SAT: Specific Strategies for the SAT II Math Subject Test

2019-07-12

The strategies shared in this post will help you improve your score on the SAT II Math Subject Test by clarifying how to effectively manage your time, effort, and test conditions. Before we get started, make sure that you have a well-grounded understanding of the SAT II Math Subject Test and have been through our steps on Scoring 800 on the SAT Math 2


  1. Timing

    Managing your time well is of the out most importance. Never spend too long on a single question. If you have spent what feels like 30 seconds on a question and you have not made any progress, skip to the next question and come back to it at the end. It is much more important to have a go at all the question than to waste a lot of time solving ones that are trickier for you.

    SAT 2 math timing strategy
  2. Complete the questions in the order given

    Unlike some other exams that might organise their questions by topic or even randomly, the SAT II Math Subject Test is already organized by difficulty, meaning that you should be attempting the questions in the order already given.

  3. Always use the quickest method to solve questions

    Just because you know how to use long division to find the factors of a polynomial expression does not mean you should! In this test, there are no merits for solving questions in the ‘correct’ way. Rather, you should be minimizing your workload and solving questions with as little effort as possible. Most of the time, this means taking it easy and plugging questions into your graphics calculator (see later).

  4. Eliminate any impossible answer options

    Guess answers for questions where you have eliminated one answer or more. This is logical, as your expected value is positive! For example, if you manage to eliminate only one answer, then your expected value is calculated as follows:

    E(x) = (Probability of being correct x reward) + (Probability of being wrong x penalty)

    E(x) = (0.25 x 1) + (0.75 x -0.25) = 0.0625

    The calculated expected value is even better when you can eliminate even more answers! Do not let your emotions scare you away from guessing in these scenarios! 

  5. Marry your graphics calculator

    This might sound a bit funny, but you have A LOT to gain by using your graphics calculator as much as possible and knowing how to use it effectively. If you do not own a graphics calculator, try your best to get one. They can be a bit pricey, so if you cannot buy one, then you can ask to borrow one from a friend (make sure to treat him or her to an iced-tea as a token of your appreciation). 

    SAT math 2 exam strategy graphics calculator

    So why are graphics calculators so important for this test? A HUGE proportion of the questions in the SAT II Math Test can be solved without breaking a sweat and by using the built-in functions on your calculator. In a nut-shell, your graphics calculator can be used to solve simultaneous equations, graph functions and find intercepts intercepts and points of intersection, solve matrices, calculate statistical values such as the mean, median, mode, and standard deviation, and so much more! 

    Let’s take an example from the Int-learn SAT II Math Subject Test question bank to really demonstrate the power of using your calculator to simplify problems for you:

    SAT math 2 exam calculator question

    This question is testing your knowledge on solving polynomial equations given certain roots to the equation. To solve this question, you could use long division to factorize out
    (x+2) out, and then factorize the resultant quadratic to reach an answer. However, this is very time-consuming and it is easy to make a silly mistake. You might also think to plug the answer options into the formula and see which ones are roots. This is possible too, but it can also be very time-consuming. The simplest and safest way is to sketch the entire function on your calculator and use the x-intercept tool to find the roots for you! How simple is that? In our SAT II Math Subject Test question bank, we indicate which questions can be solved easily with the graphics calculator in the questions’ explanations, so you can leverage your calculator to its maximum potential.

    Not convinced yet? Let’s take a look at another example to prove you otherwise:

    SAT math 2 calculator sample question

    Here, you need to solve an equation for the unknown
    c. Once you find c, you then need to find the cube root of the value to get the final answer. 

    Now, I want you to imagine you are sitting in the
    real exam and you are worried about finishing on time and you keep making silly calculation errors. You know that you can solve this question but you are worried that you will make another mistake and will end up wasting too much time. What do you do? 

    The answer is simple:
    USE YOUR GRAPHICS CALCULATOR! 

    To solve this question using your calculator, you can sketch two equations: one for
    y being equal to the left-hand-side of the equation, and one for y being equal to the right-hand-side. Next, find the x-coordinate of where the two functions intercept - this value is c. Within 30 seconds, you will have graphically found c. The last step is simple - to cube root c to reach the final answer.

  6. Be mindful of all the methods you can use to solve problems

    So far we have largely talked about using your calculator to quickly tackle questions. Sometimes, however, this might not be possible, so it is important to be aware of all the methods at your disposal:

    - Normal means - these are the methods that your math teacher taught you. They are sensible and will always work. Just be wary that other methods might be faster.

    - Graphics Calculator - as mentioned before, this is often the quickest and safest method.

    - Plug in numbers - the SAT II Math Subject Test always offers five answer options. For some questions, you can try to put the values back into the question to see which values work. Never neglect this method.

    - Elimination - through this method, you can reach the correct answer or improve your odds by eliminating impossible choices.


After reading through this post, you should now be acquainted with the relevant strategies you can implement in this test. It is now up to you to start employing these strategies in your practice tests and in your upcoming exam... best of luck!


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