The Wrong Way to Prepare for the Math SAT

The Math SAT is an aggressively timed exam which hinges upon numeric, algebraic, and geometric foundations. The de facto approach taken by many SAT books, courses, and tutors focuses on doing sample SAT tests.  This is productive when the student’s SAT math foundations are already strong.  The student isn’t reviewing concepts at this stage, but rather, is practicing & optimizing. But, is this approach ideal for students who are just beginning to prepare for the exam?

I feel that effective preparation for the SAT entails a two stage approach. You should first back-fill core foundations before jumping into randomized SAT problems (which students may not yet be sufficiently prepared to tackle). In other words, targeted review “by topic” will prepare him for tackling the comprehensive practice tests. If you do 10 problems of a specific concept in a row, the concept is much more likely to “stick”. In contrast, prematurely doing practice tests can result in the following unproductive cycle: try a problem, get it wrong, move to an entirely different problem.

If you buy into my rationale, the key is to find an SAT book that clusters the practice problems “by topic”.

FAQ: SAT, SAT II

Q: When should I take the SAT II (Level IC)?
A: It can be taken after finishing Math 2 (Geometry)

  • Math 1: Algebra
  • Math 2: Geometry

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Q: When should I take the SAT II (Level IIC)?
A: It can be taken after finishing Math 3 (Alg2/Trig)

  • Math 1: Algebra
  • Math 2: Geometry
  • Math 3: Selected Algebra2/Trig topics:
    • Imaginary numbers (i)
    • Systems of equations
    • Functions
    • Composition of functions
    • Logs
    • Trigonometry
    • Law of Sin & Law of Cos

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Q: Are Math 3 (Algebra2/Trig) topics on the ACT?
A: Yes, about 8-10 problems out of 60.

  • Domain/Range
  • Systems of equations
  • Absolute Value Inequalities
  • Logs
  • Trigonometry
  • SOH|CAH|TOA
  • Radians (pi/180)
  • Sin/Cos graphs (0 to 2pi)