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Lucas Fink

Advanced Techniques for Eliminating SAT Math Answers

There are a number of times when you’ll have the option of using the answer choices the SAT has provided you as a tool. The answer is somewhere there, so why not pick one of the choices and check if it’s correct?

And we’ve already discussed the basic strategy previously, but there’s more to it. The truth is that there are two alternatives to plugging in (C) first. You might start with any of the answer choices, in fact, depending on the situation.


A or E

The SAT will occasionally ask you to find the greatest or least number of something possible in a certain situation. Take a look at the following example.

What is the lowest four-digit integer which includes both 3 and 7 in its prime factors?

  1. 1001
  2. 1002
  3. 1005
  4. 1008
  5. 1011

Now, starting from (C) here wouldn’t be the best idea. Since we’re looking for the lowest valid number, we should start at our lowest answer choice. Take 1001 and divide by 3. The calculator spits out an ugly decimal, so let’s move on to (B). In that case, 3 works out pretty well, but 7 doesn’t, so again, cross out the answer and move on. It’s the same case with (C). (D), on the other hand, divides nicely by both factors.

Questions like this, although rare, actually come pretty close to requiring you to plug in the answer choices. This is a simple example, but even on more difficult questions, the strategy remains the same—if you’re looking for the “greatest number,” “least number,” “most,” or any other similar phrase, then start from the appropriate end of the answer choices. Remember, the SAT arranges them in order whenever it can.


B or D

Instead of picking (C) as we went over in the basics, you may be even more test-savvy and use this slightly more efficient method. As long as you’re pretty certain you can see the relationship between the different numbers you’re given and the answer choices—usually whether they’re positively or negatively correlated—then you may want to try this.

Ballpark to get an idea if you should pick a high or low number, then start with (B) or (D) accordingly. If you’re not sure that you can knock out the lows or the highs immediately, just start with (B). There’s a 40% chance this will be the only number you have to plug in, even if you couldn’t ballpark. 20% of that is the chance that the answer is (B). The other 20% is that the answer is (A), and if that’s true, then we’ll know so immediately because (B) is too high.

If it’s not (B) or (A), then move on to plug in answer choice (D). That will be the last one we need, since it’ll be too high, leading to (C); too low, leading to (E); or correct.

In comparison with starting from (C) when plugging in answers, this strategy really requires that you understand the relationship between the numbers. If you’re not sure about it, don’t worry. Picking (C) first is also a good strategy. Try both out before the day of your SAT, and choose which strategy is best for you.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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