ACT and SAT Math Breakdown: Uncovering the Keys to Success – Knowledge Bytes Episode 4

ACT and SAT Math podcast episode cover

About Knowledge Bytes Episode 4 “ACT and SAT Math Breakdown: Uncovering the Keys to Success

Get ready. We’re debunking some common myths about the ACT and SAT Math sections. If you want tips for these Math sections or are trying to decide between taking the ACT and SAT in the first place, this episode is what you need.

Our guest on Episode 4 is Aakash Gadh. Aakash graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He has tutored and prepared students for SATs, ACTs, and Math & Science AP Exams for the past 4.5 years.

Episode content

Here are some questions we get into:

  • What’s the difference between ACT and SAT Math?
  • What type of math content is on the tests?
  • How should students manage their time?
  • What are common misconceptions about the Math sections? (It’s not as hard as you think!)
  • How can students avoid mistakes?
  • What are some recommended resources?

Remember that the SAT will be fully DIGITAL starting in March 2024. You can use your own calculator or the built-in digital calculator for the Math section.


Resources mentioned in the episode

  1. College Board practice tests
  2. College Panda textbooks
  3. Here’s Aakash’s tutor profile on Lessonpal

What next?

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You can find Aakash on Lessonpal and book Test Prep lessons with him.

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More ACT and SAT Math resources

ACT resources

SAT resources

Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Kaitlin: Hey everyone, welcome back to Knowledge Bytes, a podcast where we explore topics related to the world of education so you can get your dose of new knowledge. Before we jump in, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you’re listening so you can stay up-to-date with new episodes. On this episode, my guest is Aakash Gadh, who has over four and a half years of experience tutoring students for the ACT and SAT exams and specializes in the Math sections.

So in episode one, I talked to Sumedha Kethini about the ACT in its entirety. Now with Aakash, we dive deep into the math sections of the ACT and the SAT specifically. He debunks some common myths about the math section of each of these exams and shares tips and resources that can help students get the score they’re aiming for.

It’s a great episode, so I hope you enjoy. Also, feel free to leave a comment sharing your favorite tip from the episode or any questions you might have. Here we go.

Hi everyone, my name is Kaitlin [00:01:00] Fenn. I run marketing at Lessonpal, the affordable online tutoring marketplace. Today we are going to be talking specifically about the math sections of both standardized college prep exams, the ACT. A our guest today who is graciously talking about these topics, graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, and he has been tutoring and preparing students for SATs, ACTs and math and science AP exams for the past four and a half years.

He is also an avid cricket fan and player, is part of the Dallas Cricket League and is trained also in Hindustani classical music. So I’m really excited today to have Aakash here to talk about what you can do to master the ACT and SAT Math sections. So welcome Aakash, how are you doing today?

[00:01:54] Aakash: Thanks Kaitlin, thanks for the lovely introduction. I’m doing great, how are you?

[00:01:59] Kaitlin: Awesome. Yeah, [00:02:00] I’m good as well. And are you calling from Dallas? Do you still live there?

[00:02:04] Aakash: Yes. Yes, I am in Dallas.

[00:02:06] Kaitlin: Awesome. Great. Okay. Well, again, welcome. And we can get started with kind of breaking down the difference a little bit between the ACT and the SAT, because we’ll talk about the math sections of both but they are a little bit different.

So between the two, what are the main differences?

[00:02:26] Aakash: Sure. I guess before I, I mentioned the differences. There’s one key similarity that I did want to point out, and that is that both the ACT math and the SAT math they’re similar in the fact that they’re both the easiest sections in that respective test to score full points on.

The difference just lies that with the ACT you have a broader syllabus to cover. But at the same time, the questions that you get are simpler. The application level that you’re expected to [00:03:00] bring to the table is shallower. And you also get lesser time per question. So on the ACT, you have like 60 minutes to answer 60 questions.

So that’s a minute a question. On the SAT that increases slightly. You have around, I would say on average a minute and a half to answer all of the questions, to answer each question, but at the same time the depth at which the SAT math is tested is slightly is slightly more. At the same time you don’t get to use calculators on the SAT on both the sections.

So there’s a non- calculator section and then there’s a section where the calculator is allowed. On the ACT however, you could use your calculator for the entire math section. So those are kind of the key differences. Both the sections sort of both the SAT and the ACT, the questions get progressively harder.

So that’s another similarity between the two. [00:04:00]

[00:04:00] Kaitlin: Okay, those are all great distinctions.

