Getting a perfect score on the SAT Math section is HARD. Not only does the SAT actively try to trick you, but your mind at 8am is hardly at its best. As a result, most students end up sabotaging their score by making careless mistakes. Here are three habits I’ve developed to error-proof my performance:
1. Double underline what each question is asking for with your pencil.
A lot of students will put the radius down as the answer when the question asks for the diameter, or they’ll spend 3 minutes solving for \(x\) when the question asks for \(x + y\).
In a world where everyone skims, physically underlining the question forces your eyes to slow down and focus on what you’re actually solving for.
2. Circle your answers in the test booklet first. Bubble them in later.
Constantly switching back and forth between the test booklet and the answer sheet can throw your mental concentration off balance. It’s like trying to do homework while texting with a friend. You lose momentum and focus.
Instead, you want to transition to each question without fumbling with papers on your tiny desk every time.
I recommend doing 2-4 pages at a time, circling your answers in the test booklet as you go. After you finish those 2-4 pages, you can bubble in your answers all at once. This way, you save time by focusing on one activity at a time. You’re also less likely to bubble in the wrong answer since your concentration isn’t diverted back and forth.
At the end, you'll have a record of your answers in your test booklet. This is useful for correcting any discrepancies (e.g. you bubbled in an answer for the wrong question).
Lastly, some perfectionist students are obsessive about how they fill in the answer bubble. They needlessly waste time darkening the bubble more than they need to and erasing stray marks. You might be one of them. By bubbling in many answers at once, you’re at least keeping that OCD behavior to a minimum.
3. Watch what you’re entering into your calculator.
A lot of students type numbers in without looking at the screen. Always check the numbers that show up as you press the keys.
Also, watch your parentheses. I can’t tell you how many times students enter \(5-3/2\) instead of \((5-3)/2\). They are not the same.
And that’s all there is to it.
These habits are really simple, don’t take much time, and actually work, but you have to practice them consistently. Take them seriously, starting with your next practice test.
One silly mistake can cost you as much as 40 points on the math section. Yeah, the curve sucks. Reinforcing these test-taking habits can be just as important as the concepts that you review.