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Maximize your SAT Math Score: Master the No Calculator Section with Jack's Proven Strategies

June 3, 2024

Practicing SAT math without a calculator is crucial for achieving a high score in the math section. Particularly in the no-calculator portion, you must rely on your problem-solving abilities rather than simply relying on a calculator to do the work for you. Without the aid of calculators, students must maintain accuracy while navigating wordy problems, fostering the development of strategic thinking and efficient mental calculations. This constraint heightens the intellectual demands of the exam. However, regular practice can help build confidence and develop strategies for tackling complex problems. You’re often provided with calculators in classroom settings that provide an advantage for quick arithmetic but can prevent you from developing many essential skills. Therefore, it is necessary to practice SAT math without a calculator to build a solid foundation for success on test day.

10 general tips for SAT math no-calculator practice

1. If it’s taking too long, it’s wrong

Quick thinking allows you to efficiently analyze questions, choose the best approach, and allocate time for harder problems. It's important to analyze the question thoroughly before starting to solve it. This way, you'll know exactly how to approach the problem and you won't waste time. If a problem is taking too long, you may have missed an important concept or shortcut.

2. Study those concepts

Having a deep understanding of core mathematical concepts tested on the SAT is crucial to scoring well. The Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math are the three main areas of focus tested. The Heart of Algebra tests concepts such as linear equations, systems of equations, and inequalities. For example, you may be asked to solve a system of equations using substitution or elimination. The Problem Solving and Data Analysis section may test your ability to interpret graphs and charts, as well as your understanding of basic statistical concepts such as mean, median, and mode. Skills such as interpreting scatterplots or calculating probabilities of events are common. The Passport to Advanced Math section tests concepts such as quadratic equations, functions, and geometry.

3. Target your weak points

It’s important for you to identify areas where you have difficulty and focus on improving those specific skills. For example, if you struggle with algebraic equations, spend more time practicing them until you feel confident. One amazing resource is College Panda’s SAT Math Book, as it provides coverage of all the math concepts tested on the exam with practice problems and strategies for success. Additionally, John Jung's YouTube has many many useful concept questions and shortcuts.

4. Understand how close reading works

The dual challenge of the SAT math section requires not only mathematical skills but also the ability to comprehend wordy problems accurately. Make sure to take the time to carefully read and analyze each question before attempting to solve it. A smart tactic is to underline keywords and numbers in the question. This can help you focus on the most important information and avoid making mistakes.

🚀 Example: common mistake
If 5x + 2y = 18 and y = 3x - 2, what is the value of x + y?
A) 3
B) 4
C) 5
D) 6
Now let's solve this system of equations:
Equation 1: 5x + 2y = 18.
Equation 2: y = 3x - 2.
Substitute the value of y from Equation 2 into Equation 1:
5x + 2(3x - 2) = 18.
5x + 6x - 4 = 18.
11x - 4 = 18.
11x = 22.
x = 22 / 11 = 2.
Substitute the value of x back into Equation 2 to find the value of y:
y = 3(2) - 2 = 6 - 2 = 4.
The sum of x and y is:
x + y = 2 + 4 = 6.
So, the correct answer is B) 6.

Many students make the careless error of choosing the x or y value, rather than the sum of these values. To avoid these errors, it's important to carefully follow the steps of the equation and double-check your work.

5. Practice doing problems without a calculator

Regularly practicing SAT math without a calculator will help you build confidence, develop strategic thinking, and identify areas that need more practice. One way to do this is to repeatedly practice the no-calculator portion of the exam using online resources that provide problems and solutions.

6. Keep a notebook containing your solutions

Maintaining a record of solved problems can help you track your progress. This sense of accomplishment can be motivating, boosting your confidence as you see yourself mastering increasingly complex problems. Additionally, keeping a record allows you to revisit frequently missed concepts and identify mistake patterns. For example, if you notice you’re always missing geometry and trigonometry questions, drilling these concepts will allow you to improve your weak areas. Having a notebook for your mistakes also allows you to understand why you missed the question. Was it a careless mistake? Did you run out of time? Or did you simply not know how to answer it? Based on the type of mistake, you can develop strategies to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

7. Look for practice tests online

Taking real SAT practice tests is non-negotiable for scoring well, as it allows you to apply the concepts you have learned in a simulated test setting. This will help you build confidence and familiarity with the exam format. Many online websites have practice tests, such as Khan Academy, College Board, and PrepScholar. Khan Academy allows you can take free, full-length SAT math practice tests that simulate the actual test-taking experience, complete with timed sections and answer explanations. On College Board, you can access official SAT practice tests designed by the creators of the SAT. Moreover, PrepScholar offers customized practice tests that are tailored to your skill level and progress, providing personalized feedback and recommendations. Taking advantage of these resources is crucial in familiarizing yourself with the real test.

8. Get SAT prep help

If you consistently struggle with a certain type of problem or concept, seeking help from an expert can provide you with personalized guidance and strategies to improve your skills. Popular paid SAT services include Princeton Review, Kaplan, and PrepScholar. These services offer a range of resources, including online classes, personalized tutoring, and practice tests. They have a reputation for helping students significantly increase their SAT scores. Remember that seeking external help does not indicate weakness, but rather a commitment to improving and achieving success.

9. Don’t let the problems scare you

Overcoming test anxiety and approaching problems with a calm mindset is essential for success. Don't let the problems scare you! Instead, take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand. Remember, effective time management is crucial during the test, so make sure to pace yourself and develop strategies for managing your time effectively. With regular practice and a confident mindset, you can conquer the SAT math section and achieve your desired score.

