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How to Become an SAT or ACT Math Whiz

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By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe can answer your question in Expert Advice.



JoJo, Junior and Jiji got in a fight over x number of jelly beans. If JoJo ended up with three times as many jelly beans as Junior and if Jiji ended up with twice as many jelly beans as JoJo, how many jelly beans did Junior end up with, in relation to x?

(A) x/3 (B) x/5 (C) x/6 (D) x/10 (E) x/12


Ah, what better way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning than answering questions like this for the SAT or ACT? Okay, so you can probably think of a million better things to do including organizing your sock drawer. Unfortunately, the math sections on both the SAT and ACT are required parts of the exam and at some point you're going to have spend some time with the likes of JoJo, Junior and Jiji.

So to help you become a math whiz who can ace the SAT or ACT math sections, we've put together this helpful guide. Whether you're an algebraic prodigy (like Kelly) or geometric knucklehead (like Gen), you'll find these tips useful in boosting your math scores.

By the way, did you get the right answer to the question above? See the conclusion of this guide to check your answer.




Memorize algebra and geometry formulas.

Make a song of them, hypnotize yourself or chant them for 15 minutes a day. We don't care how you do it, just make sure you know the formulas cold. Although all the formulas you'll need will be given in the test booklet, don't rely on them since it will only waste your time flipping back and forth between pages. Plus, memorizing the formulas will help you to understand how to actually use them.




Experiment with different methods for solving problems.

You will encounter some math problems that involve complicated formulas or a number of steps. Sometimes it is easier to work backwards on those problems. To do this, plug the possible answers into the problem and then do the calculations using that number. When you are taking practice tests, figure out if this method works for you. If it is a strategy that you find useful, decide on which kinds of problems it is most effective.




Plug in numbers for variables.

On problems with complicated formulas and a number of variables, it can be faster to plug in actual numbers for each variable than to use formulas to figure out what the variables are. Try each answer from the multiple choice selections. If you are able to solve the problem, then you know which answer to mark on the answer page.


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