3 Tips to Tackle SAT Heart of Algebra Questions

3 Tips to Tackle SAT Heart of Algebra Questions

Understanding formulas is one key to a high score on this portion of the SAT math test.

By Sonya Ellis, Contributor |July 16, 2018, at 9:00 a.m.

3 Tips to Tackle SAT Heart of Algebra Questions

Young woman with blonde hair, sitting at a desk in her room and doing maths-homeworks

Heart of Algebra accounts for 33 percent of the SAT math section. (Ulrike Schmitt-Hartmann/Getty Images)

The complexity of algebra can present a roadblock for many high school students gearing up to take the SAT. Heart of Algebra is one of four portions of the SAT math section, along with Passport to Advanced Math, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Additional Topics in Math.

Heart of Algebra accounts for 33 percent of the SAT math section, or 19 questions in total.

Due to the formula-heavy nature of the Heart of Algebra portion, most students need to study to be completely prepared. Not only do students need to know formulas, but they should also feel confident in their ability to recognize when to use them. They must also be able to work quickly and precisely with a variety of question types.

Here are three strategies students can use when preparing for these problems.

Memorize and practice key formulas and rules. Students who plan to take the SAT should review formulas and rules for linear equations and expressions, inequalities and functions. Slope, for instance, is important when working with linear equations.

While the SAT provides test-takers with a reference sheet of facts and formulas, the information is most applicable to geometry questions. This, combined with the fact that students must be able to quickly determine and employ the best method for solving the problem in front of them, means it is not sufficient to memorize formulas and rules the evening before the SAT. Students need ample practice so that these techniques become reflexive, especially on a timed test.Use SAT practice tests to identify areas where you need improvement, and then practice solving these types of questions with the appropriate formulas and rules in mind. For example, if you struggle with inequalities, take several hours to closely review their rules, and then focus on solving just these problem types for a day or two.

[Read: Master Key Skills on the Redesigned SAT Math Section.]

Review multiple-choice and grid-in best practices. Do not be caught off guard by the format of Heart of Algebra questions. Ensure you understand how you will be tested as well as which strategies will help with a particular question type.

Multiple-choice questions, for instance, offer watchful students significant advantages. If you are unsure about what a problem is asking, review the answer choices and see what they have in common.

Is the answer a whole number? A fraction? A full equation? Does it contain variables? The answer choices for a question all tend to share similar formatting, which may help you understand how to move forward. When in doubt, you can even plug answer choices back into some problems to see which numbers work.

For grid-in questions – where students must produce the answer rather than select one – there are fewer strategic options. Student-produced response questions account for about 20 percent of the SAT math section, so students will encounter only several in Heart of Algebra. However, these questions require a high degree of specificity and the answer you provide must be exactly right.

[Read: Understand SAT Grid-In Questions.]

Make sure to review the rules regarding rounding and inputting decimals and fractions. Also keep in mind that when you are truly stuck on a grid-in question, you should leave it and come back only if time permits. The odds of correctly guessing the answer on a student-produced response question are infinitesimally small.

Practice reading and interpreting graphs. In addition to learning algebra formulas, you should also understand how these formulas relate to graphing. For example, you should be able to graph a written equation as well as look at a graphed line and translate it into a written equation.

Remember in y=mx+b, the slope-intercept form of linear equations, that b is the y-intercept and can be read directly off the graph where the line crosses the y-axis, while slope (m) must be calculated. This means that the y-intercept is often an easier place to start when matching equations to graphs.

Keep in mind that parallel lines have the same slope and no points of intersection. Otherwise, two lines on the same plane can intersect at one point or overlap completely.

Students who take the time to thoroughly understand Heart of Algebra questions before sitting for the SAT have a higher chance of success on this portion of the exam. To do this, students should verify what will be tested, begin studying the relevant formulas and rules and make sure to get plenty of practice with actual SAT questions.

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