So you just took a practice test and you’re devastated by your results.  You thought you would net more points, but lo and behold, your score is painfully below your expectations.  Your math score is especially poor, but you’ve never been good at math.  What is a good plan of action?  Let the math score linger at a subpar level while focusing all of your energy on the verbal portion, right?  Wrong.

First of all, even if you’ve historically done poorly in math, you can easily turn that around with a few months of devoted practice.  Second, math is the area where you can see the most marked transformation as far as testing abilities.  You can certainly improve your score in the verbal section, but the base of knowledge for both the writing and reading sections is far broader.  The English language is highly complex, and it takes most of us a great many years before we learn and understand all the intricacies.

Math, in comparison, is much simpler.  The rules and terms are significantly fewer in number, and trying to learn and apply the concepts in a short time period is much more realistic than memorizing a bunch of vocabulary words and mastering the breadth of grammatical nuances in existence.  Don’t get me wrong, you need to focus on the verbal section too, but my point is that you shouldn’t write off the math portion as a lost cause.  In fact, math is the area where you should double down on your study time.  You will be amazed at what you can achieve if you prepare in the right manner.  So how do you go about breaking your personal math barrier?  Here’s how.

  1. Master Mental Math – yes, I’m aware that you can use a calculator on the SAT, but quick arithmetic skills will drastically augment your ability to succeed.  Why?  Because the SAT is administered under a serious time constraint.  You will have 50 minutes to complete 44 multiple-choice questions and 20 minutes to complete 10 grid-in questions.  That’s not a lot of time.  Having to refer to your calculator for basic arithmetic will unnecessarily impede your ability to race through the exam.  Lack of quickness can spell disaster even if you are very familiar and comfortable with all of the concepts.
  2. Memorize The Formulas And Rules Covered On The Exam – the SAT covers a finite universe of math.  The core topics are as follows: (1) numbers and operations; (2) algebra and functions; (3) geometry and measurement; and (4) data analysis, statistics, and probability.  The College Board provides candidates with a test prep book that reviews all of the pertinent concepts under these categories.  You can go to your local library, check out the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide, and review these concepts for free.  If you give yourself ample time to prepare, you can easily master all of the basic principals.  This will ensure that you are at least capable of nailing each and every math problem.
  3. Take A Prep Course – there is a very small percentage of people that can annihilate standardized tests without a prep course.  Accordingly, I recommend that all students enroll in some course.  The strategies and methods of each course are certainly helpful, but the key benefit is having a structured study plan.  It is essential that you develop a rhythmic study routine that does not linger or falter.  You need to review math concepts and go over practice problems in unison.  Now, precisely which prep course you choose can vary depending on your budget, time constraint, and your current testing abilities.  You should certainly shop around, from recognized names to private entities, to see which company or tutor is right for you.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice – there are loads of practice tests available for sale.  You can purchase them at a bookstore or use the repository of practice exams at your chosen test prep company.  Most tutoring and prep courses will have you take approximately three or four exams as part of the standard class, but I encourage you to take many, many more.  When I prepared for the SAT, I took 15 practice tests.  What’s the benefit of taking so many practice exams?  There are several.  First, the SAT is standardized. This means that from year to year, while the precise material varies, the core subjects and concepts are constant.  Translation: the more questions you see, the fewer curve balls can be thrown at you.  With enough practice, you can familiarize yourself with the entire universe of possible question types. This will not only improve your test taking abilities, but it will bolster your confidence come test day.  Second, practice problems make you exercise your brain in a critical manner.  It’s one thing to know a concept, but it’s another thing to put that concept into use.  The more practice you get, the more comfortable you will be with the concepts, and the more speed you will have when chugging through the math section.  Finally, practicing thoroughly will expose your weak spots.  You may think you know the entirety of the subject matter, but the practice tests will weed out your areas of uncertainty.  I recommend that students take at least 10 practice exams.
  5. Study Over The Summer – most kids wait until the school year to start preparing for the SAT.  I highly recommend you get a jumpstart over the summer. High school curriculums are tough enough as they are, but adding on a rigorous study routine is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  You will likely have to sacrifice either your schoolwork or your SAT preparation, neither of which is a good option.  So, if you want to be ahead of the curve, sign up for a program that spans the summer and put in a solid effort.  Take as many practice tests as you can, go over as much material as possible, and ask your tutors for the maximum amount of help.