By Sean Alexander
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We make it no secret here at Alexander Mathematics and Physics Tutoring that we are not fans of the SAT.  But you still need to know how to study for the SAT. My name for the SAT is “math with a gun to your head.”  I call it this because you are asked to solve complicated problems as quickly as humanly possible.  For most of the problems there is a gimmick or trick to solving the problem quickly.  This basically goes against everything I believe in when it comes to learning mathematics. Still you need a plan to know how to study for the SAT.

We believe in really digging into problems to understand the nuances.  This requires taking your time, being careful, deriving your equations, etc.  I believe in the mantra by the famous physicists Richard Feynman:  You don’t understand a problem unless you can solve it 4 different ways.  The SAT is none of these things.

That being said we do help prepare our students for the mathematics portion of the SAT.  Why?   Because it’s a necessary evil to get into your dream college and we are all about our students pursuing their dreams.  We are also very well equipped to help our students jump through the SAT hoops and get an outstanding score.

Therefore I want to help you get the highest score possible on the SAT and I’m going to share some tricks for achieving that goal.  With practice you should be able to raise your score at least 100 points when you know how to study for the SAT.

Study for the SAT with Drills.

The key to improving on the SAT is drills.  That means doing many problems of the same type over and over again.  The goal is to get to the point where you recognize each “type” of problem on the SAT.  The student should be in the mindset of “oh I’ve seen that type of problem before, the numbers are different but I know what to do. My tutor taught me how to study for the SAT!”

Our favorite tool for guiding the process is Kahn Academy’s SAT preparation tool.  It’s free and super powerful, here’s why.   Your student can take timed practice exams while logged into the Kahn SAT platform.  It’s very important to take as many timed practice SAT exams as possible before the actual test.  You want to simulate the environment of the SAT as much as possible in your bedroom.  This way over time you will develop a feel for how much time you are using and where you should be on the test in order to finish on time.  So the Kahn SAT tool provides the timed exam.  Then it splits your answers into two columns, the ones you got right and the ones you got wrong.  For each problem you got wrong you can administer drills of the same type of problem going from easy to hard.  This is a really great feature and the best way to improve your SAT score.  You want to take as many timed practice exams as possible and do all of the drills on the problems you got wrong.

Here’s where we step in.  We think of our SAT Master Class as playing chess with a grandmaster and a computer, which is how you get the most powerful chess player.  The Kahn SAT tool serves as the computer, giving your student a huge advantage with the drills it provides.  Then our math expert (the grandmaster) will go over the problems you missed and show you the absolute best strategies for solving the problem quickly.  Rinse, repeat. This is how you study for the SAT!

I’d like to share with you a few of the “tricks” used to solve SAT problems quickly.  Back solving is one of the most important skills for solving problems quickly.  Some of the problems can be solved by plugging the answers into the question and seeing which one comes out correct.  You are sure to have a systems of equations problem on the SAT in which there are two equations and two unknowns.  These are prime candidates for back solving.  Simply plug the answers into the system and see which ones produce the same number on both sides of the equation.  Be sure to plug the answers into both equations!  The SAT is notorious for giving you trick answers.  Those are answers that seem right if you made a small mistake.  In this case one solution set may work with one of the equations but not the other.  This is in place to trick students into the wrong answer if they only back solve the first equation.  See how lame this test is?

Our SAT Master Class consists of 12 one-on-one lessons with an SAT math expert.  Your students job is to complete a full timed SAT practice exam on the Kahn website between each of the 12 meetings.  We can see the results, so at the next meeting we will show you the best strategies for solving the problems.  Then your student goes home and completes the drills and then does another practice exam.  After repeating this process 12 times your student is guaranteed to have a massive improvement in their math SAT score.

So what is the best way to study for the SAT?

The bottom line is the best way to study for the SAT is to do as many timed practice exams as possible, preferably using a free tool like Kahn Academy.   Then do as many drills as possible on the types of problems you got wrong.  Repeat as many times as you can tolerate and your score will go up.  Good luck!


  • 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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