How to Conquer the Math No-Calculator Section of the SAT

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It doesn’t matter whether it’s your favorite subject or your arch nemesis—you’ll have to do Math on the SAT.

 

In particular, the No-Calculator Section tests whether you understand the fundamentals of Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. The numbers in these problems are easier to work with, so doing well boils down to how well you understand the concepts.

 

Keep reading for CollegeVine’s tips on how to ace this section of the SAT. You should also check out Five SAT Strategies You Should Know, Five Tips to Boost Your Math Score, and The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Math Test.

 

1. Memorize the information on the instructions page.

 

Here is the information that the SAT prints on the No-Calculator instructions:

A lot of students figure that this is the last stuff they need to memorize. After all, it’s printed in the test itself. However, a lot of problems assume you know this information. You’ll actually wind up saving time if you commit it all to memory. As you study, make flashcards for all these facts and review them once or twice each week.

 

2. Skip difficult problems immediately.

 

Yes, in a perfect world, you would answer every single question on this section correctly. Realistically, only 1% of test-takers are able to do so. For everyone else, skipping problems is the key to a successful strategy.

 

How is that possible? Let’s say you rated all No-Calculator questions on a 1-5 scale in terms of difficulty, with 5 being the hardest. Answering the easiest problems on the test earns you the same number of points as answering the hardest ones.

 

In the time you spend solving a Level 5 problem (which you may still answer incorrectly), you could have answered several questions in Levels 1-3. Answering easy questions first gives you automatic points. Only circle back to harder questions if you have time at the end.

Want to increase your SAT score?

Our students see an average increase of 250 points on their SAT scores.

 

3. Every time you get a practice question wrong, identify what you messed up.

Most students make the same mistakes on the SAT over and over again because they do not understand the concept that is being tested. Instead of blind practice, review every question you get wrong to understand what core concept you might be missing.

 

In our Test Prep program, new students usually struggle with the following:

 

  • Fractions
  • Variables
  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Understanding Rates
  • Unit conversion
  • Exponents
  • Sine, cosine, and tangents

 

4. Read problems/figures carefully.

The No-Calculator Math Section is designed to trick you. The answer choices always include one or two options that would be correct if the problem were written just a little differently.

 

For any question that give you a lot of information up-front, such as figures and word problems, read all of the information carefully twice before you begin to solve it.

 

5. Check your work.

By the time you finally bubble in your last answer, chances are you want to move on to the next section. It can be tempting to doodle, put your head down, or half-heartedly skim the problem you have just finished.

 

Do not give in! This end-of-section time has the potential to raise your score dramatically. Take these steps in this order to finish strong:

 

 

Step 1: Check your bubble sheet.

 

Have you filled in each bubble neatly? Did you bubble in the right letter every time? Did you skip a row?

 

 

Step 2: Skim for arithmetic errors.

 

You would be surprised how many “8”s magically become “6”s when the pressure is on. Read over your work to make sure you have not made any glaring errors.

 

 

Step 3: Redo problems, starting with the hardest ones.

 

Working difficult problems again is the best way to catch subtle errors. Some students go so far as to take the entire section twice. For starters, we recommend redoing problems that felt difficult on your first pass through the test.

 

You can find more resources on how to ace the SAT on the CollegeVine blog:

 

What Should I Bring to My SAT?

A Guide to the New SAT

The CollegeVine Guide to SAT Scores: All Your Questions Answered

ACT vs SAT/SAT Subject Tests

Are PSAT Scores Related to SAT Scores?

How to Register For Your SATs

 

Want one-to-one help in prepping for the SAT? Consider CollegeVine’s SAT Program. We pair our students with experts who offer you personalized guidance. When students work with our tutors, they see an average 250 point increase in their overall SAT score. Find out if our SAT program is right for you!

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Veronica Wickline
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Veronica is an alumna of Harvard College, where she earned her A.B. in History and Classics. After graduating, she joined CollegeVine serving as the Curriculum Development Manager. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is writing her debut novel.