And why do you say in your opinion, why is the math section the easiest to get full points on?

[00:04:09] Aakash: It’s because there’s there’s very little I would say that very little delta or very little variability, like the questions, as long as you’ve gotten the syllabus down and you’re familiar with how to apply certain concepts within a certain time limit, there’s not a lot of surprises involved.

Whereas if you look at the section of the SAT or, or like the science section of the SAT there is room over there for, you know, being hit with a curveball. So I find that with the math in both the tests, it’s fairly it’s fairly consistent. Like as long as you’ve done the work it’s easy. It’s like a scoring section.

It’s, it’s the scoring section of the test, along with like, I would say grammar or writing.

[00:04:58] Kaitlin: So, a bit more predictable, you [00:05:00] can prepare more easily. Okay, great. And excuse me, what concept or you mentioned the syllabus and how deep you have to go kind of into your reviewing of all these math concepts.

What concepts come up frequently on these exams? And maybe it’s different for the ACT versus the SAT and the different sections on the SAT, but what do you see a lot of?

[00:05:31] Aakash: So, generally what I’ve seen is there’s a lot of algebra. It’s both the, both the tests are very algebra heavy. Where the difference comes in is the ACT focuses more slightly more than the SAT on geometry and trigonometry. So geometry and trigonometry is usually usually junior year of high school and senior year of high school.

So, I would say for the SAT [00:06:00] anything from algebra geometry and pre calculus is going to have you pretty much sorted. But on the ACT, the amount of geometry and trigonometry you would have to use would be slightly more. So it’s, it’s geared more towards students who have a broader a broader understanding of math concepts.

And the SAT is focused more on students who have less mastery over, let’s say, geometry and trigonometry, but at the same time, they’re a lot stronger on their algebra. So they can answer harder questions within that time limit. So quantity and quality, you would say.

[00:06:49] Kaitlin:

Okay, and what’s the best way that you would recommend for students to review these concepts?

Because it’s kind of overwhelming if you say hey, there’s a lot of algebra on this [00:07:00] exam. Where do you start?

[00:07:02] Aakash: I’d say start with, start with the basics.

Both the tests like to question your basics. So if, if algebra is something that seems overwhelming at, at like from where, where you start beginning your preparation, then I say, start with pre algebra make sure all the concepts that, get all your ducks in a row, essentially, get your concepts like your prerequisite concepts in order, and then start building on off of that foundation that you have.

And the, the only way to get better at math, I feel is consistency. You have to put in the work, you have to there are plenty of resources online you should try and get your hands at as many books as you can, try solving questions, as many questions as you can. And then once you get to a point where you understood the concepts, Then, I guess the entire game is about how you how you do [00:08:00] each question in the least possible time and how you find the most efficient way to solve a problem because the thing about math is everything is open ended.

You could solve the same problem with five or ten different routes or processes or solutions, but end of the day, your answer is going to be the same. So, it’s all about how easy you can make it for yourself. And the best way to do that is if your conceptual knowledge is very, very strong.

[00:08:32] Kaitlin: Okay and yeah, you mentioned time management.

Besides kind of finding the way to solve problems that’s quickest and works best for the student, how else do you recommend people use their time or what tips do you have for the time management piece?

[00:08:50] Aakash: That’s a, that’s a great question. I think the first thing would be to keep in mind that on both tests, the questions get progressively harder.

Talking [00:09:00] specifically about the math section here. So don’t waste too much time on the easier problems. I’ve seen a lot of students while practicing, everybody tries to practice the practice the hardest questions. And as a result, their mind is trained to look at, you know, the hardest question possible on the test.

But when you start the math section, it’s like, Oh, five plus four equals nine. Oh, this is easy. I can get through this section in no time. And, and what that could lead to potentially is you getting a bit lax. And, and starting to take more more time than required on those easier questions. And then once the uphill battle starts, then it becomes more challenging.

So I’d say just rush through the first few problems that are easy. Don’t waste any more time that you need than you need to on those easy problems. And then make [00:10:00] sure you have more than average time for question left. For your harder problems, because those are going to trick you up and, and that’s the difference between a student who sits maybe in the 80th percentile versus a student who sits in the 90th percentile versus a student who is sitting at the top at 99 percentile.

[00:10:20] Kaitlin:

Okay and is there any advantage in starting with the harder questions or is that not a strategy that people normally use?

