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Did you struggle badly with SAT Math as well?

computasaysnoocomputasaysnoo Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
I'm starting to think that there's something wrong with me. So I know you probably read "I can't do SAT Math" enough on this forum already, but in all honesty, my brain + math = dud.
I sat the October SAT and got a puny 430 in math and even at that, I'm pretty sure I guessed a couple dozen correct answers. I scored in the top 89 percentile in CR and Writing, so it's not as if I'm just a weak student all around. I'm clearly a language-type person.

Anyway, I've been studying for the Math part of the SAT since early September now and I'm still doing poorly. My problem is with inconsistency and the lack of patterns on the SAT paper; I'll do one sum over and over and then I'll search for a similar one so that I can do it on my own and commit it to memory. But then I get it wrong and check the answers, but the explanation uses a new method of finding the conclusion - utterly different to the method they used on the slightly less complex one a few pages back. So my biggest problem with Math in general is: WHEN to do what? I've come to detest the word "when" in context of numbers entirely, as SAT Math seems to have a more of a problem-solving aspect rather than a set, categorized page of equations. For example, the book will say "find Pythagorus theorem to find the missing side of a right-angle triangle." That's all fine and great but then when you actually come to a "right angle triangle with a missing side," and aptly use Pythagorus theorem, you'll get the question wrong and the explanation will say: "Use the ratios of a 30-60-90 triangle to find the missing side!"

Wow thanks Kaplan/Collegeboard/ArcadiaPrep/OtherOverPricedTextBooks for mentioning that sooner! This has been the case with almost every sum that I've done and I'm literally about to crack with it. I just feel like there's no point studying for something that's partial towards people who have a natural knack for numbers, equations, variables and other satanic aspects of Math. When I learn how to work out a specific sum, its facsimile two pages later will require a completely different method of doing it. Even if both methods make sense, in an exam setting, how am I supposed to know how to work out a sum that has an endless slew of possible ways to work it out, but only one is be right?

Has/is anyone one encountering this problem also? It's just as if practice makes perfect for all but myself.. (I've finished two Kaplan books and still suck a math.. I'm beyond practice.)
Any advise?
Post edited by computasaysnoo on

Replies to: Did you struggle badly with SAT Math as well?

  • rspencerspence Registered User Posts: 2,118 Senior Member
    A lot of math questions (SAT and non-SAT) have multiple solutions, which doesn't imply that the one provided in the book is more correct. The 30-60-90 triangle is just a special case of the Pythagorean theorem since 1^2 + √3^2 = 2^2.

    For example, suppose you are asked to find the units digit of 100^2 - 99^2 + 98^2 - 97^2 + ... + 2^2 - 1^2. One solution is to input the entire expression into a calculator via an alternating sum (the number's not too big). Another solution is to use difference of two squares repeatedly, obtaining 199 + 195 + 191 + ... + 3. We can either input this expression into a calculator, or go further and say that the sum is equal to 202*50/2 = 202*25, units digit of 0. Three technically different solutions, all obtaining the same answer.

    Btw, for practice, I actually suggest that you try a few MATHCOUNTS or AMC8/10 problems. Even though they're technically middle school/early HS problems, some of those problems are fairly challenging and train you to think out of the box. I scored 800's consistently not because I did SAT prep, but because I had experience in the MATHCOUNTS/AMC/AIME competitions.

    Here are some example problems:
    2012 MC State - Target #7: The diameter of a spherical balloon was increased by 150%. By what percent did the volume increase?

    2010 AMC10A #16: Triangle ABC has integer side lengths, BD is an angle bisector, AD = 3 and DC = 8. What is the smallest possible value of the perimeter [of triangle ABC]?

    2012 AMC10A #22: The sum of the first m positive odd integers is 212 more than the sum of the first n positive even integers. What is the sum of all possible values of n?
  • HoldenInTheRyeHoldenInTheRye Registered User Posts: 80 Junior Member
    I struggled with the math on the November SAT.
  • argbargyargbargy Registered User Posts: 1,306 Senior Member
    Hi computa.

    First off it helps to start with a goal in mind.

    Your math score is sucky, your verbal is good. No big deal, you can still lead an happy successful life. Unless you are set on being an engineer. Then frowny face. If you planned on majoring in some non-STEM area, what kind of score do you need to get into the schools you want? Probably a 550 or so for a non-tech school would be fine. Ok- so now you can figure out what your goal is- increase by 120 points in Math. Much easier to do than get an 800.

    "I just feel like there's no point studying". Ok thats got to stop. Even the college board admits that you can gain points on the exam by repeat taking, and the section people gain on is Math- and you dont even know if those people had any sort of organized study plan. And starting from a low score it is much easier to gain points. So this is totally doable.

    Now where to start is do get the score report from your last exam. Compare it to the practice tests. Where are you losing most of your points- Algebra?, Geometry?, Number Operations? Data Analysis? Are there Easy and Medium questions you are getting wrong? If you are missing Easy Algebra questions focus your study time there. For instance, if you were able to pick up just 6 more easy/mediums that you are getting wrong and stop attempting the Hards, your score would go above 500.

    Next, focus on time. When you take the practice test are you in time troubles? Most of the problems are easy enough if you had infinite time, but that is not the game the SAT is playing. Make sure you are practicing with a timer. Get familiar with the test and never read the instructions during the exam (but do read the problems). Develop an efficient system for bubbling and practice it. These things will save you a couple of minutes per section, which is a big deal. Shorten your course- if your goal is <600 then dont even look at the hard problems. Spend the extra time on making sure you nail the mediums.

    The other thing you have to realize is that a lot of SAT questions are 'tricks' that arent supposed to be solved the way you do in the classroom. If you are using your calculator a lot on one problem you are probably doing it wrong. There wont be a lot of complicated quadratics like in algebra class. If there is a big long equation or a series there probably was a way to simplify it. Any of the good math review books (Rocket Review, Grubers) will explain all this.

    To summarize:
    - set your goal. this allows you to create your plan
    - it can be done
    - analyze where you are losing points and where they would be easiest to get back
    - work your plan focusing on those areas
  • emberjedemberjed Registered User Posts: 1,367 Senior Member
    I got a 710 on Math. This sounds like a good score but is much less so when compared to those of most people in my probable major (computer science) and to my scores on the other sections (740 and 780). I also think of myself as pretty good at math, so the score surprised me.
  • computasaysnoocomputasaysnoo Registered User Posts: 13 New Member
    Thanks for all the advice! Unfortunately I never signed up to have my test booklet sent back to me, but I've been working on the Math sections for days now, and It's a little bit clearer. I think that skipping the hard ones will help a lot; here in Ireland, you don't lose points for getting answers wrong, so teachers drill into us to "guess something or anything!" So untraining myself from guessing has been more of a challenge than the SAT itself :-)
  • rspencerspence Registered User Posts: 2,118 Senior Member
    So the thing about guessing on the actual SAT is:

    You gain 1 pt for a correct answer and lose 1/4 point for an incorrect answer. Therefore the expected value for a guess is zero.

    If you can eliminate one choice, the expected value is now 1(1/4) + (-1/4)(3/4) = 1/16 point. It's still not much -- this means, if you eliminate one choice for each of 16 questions and then guess on all of them, your expected net gain is only 1 point.

    If you can eliminate two choices, the expected value becomes 1/6 point. If you're down to two answer choices, you might be better off guessing.

    For grid-in questions, if you have absolutely no idea how to solve a question (this shouldn't be the case!), just guess anything. Preferably small numbers (e.g. "12" or "1/4"). You don't lose points for incorrect grid-in questions.
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