10. Pace yourself

Some efficient time management strategies include moving on from a problem if it's taking too long and working with the smallest possible numbers to simplify problems. On the actual test, keep an eye on the clock to ensure you're staying on track, and use any remaining time to revisit flagged or unanswered questions. Additionally, knowing common fractions, multiplication tables through 15, and the squares of integers can save valuable time. Remember confidence is key!

A clock on a table
Keep your eye on the clock

6 specific techniques for SAT math no-calculator practice

1. Work with the smallest possible numbers

Here are multiple examples of techniques to simplify problems, allowing you to solve questions more quickly.

  • Cancel Common Factors: to simplify the fraction 10x2/20x, you can cancel out the common factor of 10x to get x/2.
  • Combine Like Terms: to simplify the expression 3x + 2x - 5x, you can combine the like terms 3x, 2x, and -5x to get 0.
  • Use Zero and One Properties: to simplify the expression x0, you get 1 because any non-zero number raised to the power of 0 is equal to 1.

2. Memorize common fractions

Knowing common fractions and their corresponding decimal and percentage values allows you to quickly and accurately convert between different forms of numbers, saving you valuable time and avoiding careless mistakes. Make sure to memorize the most common fractions and their decimal and percentage equivalents to build your confidence and speed.

🚀 Example: a common fraction that appears on the SAT is 2/3, which is equal to approximately 0.67 or 67%.

3. Know your multiplication tables through 15

You need to master the multiplication tables up to 15, as they provide the foundation for efficient mental calculations and problem-solving during the test. This will help you simplify problems, avoid mistakes, and save time. Practice regularly to improve your efficiency and confidence.

4. Memorize the squares of integers

Knowing the squares of integers up to 15 will save you valuable time. For example, if you're asked to find the square root of 64, knowing that 64 is the square of 8 can help you quickly determine that the answer is 8. Similarly, if you're asked to find the value of 12 squared, knowing that 12 squared is 144 can help you avoid having to manually multiply 12 by itself.

5. Brush up on your pythagorean triples

Pythagorean triples consist of three integers that satisfy the Pythagorean theorem, forming a right triangle. For instance, the well-known triples like 3-4-5, 5-12-13, and 7-24-25 follow this rule. Knowing these triples aids in quickly identifying right triangles in geometry problems, streamlining your problem-solving process.

🚀 Example: 7-24-25 triangle
Question: If one side of a right triangle has a length of 7 and another side has a length of 24, what could be the length of the hypotenuse?
A) 25
B) 30
C) 31
D) 33
In a right triangle, the Pythagorean theorem states that the square of the hypotenuse's length is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides' lengths (a2 + b2= c2).
Given the side lengths 7 and 24, we can check which of the provided options satisfies this theorem:
A) 25
B) 30
C) 31
D) 33
The correct option is A) 25, which corresponds to a Pythagorean triple. Recognizing such triples helps quickly identify the correct solutions on the SAT and similar exams.

6. Don’t forget about triangles!

It’s essential to memorize the properties of special triangles as they are almost always on the test. Below are the 2 types:

30-60-90 triangle

  • The sides are in a ratio of 1:√3:2
  • The length of the hypotenuse is twice the length of the shorter leg
  • The length of the longer leg is √3 times the length of the shorter leg

45-45-90 triangle

  • The two legs are congruent
  • The length of the hypotenuse is √2 times the length of either leg
🚀 Example: 30-60-90 triangle
Question: In a 30-60-90 triangle, what is the length of the hypotenuse if the shorter leg measures 3?
The answer is 6, since in a 30-60-90 triangle, the length of the hypotenuse is twice the length of the shorter leg.


1. What kinds of questions are on the SAT math no calculator section?

The SAT Math no calculator section includes 20 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions.  It’s the third section of the SAT test and 25 minutes in total. The questions are designed to test your ability to solve problems without the use of a calculator. A wide range of topics are tested, including arithmetic operations, algebraic expressions, linear equations and systems, quadratic equations, geometry, data analysis, word problems, ratios and proportions, percents, etc. It's essential to practice a variety of these question types to familiarize yourself with the format and content of the SAT Math no calculator section.

2. How to score 800 in SAT math?

Scoring 800 on the SAT Math section requires a strategic and focused approach. Begin by mastering the foundational math concepts in areas like algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and data analysis. Develop strategic proficiency by drilling mental math skills and practicing techniques like estimation and skip-and-return. Dedicated and timed practice is crucial, so take practice tests and concentrate on weak points through targeted exercises. Also, utilize official resources provided by the College Board, and don't hesitate to seek guidance or assistance for challenging topics. As you practice, simulate test conditions to familiarize yourself with the test environment. And remember, always have a positive mindset and confidence in your abilities!

3. Which SAT math section is harder?

It’s important to practice both SAT Math sections to build confidence and competence in all types of SAT Math questions. Both sections have their unique challenges. Opinions on which one is harder can vary among test-takers, and below is a comparison:

  • Calculator section: this section often includes questions that involve lengthy calculations, graphs, and data interpretation. While the calculator can help with computations, it's important to manage your time effectively to avoid getting bogged down in calculations.
  • No Calculator section: this section places a greater emphasis on mental math, estimation, and a solid understanding of mathematical concepts. It may include questions that test your ability to simplify expressions, work with fractions, and solve equations by hand.


Congratulations! While the no-calculator math section might seem daunting, your consistent effort and practice will pay off. Stay determined, utilize these tools, and approach the test with confidence! Keep in mind that additional resources and tips are readily available to aid you in your SAT preparation. Beyond conventional study methods, Aha AI learning platform provides a personalized learning experience with tailored insights, practical feedback, and comprehensive study resources. Elevate your test preparation by signing up for Aha today!

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