[00:10:32] Aakash: Well, conventionally, starting with the easier questions is better. The reason is that the score does not tell you if you answered an easy question correctly or a hard question correctly.

So, let’s say your probability of getting the easier questions right is… Eight out of ten versus the probability of you getting a harder question right is maybe five out of ten. I would say [00:11:00] go with the probability where getting a question right is higher because at the end of the day, the number of questions you answered correctly is what’s going to matter.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And only if you’re very confident about getting through the entire section without any hiccups, then I would say, yes, while your mind is fresh. It might be prudent to attack the harder questions because it’s also a game of mental stamina. So, as you get through the entire test your mind does bog down a little and it’s, it also gets progressively harder for you to answer questions.

So if, if you feel confident that, you know, you can sort of spend a little extra time on the harder questions in the beginning, and then, you know, power through the easier ones at the end. That’s also a very sound strategy, but yeah, it all depends on the execution. So each student is different in that respect.

[00:11:58] Kaitlin: Okay. And are there… [00:12:00]

Any other common mistakes or even misconceptions about this section that you see a lot of students have and how can people either prepare for that or overcome those?

[00:12:14] Aakash: Common misconceptions that I’ve seen a lot of are that the SAT and ACT math is full of calculus and, and all sorts of complicated math concepts that, you know, students don’t really even see, see in depth until they’re in college.

So that’s one common misconception that you need some high level of math to, to, you know, crack the SAT or the ACT math. They are very straightforward. Looking in a, like from a larger perspective, it’s very straightforward math. All you have to do is answer the question in the most efficient way.

If I can guarantee you, [00:13:00] if I have 10 different If I give them unlimited time, they will all pretty much get the same score on that entire section. But the student who gets the maximum score is who can figure out the fastest way to solve that problem. And essentially just, just going in one direction.

Like if you see a question and you don’t know how to answer it, don’t not attempt it. Like try and just start, start with whatever information is given to you. And nine times out of ten, you will find a way to solve that problem. And by practicing a lot and practicing different types of problems, that part of your mind can get activated and that’s the only way you can sort of nail this test.

So when I, when I hear students saying that we don’t have a lot of conceptual knowledge or we haven’t kept in touch with, with the concepts that were, [00:14:00] that were taught, maybe in like… First year of high school, like freshman year, sophomore year, I’d say, start from the, from, from the very basis and work your way up.

And it’s not something that’s not possible to do. It’s very doable. And even if you didn’t do well in school math, it doesn’t mean that you don’t, you won’t be doing well at SAT math. It’s a completely different animal, and you shouldn’t equate your school math scores to your SAT or ACT math scores. So that’s also another misconception.

[00:14:34] Kaitlin: Hmm, I’m sure a lot of people will get a confidence boost hearing that.

[00:14:39] Aakash: Yes, for these these confidence matters a lot too.

[00:14:44] Kaitlin: Yeah. So, what are some tips for that? So, besides maybe preparing as best you can taking practice practice exams.

What are some other tips for confidence and also maybe some [00:15:00] resources that you can point to for people to practice?

[00:15:03] Aakash: Absolutely. I think confidence would so what happens a lot is when you’re practicing for SAT Math or ACT Math, while practicing, you sort of go topic by topic. And you, you solve like maybe 20 questions on geometry one day and then 15 on 15 word problems the other day. But where it gets tricky on the test is that everything’s mixed up.

So you’ll have a question on trigonometry and then suddenly you’ll be facing another different type of question maybe on coordinate geometry or something like that and Students are not used to practicing that sort of a mixed bag of questions So I would say once you’re done with the syllabus part of it and once you feel confident that okay I know how to solve questions on each topic [00:16:00] The next step is to do lots and lots of practice tests and mock tests.

The more mock tests that you do, the more sure you are about what kind of a score you should be expecting. A lot of times what also happens is students are getting maybe X score on the mock tests consistently, but then they think that, Oh I still have like two weeks. Until the test, I can easily bump my score by, I don’t know, 100 points on the SAT or 3 points on the ACT.

But that seldom happens. The confidence that you’re going to need is going to come from your mock tests. Until and unless you’re seeing that result on your mock tests, it’s very hard to replicate it on the actual tests. So I would say do put, get in as many mock tests as you can. I know Khan Academy has and College Board have a tie up where they’ve released about 10 [00:17:00] practice tests for the SAT.

