This article is a guest post by Christian Heath. He is a fellow tutor in the Austin area and author of SAT Math Mastery Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. All links are affiliate links.
In my ten years as a professional SAT Prep tutor, I’ve spent a lot of time walking students through the steps of getting higher SAT Math scores.
Most students will never reach a perfect score in SAT Math – and that’s just the statistical truth. Furthermore, it’s not important for most students to get a perfect score. A good SAT score is more than enough for most college applications.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get a perfect SAT Math score. In fact, I’ve done it, and I’ve seen other students do it as well!
The truth is, getting a perfect score on the SAT Math test has more to do with hard work than with natural talent.
Here are seven of the most crucial tips I can give for any student seeking a perfect score on the SAT Math test. They also apply to anyone who just wants a higher score on SAT Math. Any student prepping for the SAT Math test will benefit from studying and applying the tips in this article!
Let’s get going with the first crucial tip for a perfect SAT Math score…
1. Achieve Proper SAT Math Mindset
All success in life begins with the proper mindset. When you’re confident, enthusiastic, and patient, you can move mountains! But if you’re doubtful, disinterested, and in a rush, then you’re guaranteed to get poor results.
One of the defining features of SAT Math perfect-scorers is their confidence and enthusiasm. They believe they can answer all the questions on the test – and they’re excited to try. From this state of positivity and confidence, it’s easy to handle any bumps in the road.
Of course, almost any student will see a few SAT Math questions they don’t immediately know how to solve. But it’s the students with a positive mindset that will actually try to finish these problems. They’ll give themselves a chance to figure it out, instead of instantly assuming “I don’t know how to do this one” and looking for the first opportunity to give up. Positivity is key.
The proper mindset for a perfect SAT Math score also includes a healthy dose of patience. This applies to both the immediate short-term situation and the long-term big-picture plan.
Patient students are able to prevent themselves from rushing on test day. They don’t let their fear of the time limit force them into rushed decisions or careless mistakes. It’s amazing how many of my tutoring students will admit they missed an easy math question simply because they were rushing. These are easy math mistakes to fix if you just slow down and apply some patience.
Patient students also take the long view of SAT prep as a big project. Although they’re constantly shooting for a new high score, they also know that they can usually test again if they need to.
Of course, you can’t just keep testing forever – most students need to be finished with SAT testing around Fall of Senior Year.
But, in most cases, you can take the SAT at least one more time. Having this positive, enthusiastic, and patient long-term outlook puts you in the right mental space for a perfect score on the SAT Math test.
So before you worry about any specific Math concepts tested on the SAT, you should focus on your mindset. When you feel positive and confident, the rest of the work comes naturally.
Now, let’s keep getting higher SAT Math scores as we flavor our positive mindset with a dose of healthy paranoia…
2. Control Careless SAT Math Mistakes
After you get your positive mindset right, the next quick improvement you can make towards a perfect SAT Math score is to master your Careless Mistakes.
We should be just a little bit paranoid about making careless SAT Math mistakes – not so much that we get nervous and lose our positive mindset, but just enough so that we never forget about the dangers.
There are four main careless mistakes that every student makes on SAT Math tests, and I guarantee that you make them as well.
These mistakes are:
- Negative Signs & Subtraction
- Order of Operations
- Misreading the Question
- The Switcheroo
Now’s not the right time for me to go into detail on these mistakes. But I’ll just tell you what “The Switcheroo” is, since the name isn’t so self-explanatory.
“The Switcheroo” is a carefully-planned mistake that the SAT test makers deliberately include in many math questions. If you solve for x, the question might ask for y. And if you solve for the radius of a circle, the question may ask for the diameter. This deliberate SAT-style trap for you to get the right numbers but the wrong final answer is what I call “The Switcheroo.”
Most of my students lose more points to Careless Mistakes than to any other SAT Math topic. So how do you prevent these mistakes from ruining your perfect score?
The secret is to anticipate and expect these mistakes. Remember that they are a constant danger, and remain cautious and attentive.
Show all your work. Don’t rush. Write down all your steps, even (and especially) when using a calculator. Double-check your negative signs, and never give a final answer until you reread the question to confirm what it’s actually asking.
Once you’ve got your mindset and your careless mistakes locked down, it’s time to move onto one of the biggest pieces of the SAT Math perfect-score puzzle…
3. Master SAT Math Content
Now that you’ve got the proper positive mindset and you’re extra-vigilant for your careless mistakes, it’s time to start locking down all the math topics on the SAT test.
Nothing feels better than knowing exactly what’s on the SAT Math test before it starts. And, when the expected math topics show up, you recognize them immediately and know exactly how to solve them. It feels amazing, and definitely leads straight to a perfect score.
This knowledge and understanding of all the topics tested on the SAT Math is what I call “Content Mastery,” and it’s an absolutely critical part of getting a perfect score on the SAT Math test.
