of the time, you’ll have no idea how much that lady who works in the admissions office cares about your Writing score—you’ll just have to trust that a high score is better than a low one.

And for that high score, you need to put some energy into preparing to write your essay!

Download Free: Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders

Magoosh SAT This post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.