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SAT/PSAT Mathematics Basic Strategy Outline

SAT Format and Timing:

No calculator section: 20 questions in 25 minutes.  1-15 are multiple choice and are arranged from easier to more difficult.  16-20 are student produced response and are also arranged from easier to more difficult.  Do the first 15 questions in no more than 18 minutes.  Be willing to guess on the last few multiple choice questions, which are very difficult, in order to get to the first few student-produced response questions, which are easy.

Calculator section: 38 questions in 55 minutes.  1-30 are multiple choice and are arranged from easier to more difficult.  16-20 are student produced response and are also arranged from easier to more difficult.  Do the first 30 questions in no more than 43 minutes.  Be willing to guess on the last few multiple choice questions, which are very difficult, in order to get to the first few student-produced response questions, which are easy.

 

PSAT Format and Timing:

No calculator section: 17 questions in 25 minutes.  1-13 are multiple choice and are arranged from easier to more difficult.  14-17 are student produced response and are also arranged from easier to more difficult.  Do the first 13 questions in no more than 18 minutes.  Be willing to guess on the last few multiple choice questions, which are very difficult, in order to get to the first few student-produced response questions, which are easy.

Calculator section: 31 questions in 45 minutes.  1-27 are multiple choice and are arranged from easier to more difficult.  28-31 are student produced response and are also arranged from easier to more difficult.  Do the first 27 questions in no more than 38 minutes.  Be willing to guess on the last few multiple choice questions, which are very difficult, in order to get to the first few student-produced response questions, which are easy.

 

General Tips:

  • Answer every question. There is no guessing penalty.
  • Do not let any one problem take up too much of your time. If you think you can get it correct but are worried about how long it will take you, take a guess and fill in the bubble, mark the question so you can go back if you have time leftover, and move on.
  • Do not be too quick to give up on a problem. Just because you don’t immediately know exactly what to do on a problem does not mean you cannot figure it out.  Think about it for at least 30 seconds before you give up on it.
  • When guessing, guess intelligently. Take guesses that make sense according to the problem or according to the diagram instead of guessing randomly.  Use your estimating skills when guessing.  On geometry problems with figures (unless it states “Figure not drawn to scale”), you can often get it down to one or two possible answers just by looking at the figure.
  • Come up with a good plan of how to do a problem before you begin doing work. Although taking this time to think may seem like a waste of time, it will save you time by helping you avoid doing work that goes nowhere.
  • Three great ways to avoid careless errors:
  • Make sure your answer makes sense (according to the diagram, according to the problem, and according to your number sense).
  • Make sure you are answering what the question is asking, since it is easy to answer something one step away from what the question is asking.
  • Look out for situations in which you could see yourself making a careless error, so you can slow down and avoid making the error.
  • Three great non-traditional ways of solving problems:
  • Plugging in the answer choices is a great way to solve difficult “solve for x” problems.
  • Graphing on your calculator can help you solve a wide variety of problems.
  • Making up your own numbers can help you figure out certain problems, especially those with one or more variables in the answer choices.
  • Be aware of what formulas are given to you at the beginning of every math section.