There’s no amount of strategy or confidence that can get you a perfect SAT Math score on its own. At the end of the day, you have to know what math is on the test and how to do it.
In my analysis, there are 38 different topics on the SAT Math test. Surprisingly, about 85% of the questions are just from Algebra 1 and 2 – a huge percentage. That leaves only about 15% of the SAT Math test for the remaining topics on Geometry and Statistics.
So, it’s immediately clear that a perfect SAT Math score relies heavily on your mastery of essential Algebra topics. The SAT Math test is astonishingly biased in favor of Algebra!
Now, underneath the bigger umbrellas of subjects like “Algebra” and “Geometry” are dozens of subtopics. For example, Algebra includes “Ratios & Proportions” and “Linear Equations.” And Geometry covers topics like “Angles” and “Circles, Arcs, and Sectors.” Each of these subtopics is usually quite easy to master, if you just focus on it specifically.
It’s my experience that students greatly overestimate the difficulty of many SAT Math topics. This often comes from bad experiences in high school math classes or from “intimidating-looking” math problems.
But over and over again, at the end of a tough-looking SAT Math question, I hear my students say “Oh, I get it now. That was way easier than I thought it would be.”
The content on the SAT Math test is of particular interest to me. I spent over six months writing a complete two-volume math textbook – totaling over 1,000 pages – that completely covers every single type of math topic on the SAT Test. It’s designed to identify your weak areas immediately and teach you to dominate them.
There’s more than one way to study these topics – but I’d highly recommend using my own SAT Math textbooks to get started. They’re perfect for any student who wants a higher SAT Math score and cover the entire test in-depth with diagnostics, lessons, and hundreds of practice questions.
You can get the books on Amazon here: SAT Math Mastery Volume 1 and Volume 2. Check them out if you’re committed to achieving content mastery for higher SAT Math scores!
Up to this point, most of our prep hasn’t even used official SAT practice materials. But, once you’ve mastered the math content itself, the time has come to move onto “the real deal” of the SAT Math….
4. Practice SAT Math Without a Timer
After steps one through three, you’re in the perfect place to start practicing math sections from official SAT Practice Tests – but without a timer.
For this step, you’ll need The Official SAT Study Guide, or you can access the same practice SAT tests for free on the College Board’s website. However, I strongly recommend just getting the official textbook – it’s easier and less expensive than the printer ink and paper you’ll use printing off all those practice tests. Plus, it keeps everything in one place.
We’re still shooting for a perfect SAT Math score, but in this phase, you should not be working with a timer. Your only focus should be figuring out how to answer every single math question accurately and confidently.
I sometimes call this the “tear your hair out phase,” because the most important part is trying your absolute hardest on every single question.
You might feel like you’re going crazy as you try to deal with one frustrating SAT Math question after another. You might feel like you’re continually getting stuck or making the same mistakes.
That’s OK! It’s part of the learning process. Don’t worry – if you keep at it, you’ll soon start to realize that you can improve – and that the same patterns and types of questions keep showing up. But first, you have to be willing to “tear your hair out” while trying as hard as you can to solve each question on your own.
I’d recommend working at least four complete SAT Math tests (including both No-Calculator and Calculator sections) without a timer. For most students, this phase will take somewhere between 1-2 weeks of hard work.
But one word of warning – it may take longer than you think. Because we don’t just need to do the practice, we also need to follow up on it, as we’ll see next…
5. Check and Correct Your SAT Math Mistakes
After you finish each SAT Math practice section, it’s crucial to check and correct your work within 24 hours. The Official SAT Study Guide (as well as the College Board website) contains answers and explanations for every question.
Most of the time, you can figure out your own mistakes just by reading and applying the explanations. For the SAT math test, the book’s explanations are actually pretty good – most of the time. You won’t need a tutor’s help for most questions – if you go over your missed questions with the explanations in the book, you’ll be able to figure out most of the problems on your own.
But again, you have to be willing to “tear your hair out” as you’re struggling to understand each missed question. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it’s my experience that the biggest breakthroughs come when we’re putting in the most effort. If you are one of those people who likes to say “I give up, this doesn’t make sense” and close the book as soon as possible, then I’m sorry – but you’ll just never get a perfect SAT Math score.
So, bottom line – the effort you spend correcting your math work is just as important as the effort you spend doing the work in the first place. They are two sides of the same coin. We practice, we correct, we improve. SAT Math scores go up. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?
Stay patient and methodical as you check your untimed practice and correct each and every mistake.
Afterwards, you’re ready to face one of the ultimate challenges of the SAT Math test…
6. Practice SAT Math Sections With a Timer
As an SAT tutor, I know that the time limit is one of issues that students and parents are most concerned about.
But, I think they’re wrong to be so worried about the timer. Or – more accurately – I think they’re wrong to focus on the timer so much.
