It's just like packing for a vacation.

Preparing for the math section of the SAT is a lot like getting ready for a vacation: you'll need to know where you're going, how to get there, and the supplies you need to make it an awesome trip. Not to mention how to avoid getting sent to the emergency room with a tragic case of food poisoning from that suspicious-looking hot dog on a stick that you bought from a gas station.

We make these mistakes so you don't have to. We're a river to our people.

Here's the thing: most of us hate packing. It's boring, we leave it until the last possible minute, and we usually still end up wondering why we thought it was a good idea to pack five pairs of snow pants and a grass skirt for a week in Cabo. Whether you're traveling around the world or just across town, figuring out what you need to take (and what to leave behind) can be harder than planning the trip itself.

Luckily, you can pack light for SAT Math. Here's a quick rundown of the essentials.

Some of the major skills that the SAT math section will test include your ability to interpret single and multi-variable expressions, ratios & proportions, systems of linear equations, polynomials, quadratic equations, scatter plots and graphs, etc. The main fields you’ll see tested are algebra, geometry, and statistics, but many questions will be a delicious math-y milkshake of multiple skills, sprinkled with good ole fashioned arithmetic and served cold.

If you’re a student who considers themselves stronger in ELA (English & Language Arts), you can excel at the SAT math section as long as you approach your preparation strategically. This means you’ll need to focus on practicing the skills that are most commonly tested on the exam. Use Shmoop’s online test prep and pay attention to which questions you don’t get correct. We’ll let you know what skills those questions we’re targeting, and you’ll know exactly which skills you need to target to improve your score.

Five concerns of English/Language Arts people and why you shouldn't worry.

If you're sweating the math section, grab that towel, because we've got you covered.

Concern #1: Math is so broad—where should I start and what should I study?

For someone stronger in the language arts, it can be daunting TO prep for the SAT math section because there are simply so many topics to cover. If you’re completely lost, here’s where we recommend to start:

Kick things off with algebra, and make sure that you’re very confident in the algebraic skills the SAT will test. This includes solving and graphing linear equations with one or two variables, identifying equations of lines on a graph, solving linear inequalities, interpreting linear functions, etc. You’ll get sick of the word linear prepping for this section, but channel the nausea into a perfect score and make us proud, Shmoop reader.

Once your algebra is up to speed, focus on ratios, rates, proportions, and percents. Many of these questions are taken from the Problem Solving and Data Analysis domain. You should be comfortable using the above to solve single and multi-step problems, like determining a unit conversion to solve a unit rate word problem.

After you’re comfortable with the above, continue into statistics and become comfortable with mean, median, mode, range, and the other fundamentals of statistical analysis. You should be able to use statistics to compare two different sets of data and be comfortable calculating standard deviations.

Lastly, review more advanced topics like quadratic and exponential functions, solving quadratic equations, working with polynomial expressions, solving systems with one linear equation or one quadratic equation, using and interpreting function notation, etc.

Concern #2: I'm not in the advanced math class, so I haven’t studied calculus or advanced statistics yet.

Great news for you! The SAT math section won’t contain questions that cover calculus or advanced statistics.

Everything you see on the exam will come from mathematical concepts taught before calculus. The SAT is much more interested in testing the foundational skills of math as opposed to the most advanced topics a high schooler might know.

Math is cumulative, so make sure that you’re confident tackling the easier SAT math questions before you start practicing the things you aren’t as confident on.

Concern #3: I’m not good at math without a calculator.

Throw away that crutch—you're actually more likely to make a typo and to slip up when you turn to your calculator, because it's easy to drop a number or two and make a careless mistake when you're shifting from the page to the calculator.

The only way you'll get used to catching your careless mistakes is if you start writing down all your steps and seeing where you go wrong. The calculator swallows those mistakes whole and gives you no insight into the process.

Concern #4: I am no good at remembering formulas.

More good news! Thankfully, the SAT math section won’t require you to have a list of geometrical formulas memorized. There will be a reference section in the directions that contains many of the formulas you’ll need.

But what formulas do you need to have memorized? It's a good idea to memorize the following formuals:

  • The quadratic equation
  • Standard formula and point-slope formula for a line the formula for the slope of a line
  • How to calculate percentage & percent change
  • How to calculate an average

Concern #5: I am too slow to finish the math section.

The math section gets harder as you progress through the multiple-choice questionS, so focus on the easier questions which you have a harder time getting right.

If you know you'll be pressed for time, skip the last few multiple-choice questions before you get to the grid-in questions.

You can guess on these multiple-choice questions and then spend your time working on the grid-in questions, which you won't be able to guess on.

Five Tips and Tricks for the SAT Math Section

  1. Personalize your experience. Overwhelmed by variables? Try to use your own numbers instead of working with x and y. Sure, your Algebra teacher will probably be crying tears of frustration there in the corner, but who cares if you get a few extra points?
  2. Guess and check. You know the answer is literally right in front of you in a multiple-choice question, so sometimes you can work backwards from those answer choices to see which one is correct. This isn't always the most efficient method, but once you learn to use it, you'll get a better sense of when it will save you time and when it won't.
  3. Remember to document the steps it takes for you to figure out an answer - On the no-calculator section, you’ll be relying on your wits and what you write down to figure out the right answer. If you write out the steps it takes you to figure out the correct response, you’ll be able to not only see your logic laid out on paper, but go back and catch mistakes you might have made.
  4. Double check. Once you've found the final answer, make sure you're answering the right question. After multiple steps in a math problem, it's easy to lose track of which variable you're trying to solve for.
  5. Turn words into math. You’ll come across a few word problems on the SAT math section, and you should be familiar with how to represent these words as math. When you see divided by, per, ratio, or quotient, you should immediately know you’re dealing with division. If you read times or product of, it’s multiplication. Sum or more than is addition, and difference or less than is subtraction. An integer is a number that isn’t a fraction or decimal, and consecutive integers are represented as an integer x , x + 1, x + 2, x + 3, etc. You can also find consecutive even or consecutive odd integers by using x + 2, x +4, x + 6, etc. Some easier word problems may not need to be represented mathematically, but this is a great way to visualize things if you’re stumped.

Now that weve overcome some common concerns and you've got tips to succeed on test day, kickstart your studying with Shmoop's SAT® Test Prep