Five Last-Minute SAT Math Hacks

“You have 5 minutes remaining in Section 4.”

The announcement sounds like the script to a nightmare. 5 minutes? But I still have questions left to do! Palms are sweaty, knees are weak, pencil’s heavy. You start doing mental math: “if I spend 41 seconds on each question and account for the 8 seconds it took for me to think of this sentence…I’m going to run out of time.” You glance around the room at your fellow test takers and wonder how they are doing. The student next to you has given their pencil a break. The student in front of you stares into space and shakes their calculator, wishing it were a Magic 8 ball to give them the answers.

Looking back at your test. It reads back to you: “The system has no solutions.” What does that even mean? Is this a trick? Is now the time to panic?

Absolutely not! As cool as the other side of the pillow, you have a plan because you’ve read Zinkerz’s “Five Last-Minute SAT Math Hacks.”


Step 1: Analyze Tables, Graphs, and Diagrams.

Problems with tables and diagrams may seem overwhelming at first. “First, they brought letters into algebra to confuse me, and now I have to do math with pictures?” Trust us, it’s not impossible. The SAT actually tends to hide relatively simple problems within diagrams or tables. Because a lot of information can be presented at once in these formats, you have less room for error. Everything you need to answer the question is given to you! But why are these types of problems sought after if you are short on time?

Typically, problems that involve a diagram or a table have a lot of “fluff” around them. They cover the math with text that includes fancy words and excess details.

For example, let’s take a look at the following problem and the things “I don’t need to read”. 

Seems like a lot? Deception! Everything we need to know is consolidated within the lines of the graph. From the graph, we can quickly find meaning behind the variables and identify a trend. With that, question 37 is easy peasy lemon squeezy, not difficult difficult lemon difficult!


Step 2: Plug In

Solve for x? Plug in the answers! Find a point? Plug in the coordinates! What do you do if there is a terrifying equation full of square roots, fractions, and tears of students? Say it with me now, “Plug! In! The! Answers!”

On multiple choice questions, there’s a limited number of possible answers. Compared to an open-ended question with an infinite amount of possible answers, you only have 4 answers to choose from. You could try saving time by substituting the variables for what the test gives you as choices.

Plug in (© trademark pending) is a great method if you’re stuck on a problem. It’s often the fastest and easiest way to solve SAT problems.

Do you have time to solve ? I for sure don’t. So here are some answer choices to plug in:

A) 0
B) 4
C) 8
D) 16

Let me know how it goes!


Step 3: Go for Quadratics

Ah, quadratics. The crowd favorite. They spike enthusiasm throughout your thoughts like the wave crawling across a stadium. Quadratics are the “make me want to scream for joy” category of questions…said no one ever. How about some hacks to change that, huh? Can quadratics become your bread and butter? Keep reading to find out!

Don’t get too mad at me for saying this but: quadratics in the test are easy. I know, I know, but they thought Copernicus was crazy too when he said the Sun was the center of the solar system.

All you need to do is factor. 99% of the time, factoring does the trick. If 99% isn’t good enough for you, here’s a cool hack for the 1%:

If the standard form is , you can use for the sum of the solutions, and for the product of the solutions. 

And that, I think, is pretty cool. Now go challenge your friends to find the sum of the solutions of . I guarantee that you will be faster than them. 


Step 4: Read the Last Sentence

You followed along with your plan diligently, and now just have those last few prickly problems to work out. You’re not sure how to do these though, and they look incredibly intimidating. It’s crunch time and time management is going to come down to the ability to make decisions.

So, how do you divide these last questions over the dwindling, precious minutes that remain? You want to choose the easiest ones, but all of them seemed impossible when you first sifted through them. This is when the last sentence becomes your friend.

Most of the time, the last sentence contains the meat of the math, the crux of the complication, and the heart of the problem. This is, more often than not, where the variable or quantity you’re solving for lives. It’s much easier to get started and to tackle these “impossible” problems once you know what to look for.


Step 5: Letter of the Day

Yes, letter of the day. The last resort. Out of desperation, it may be enough to just guess. But, we can make guessing more efficient to save time. This is done by picking a letter of the day.

Your letter will be your faithful companion for any questions you have to guess on. You may ask, “But why stick to the same letter? Why is this better than randomly assigning letters?” Well my friend, it saves time! You only have to make a choice once this way, as opposed to having to come to a new random decision every question.


So what letter should you pick? That depends on whether you’re superstitious or just a little stitious. For starters, you should pick a letter that’s one of the four options. Out of A, B, C, and D. If you’re superstitious: pick a lucky reason that seems fit for that day. You had an (A)pple for breakfast. The proctor rode their (B)ike to the testing center. Your dream vacation is to visit (C)roatia. Your older sibling was always listening to (D)addy Yankee when you were trying to study. Whatever floats your boat. For my “only a little stitious” pals, pick (B). It’s always (B), unless it isn’t.

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