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How to Raise Your SAT Math Score… Without Learning Any More Math

by Jeff Bergman

in Inner Game, Tutorials

Do you want to know how to increase your SAT Math score without learning any more math than you already know?

Do you think it’s possible?

Before I start, I want to be clear that I think if you’re taking the SAT and you don’t already know how to answer all the math questions correctly, you should learn as many SAT math concepts as you can in the time you have to prepare.

There’s a limit to how high your score can go if you don’t know the handful of basic math concepts that that SAT is testing for. That’s why when I tutor a student one on one, I always make sure she’s learning the math.

If you don’t know how to do a math problem, you can’t get it right. On the other hand, if you do know how to do the problem, you can certainly still get it wrong.

Which leads us to this:

The way to improve your SAT Math score without learning any more math is to answer correctly every single question that you know how to do.

Eliminate the “careless mistakes.”

It’s a simple and obvious answer, but I’ll bet that the overwhelming majority of students who take the SAT are getting several, if not many, questions wrong on the Math section when they know perfectly well how to do the problem.

Now you might say, “Well, if it happens to everyone, it’s not a big deal.”

You’d be right, too, for a lot of things. But not for the SAT, not when your chances of admission to the college of your choice are riding on your score.

Because the SAT Math section is so steeply curved, when you get a few extra questions wrong, it’s killing your score.

If you’re great at math, and you know to do all the questions right, and you do get them all right except for 3 that you just made a little mistake on, your score could drop from an 800 all the way to a 730.

If you’re an average math student, 3 extra questions wrong that you really knew how to do could drop your score from a 600 to a 560.

The worst thing about it is that I bet a lot of people would be happy if they made only 3 careless errors out of the 54 questions on the Math section. A lot of people make more than that.

Talk about frustrating.

So what can you do about it?

The first thing is to stop thinking of them as careless mistakes. The issue isn’t carelessness, it’s focus.

What’s really went on is that you lost your focus for a moment. That’s good news, because focus is a lot easier to correct than “carelessness”.

I’ll tell you how to do it soon.

In the meantime, watch my recent student Jeremy talk about how learning to focus helped him dramatically raise his score.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Zeid November 4, 2014 at 7:47 am

On my October SAT exam I thought I did amazing on the math section, however when the results came up I realized that I did not do well with a score of 510, although I knew most of the math concepts needed for the exam. After my math report was sent to me I realized that I did not do so bad as I answered 30 questions correct and 11 incorrect from a total of 54. Now I have no idea of how to bring my math score up, do you have any suggestions that can help me in the future?

Reply

Jeff Bergman November 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Hi Zeid,
Just to be totally honest for a minute, you can’t get an amazing score if you left 13 questions blank, and answered only 41 out of 54 questions. If you got all 41 of them right, then you’d get about a 650, which is good, but not amazing.

There are 3 components to getting the best math score that you can get.
1) Understanding the math concepts needed for the exam.
2) Problem solving skills.
3) A high level of focus, or attention, so you get every question right that you know how to answer.

Practice with official SAT material, as I’ve described in my replies to other comments. When you can’t answer a question, or get it wrong, ask yourself which of the 3 things I listed was the reason you got it wrong or couldn’t answer it.

If you don’t understand the math concept, it’s easy to find explanations of math concepts on the internet. The Official SAT Study Guide has a pretty good explanation of all the concepts tested.

If you made a “careless” error, keep practicing the steps I mention in this post. It’s the closest thing to a silver bullet that you’ll find, but you do have to practice this method.

If it’s not either of these things, then you’re having trouble with problem solving. Unfortunately, it’s really hard for me to help you with that in a blog post or a reply to your comments. You really need a tutor or coach to work with you and see specifically where you’re having trouble.

Keep working at it, though! And good luck when you take it again!

Reply

Alejandra Bautista September 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm

So are you suggesting that I don’t skip a problem ? Since I have limited time, will it affect me if i focus on question for a long time ?

Reply

Jeff Bergman September 24, 2014 at 6:02 pm

That’s not at all what I’m suggesting!

You have to skip the questions that are harder for you, and then come back to them if you still have time after you’ve answered the other questions that are easier and quicker for you. You’ll probably find that some of those questions will seem much easier when you come back to them a second time.

If you focus on a question for a long time, before you’ve had a chance to answer the others, it will hurt your score in a big way.

I’m so glad you asked!

-Jeff

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Asal August 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

So whenever I take the SAT for practice my score is always between 600 and 640 and it hasn’t really changed so far. By the way I guess I’m focused on the test all the time and I know the concept. I really don’t know whats wrong..

Reply

Jeff Bergman August 19, 2014 at 3:24 pm

When you get problems wrong, do you know why? Are they concepts you don’t know? Did you have trouble with the problem solving? Did you fully understand what the question was asking? Did you make any “careless” errors?

Of course, you know from this post that I don’t think you can correct “careless” errors by thinking of them that way, you have to look at it as a matter of focus. However, I don’t mean focusing on the SAT all the time (although that’s not bad), I mean when you’re doing a math section, focusing on each part of the problem when you’re doing that part, and not rushing to the next step or the next problem.

That being said, focusing the way I mention in this post only lets you score at the top of your current ability. So you also have to look at concepts and problem solving.

Feel free to let me know of any specific problems you had trouble with.

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