By Sean Alexander

Although many colleges are still test-optional, a high SAT score can set you apart from other applicants and improve your chances of getting into your dream school. Additionally, many schools that were test-optional during the pandemic have pivoted back to requiring test scores as part of their admissions process.

If you’ve taken the SAT — whether a practice version or the real thing — and you’re not happy with your math score, there are concrete steps you can take to improve it.

What Does a Low SAT Math Score Actually Look Like?

You might be surprised to learn that the lowest possible score on the SAT’s math section is 200. Even if you don’t answer a single question correctly, you’ll still score 200. A perfect score is 800, and the 50th percentile is between 500 and 510 on a score report, so you could consider a low score anything below 500.

However, the meaning of “low score” will depend largely on what colleges you’re hoping to attend. Most colleges publicly list the average SAT score of their admitted students, the score that places you among the bottom 25th percentile of admitted students, and the score that places you among the top 75th percentile.

Aiming for a score in at least the 75th percentile for the most competitive school on your list is a good idea. This certainly won’t guarantee you admission — not even a perfect SAT score will guarantee admission at highly competitive schools — but it will give you a good chance.

5 Tips To Improve SAT Math Scores

If you’re used to getting As in your math classes, no one could blame you for thinking you should be able to walk into the SAT cold and get a high math score. However, if you don’t understand the format and types of questions on the math SAT, you will be at a disadvantage. Below are some tips for improving your math skills and acing the math SAT, whether you consider yourself a math wiz or not.

    1. Pinpoint What Areas and Formulas You Need To Study the Most

    Before you can improve, you need to determine your baseline score by taking a practice test. The SAT changes periodically, so make sure your practice test is based on the most current edition of the SAT. You don’t want to waste time learning skills that won't help you improve your math scores.

    After taking a practice test, analyze every question you missed and determine which categories you scored the lowest in. The math SAT includes questions from the following categories:

    • Heart of algebra: Linear equations, systems of linear equations, and linear inequalities
    • Problem-solving and data analysis: Rates, ratios, proportions, percentages, units, data interpretation, and statistical measures
    • Passport to advanced math: Advanced algebraic concepts, such as quadratic equations, functions, exponents, and polynomials
    • Additional topics: Geometry, trigonometry, and complex numbers

    Prioritize the categories where you missed the most questions. Keeping a math “deliberate practice” notebook will help you identify the formulas and types of problems you should work on. Write every problem you missed in a notebook, including why you missed it and the correct solution. Rework similar problems during your study sessions until you can do them easily and no longer miss them on your practice tests.

    2. Invest in a Reliable Tutor

    A good tutor can help you develop a strategic plan to improve your SAT math. Look for professional tutors with experience and a demonstrated ability in SAT math. A tutor can explain areas you don’t understand and suggest practical solutions for tackling challenging problems.

    Because they’re used to working with students on the math SAT, a reliable tutor will know what works, which resources you should invest in, and which ones are a waste of time and money.

    3. Double Check for Careless or Avoidable Mistakes

    It’s incredibly disheartening to take the SAT and realize you missed one or more questions because of careless or avoidable errors. The test makers are well aware of the types of mistakes students commonly make, so the answer choices often include those you’d get if you made a typical mistake.

    When working through problems, think about the different ways you’re likely to make a mistake (your practice book will be helpful for this) and what answer you’d get if you made it. When you’re taking practice tests, see if you can figure out which answer choices would result from careless mistakes. Practicing this will make finding the correct answer easier.

    4. Improve Time Management Skills by Taking Timed Practice Tests

    Doing well on the SAT requires a combination of careful problem-solving and speed. Working through different kinds of questions carefully and deliberately will enhance your skills, but you need to be able to use them quickly. Even if you’re granted extra time due to accommodations, you’ll still need to ensure you get through all of the problems.

    Taking many timed practice tests is the best way to get used to actual test conditions and improve your speed without sacrificing accuracy, particularly if you need to use a bubble sheet for your answers. Although you should take your time learning and ensure you have a deep understanding of new concepts, once you understand them, you’ll need to practice working quickly to get through the entire test.

    5. Master and Memorize Simple and Effective Formula Shortcuts

    It’s worth memorizing the formulas you will most likely need on the SAT. Although you’ll be given some formulas, you’ll save precious seconds if you memorize them. Additionally, you’ll only be given geometry formulas. Geometry has been de-emphasized on the latest version of the SAT, making up only 10% of question types.

    The test doesn’t give algebra or trigonometry formulas. While you can calculate some formulas, you can work through the math questions more quickly if you have them memorized.

    Find the Right Tutor To Help You Reach Your Target Score

    Working with a skilled tutor can help you improve your raw score on the math SAT test faster and with less effort than doing it alone. The highly-skilled professional tutors at Alexander Tutoring can help you create a roadmap to reach your target SAT math score.

    Reach out today to learn more.


    • Sean Alexander

      COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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