10 No-Calculator Tips for SAT Math

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Co-authored by Renae Hintze


You’re sitting in class when your teacher asks “What is 168 divided by 34?”

In a matter of seconds a couple students whip out their handy calculators… it’s almost a race. But you have the upper hand! Your calculator is sitting right on top of your desk.

Before anyone else can, you punch in those numbers and read the answer displayed neatly on the small screen:

“4.9!”

You’re rounding, of course. The actual answer is something like 4.94117647058824.

Pretty simple, right? Calculators are AH-mazing tools that we can use today to answer the majority of math problems.

But what if you didn’t have one? What if it’s not ALLOWED? 

On the SAT you will be given 25 minutes to answer 15 math questions. Here’s the catch. For these 15 questions, NO CALCULATOR ALLOWED.

Don’t panic! Here are some no-calculator tips for your SAT math.

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

The no-calculator questions on the SAT are just that — questions that don’t require a calculator.

You’re not set up to fail here!

These problems ARE possible to solve without pulling out your favorite tool. Which means if they’re taking a long time to solve without a calculator, you’ve probably taken a wrong turn.

2. Work with the smallest possible numbers

This trick will save you A LOT of time and stress.

Remove the 0’s

Let’s say you need to divide 280 by 30.

remove 0s-01

Divide by the common denominator

In fractions, you can often determine a common denominator which will help you to simplify the problem to where it is more easily solvable.

Check out this Khan Academy video that explains how to find the least common denominator of fractions!

khanacademy.org

khanacademy.org

3. Memorize common fractions

Below is a chart you can reference for memorizing these. It includes the decimal and percentage forms of each fraction.

mathisawesome.com

mathisawesome.com

You should know that if you divide 1 by 2, it will give you .50 as the decimal of 1/2. When you multiply .50 x 100, you get 50%.  If you get stuck, you can try checking this way.

fraction dec percent-01

4. Know your multiplication tables through 15 

You should practice the multiplication tables listed below to have them fresh in your mind when it comes to taking the SAT.

vaughns-1-pagers.com

vaughns-1-pagers.com

There are plenty of great sites out there to help you brush up on your multiplication skills.

  • math-drills.com: Worksheets you can print out and time yourself on.
  • multiplication.com: Multiplication games you can play to have fun while you’re re-learning.
  • aplusmath.com: Flashcards where you can specify the range to be 1-18

We also have TWO lists of math websites for you on our blog:

  1. Top 10 FREE math websites 
  2. 43 Math Websites

5. Memorize the squares of integers

I recommend that you memorize the squares of integers up to 15. It’ll save you a lot of time trying to multiply these out by hand!

slideshare.net

slideshare.net

If you’re interested in learning some quick tricks to calculate the square roots of other numbers, check out the tecmath channel on Youtube! There’s some great videos there like:

6. Brush up on your Pythagorean triples

If you already forgot what Pythagorean triples are, they’re a set of 3 numbers that make up a right triangle.

The smallest P triple is 3, 4, 5.

The rule for whether or not something is a Pythagorean triple is a formula:

a² + b² = c²

This is why it helps to have your square integers memorized!

mathisfun.com is another great website that can help answer any questions you may have about this triangle business.

mathisfun.com

mathisfun.com

7. Don’t forget about triangles!

There are 3 special triangles in geometry:

  1. Equilateral
  2. Isosceles
  3. Scalene
mathisfun.com

mathisfun.com

You may also want to take a look at the angles of different triangles.

mathisfun.com

mathisfun.com

…BECAUSE, you can combine the two!

mathisfun.com

mathisfun.com

Again, head over to mathisfun to play with their interactive triangle — change the angles to change the triangle and learn more about calculating things like area and height!

8. Target your weak points and study those concepts

Check in on your overall math skills in arithmetic of fractions, negative numbers, and decimals to makes sure that you don’t have any gaps in understanding. If you do, you’ll want to fill those in so they don’t stump you up!

Take a practice SAT test and note any problems that you struggle with or take longer than others on.

Our SAT pre-test quiz is only $5.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 9.32.29 AM

9. Practice doing problems without a calculator

Sometimes it can feel like our calculator is a security blanket. When you go to math class without it, you feel lost and useless…

So try working without a calculator for a week or so leading up to your SAT to build your confidence in pencil-solving math problems. You can still use it to double-check your answers, but really aim to solve everything as if it wasn’t there.

10. Don’t let the problems scare you

Remember, the very FIRST tip I gave you in this article was that the problems are MADE to be solved without a calculator.

It’s waaay too easy to look at a foreign or complex-seeming problem on a test and think “That’s not what I studied! I don’t know this!” Cue the freakout…

When you encounter problems like these, take a deep breath.

Follow the steps outlined in our test anxiety article to keep your brain from spinning out of control and into panic mode. The MOST you can do is answer the question completely wrong, and remember that those points won’t count against you!

And, pace yourself. If you really don’t know how to solve the problem, don’t spend all your time stuck on it when there are other problems you can answer right away. Come back to it at the end.

Conclusion

I hope after giving you these tips that I’ve at least somewhat put your mind at ease about not having a calculator on a portion of the SAT.

You can do it, I promise!

Know of any other tips or tricks for doing well on the no-calculator SAT math section? Tell us about it in the comments below!

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!

Comments 2

  1. This article is really providing some hidden benefits on improving person’s ability. Now a days we come across students who cant even do small calculations without the help of calculator. Schools should teach students on how to solve problems rather than providing information on how to use calculators to solve a problem. There would be many situations where human need to calculate without any device. I have come across students who dont know basics even. Worth reading this article by students.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment Riley! It’s true, we do rely heavily these days on calculators to solve problems… and although they are a tremendously useful tool, it can still come in handy for students to know the mental shortcuts – I agree. Please feel free to share this article with any students or teachers that you know so they can put these tips to good use. 🙂

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