See, a lot of people have this mistaken assumption that the time limit is their only problem. They say “if I just had more time, I could get more SAT Math questions right.” But after 10 years of tutoring, it really doesn’t seem that way to me.
The SAT Math questions really aren’t very hard, and they don’t take very long – if you know what you’re being tested on.
But if you don’t know the material, then it doesn’t really matter how long you have to work. I could give you infinite time, and you’d still be stuck (or make a mistake) on that same question.
So although many students think that the time limit is their main issue, I know that’s usually not true. Instead, their real problems come from the list of previous steps in this article – from “Mindset” to “Careless Mistakes” to “Math Content Mastery.” That’s why I’ve waited so long in this article before introducing a timer.
However, at a certain point in your prep, you do need to start dealing with the time limit. But the proper time to introduce a timer is only after you’ve done the steps below:
- Achieve Proper Mindset
- Control Careless Mistakes
- Master SAT Math Content
- Practice Without a Timer
- Check and Correct Your Mistakes
Without the steps listed above, a timer won’t help you at all. You’ll just rush and feel stressed, leading you to make more careless mistakes and get frustrated with little progress. You’ll just get more questions wrong, faster. Does that sound like the recipe for a perfect SAT Math score? No way.
To master the time limit, you first must have solid fundamentals. To beat the time limit, you must not worry about the time limit. It’s a bit of a paradox.
In this stage of your practice, you should be working one math section at a time. You want to minimize the element of fatigue that starts to affect you after about an hour of hard work. For right now, you just want to do one math section at a time. Then check and correct it within 24 hours of finishing, and “tear your hair out” fixing any mistakes you’ve made.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way to a perfect SAT Math score. Stay strong and keep it up – you’re going to crush it in the next phase!
7. Practice Full-Length Tests
Now it’s time for the most realistic practice possible. It’s time to unify everything into one elegant performance.
Before official SAT test day, you need to be ready for the endurance-fest of taking a 4-hour SAT test with total focus. It’s quite a marathon, and endurance plays a huge role in your perfect score.
The Math sections are at the very end of the SAT test. And you take this test early in the morning on a Saturday. That means (for most of us, including myself) you will be tired and ready to quit when the math sections are just getting started.
So, full-length, realistic practice SAT tests are a vital part of a perfect SAT Math score. We’re not just practicing the math questions at this point – we’re also practicing our endurance, focus, and energy management.
When you take a full-length practice test, the goal is to be as realistic as possible. I strongly urge picking a specific day (ideally Saturday, since that’s the day of the real test) and scheduling it for an early morning start. You should even follow a pre-planned sleep schedule in the week leading up to your practice test – just like it’s a real SAT test.
Don’t forget to check and correct your work within 24 hours of your practice SAT test. Be willing to “tear your hair out” with the amount of effort and energy you spend reviewing (and learning from) your mistakes in the math sections. The more effort you put into your corrections, the more you will learn – and the faster you will reach a perfect score.
There’s one last tip I’ve got on your way to a perfect SAT Math score…
8. (Bonus) Take More Than One SAT Test
There’s one last major piece of advice I’d give any student who wants a perfect score on the SAT Math test – and that’s to plan on taking the SAT more than once.
Almost no one gets a perfect SAT Math score on their first try. I certainly didn’t!
Most students take the SAT from two to four times. But there’s nothing that says you can’t take it even more times than that.
You can see upcoming SAT test dates and registrations on the College Board website.
Again, most students should plan to take the SAT test multiple times – especially if you’re shooting for a perfect score on the math section.
Most students who get a perfect score on the SAT Math test have taken the real test more than once. There’s no shame in retesting – colleges mostly just care about your highest SAT score.
However, if you’re continually testing and retesting without score improvements, that probably means you aren’t committing any serious effort to studying and practicing in between tests. Be sure that between each of your official test dates, you commit serious effort and time to your improvement, using the seven tips listed in this article.
Review & Conclusions
So there you have it! These are the seven ways (and one bonus tip) to get a perfect score on the SAT Math test.
You may find these tips revolutionary secrets, or you may think they’re completely obvious. To tell the truth, it doesn’t really matter if these ideas are new or old to you. What matters is what you do next.
Knowing what to do is important – but taking action is much more important.
In life, the hardest problems are often the simplest. Getting a perfect SAT Math score isn’t easy, but in many ways it is simple. Follow the tips in this article and you’ll be following in the footsteps of other students who have achieved those same perfect scores. I guarantee you that your hard work will be more valuable than all the luck and natural talent in the world.
Again, I’d recommend ordering my complete SAT Math textbooks (Volume 1 and Volume 2) on Amazon if you’re truly dedicated to reaching a higher SAT Math score.
Now get to work!
Christian Heath is the founder of Love the SAT Test Prep and a 10-year veteran of SAT and ACT prep.
Reeves Tutoring is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com