Often, the biggest challenges for students when it comes to the math section of the SAT don’t actually involve math! 

Most SAT math questions require a student to juggle a lot of information, combine multiple types of math, and perform multi-step calculations. That’s why creativity and concentration can make all the difference between a mediocre score and a great one.

First, let’s talk about creativity (see our other post on concentration for more tips!). 

Creative math doesn’t mean 2+2=17. It means being strategic and innovative in the ways you put mathematical operations together and in the ways you use the information given to you by an SAT problem. There is usually more than one way to tackle an SAT math question, and a great test taker needs to have a flexible and adventurous approach. Here’s a basic problem solving method to help you find creative solutions to the SAT’s trickiest math problems:

Step 1. 

Underline or circle what the question is asking for. This is your goal.

Step 2. 

Identify what information is needed to attain your goal. These are your in-between goals.

Step 3. 

Take stock of the information the question gives you.

Step 4. 

Determine how to use this information to get to your in-between goals.

Step 5. 

Execute and solve.

Allow us to illustrate this method on an SAT-type problem:

SAT math

What is the perimeter of the figure above?

Step 1. 

What’s my goal? The perimeter of the figure.

Step 2. 

What are my in-between goals? The lengths of the three unmarked segments on the left side of the figure.

Step 3. 

What do I know? The top is 4, the right side is 2, and the bottom is 3.

Step 4. 

How do I use this information? I can see that the horizontal missing piece is the difference between the top and bottom. And I can see that the two vertical missing pieces have to add up to 2.

Step 5. 

Put it all together. To get the perimeter, just add up all the sides:

2 (the two missing vertical lengths) + 1 (the missing horizontal length) + 4 + 2 + 3 = 12

As you can see, the problem solving method helped us not only in organizing our thoughts and the given information but also in identifying a creative path to the correct answer. Practice this method until it becomes your habit when approaching confusing or difficult math problems.