And there are similarly other resources for the ACT as well where you can get a lot of practice tests. Both the official guides for the tests are very good resources for additional questions and additional practice tests. And besides that, I would say, try to get your hands on as many accurate mock tests as possible.

If you can find places where you can sort of buy or see previous practice tests, previous actual, actually conducted tests or stuff like that, that’s also another great resource to go for. So, practice tests. The last two or three weeks before your test, I would say, should be exclusively dedicated to you training your mind to sit for four hours in a row, not get tired, answer all the questions, and see how accurately your mock, mock score, mock test score relate to your actual test scores.

[00:17:57] Kaitlin: Okay, awesome. I can also, I’ll link [00:18:00] some of those resources in in the video so that people watching can can find those pretty easily. That’s great. Yeah, because it is it is a long test. That’s not just. Yes, we are just talking about the math section, but you do have to take into account the, the stamina and the energy that you have over the course of the test.

When does the math section come into play for both of these tests? Also, before I forget this question, do you get penalized for answering a question incorrectly?

[00:18:32] Aakash: So to answer the first question, the ACT has math as the second, second section. And the SAT has two math sections. So there’s a non calculator and a calculator, and they’re towards the end of the test.

So it’s, first you have English, then. As far as the second part is concerned could you repeat that question?

Negative marking. Negative marking.

So, there is no negative marking [00:19:00] anymore. Back when I took the SAT there was negative marking. But the ACT has never had it, and the SAT also sort of followed suit and dropped the negative marking.

So… You have nothing to lose from going abacadaba on all the questions that you, you weren’t able to answer, but try to not let that happen. Try to, try to attempt all the questions and that’s going to maximize. The score that you will get.

[00:19:28] Kaitlin: Okay. That’s very good to know.

And then do you have any other tips for the math section or anything else you’d like to share?

If you can’t think of anything else, you’re welcome to share your your Lessonpal resources and lessons.

[00:19:45] Aakash: Sure. One more thing that I’d say is both the College Panda textbooks, not just math but also, also the, the grammar textbook. They’re very helpful. They weren’t there around the time when I took SAT.

[00:20:00] So it’s an amazing textbook. I would say if you want a really good really good refresher course on SAT Math or ACT Math, you could go with that textbook. It has everything that you need to know for both the tests. Another tip that I would say is that start as early as possible. Start your preparation as early as possible.

A lot of students wait until, I don’t know, maybe a month or two. before the SAT. Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve also tutored students who had a test in one week and they just started preparing. So we have a broad range right there, but on average, I’d say spend at least three to four months preparing for these tests.

Simply because the more time you give yourself, to acclimatize to the entire format the more comfortable you will be when, when it’s your test day and you won’t be in sort [00:21:00] of like a, I don’t know, like a mental rush and, and just, you know, if everything’s too fast and everything’s just sort of happening, it’s very easy for this test to just slip by and then a lot of the time students have to sort of take it again.

And what that does is it distracts them from their school and all the extracurricular activities that they have to do. So I’d say decide when you’re going to do it, give yourself three to four months, get whatever coaching that you need, and, and sort of seal this whole SAT or ACT chapter in one attempt, if you can.

Especially the SAT, because colleges can see how many times you’ve attempted it. That’s, that’s, that’s something extra that I wanted to share. As far as my availability and lessons on Lessonpal, it’s a great thing that Lessonpal is an amazing [00:22:00] platform and allows you to very flexibly carry out all your classes.

I understand every student has, is, is in a different time zone and has a different schedule. So I am very flexible with my timings, pretty much available Monday to Sundays. And besides the ACT, I also do AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Physics, and all IB classes as well. So if you feel that you need any resources, need any help, need any guidance feel free to reach out. I’ll be happy to help.

[00:22:40] Kaitlin: That’s great. I’ll link your bio as well. So anyone watching with me you can find Aakash through his bio and check out his his lessons and availability there. So, yes, thanks Aakash. That was all great information, great tips in preparation for the ACT and SAT Math.

[00:23:00] So thanks again and have a great day.

[00:23:02] Aakash: Thanks Kaitlin, thank you. You have a great day too.

[00:23:06] Kaitlin: Thanks so much for listening to Knowledge Bytes. If you found this podcast valuable, please share a review and share it with a friend. Also, make sure you follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening to avoid missing any of our weekly episodes.

To get more episode content, you can follow Lessonpal on social media. Again, thanks for listening and see you next time.


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