The Math Paradox: Why The Easiest Math On The SAT and ACT Is The Hardest

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As an expert on the standardized tests (and a math-minded person), I have a tendency to notice patterns. And lately, I’ve noticed this funny pattern about math for the SAT (and ACT, to an extent). It’s this: that the biggest issue for most of my students is NOT Pre-Calculus and advanced Trigonometry. It’s usually NOT Algebra 2 (polynomials and factoring them, quadratic equations and quadratic function graphs). It’s not really even Geometry—that only shows up on less than 10% of the questions.

…in short, the most advanced math is NOT usually what’s keeping my students from achieving the scores they need to get into the schools they’re targeting.

Nope! Across the board, the students who come to me to raise their SAT scores have something in common: they need to upgrade their “baby Algebra” skills.

What do I mean by “baby Algebra”?

I’m referring to these relatively simple math concepts:

  • Solving basic equations;

  • Lines (graphing, forming an equation, interpreting the real-world meaning of the equation);

  • Systems of linear equations (graphing them, determining the number of solutions, finding those solutions);

  •  Inequalities (solving them, graphing them on a number line, graphing or solving a system of them, combining them with Absolute Value).


I know what you’re thinking: “But Kristina! I learned all those things YEARS ago! Like, in sixth or eighth grade or something! How can you say I don’t know them?!” (I know what you’re thinking because I’ve heard it a time or two in my office…from a student who ends up really benefiting from the approach I’m about to offer you here.)

And I hear you. I really do.

But riddle me this: which version of you do you suppose is smarter? Sixth-or-eighth-grade you…or you NOW?

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Exactly. Of COURSE junior or senior YOU is going to be a smarter and more sophisticated thinker than you could have possibly been in late elementary or middle school. And yes, you did learn those general concepts then, because they were the easiest for you to grasp to begin learning the language of math, and because you needed them to move on to the tough stuff you’d be able to master later.

But you never did problems like these

You see, the SAT expects you to still know all those concepts of old…and yet use the same upper-level thinking abilities that you use NOW to work your way around them and draw conclusions.

Except that you probably didn’t go that deeply with any of these concepts when you first learned them. After all, THEN you were learning “easy concepts” and testing that learning with “easy applications.” The test NOW is asking you to upgrade how you use those “easy” concepts, making it “easy concept” with a “tricky/sophisticated application.” And if you’re like the majority of my students, you’ve probably never upgraded the concepts to this level of expertise.

So that’s where this series comes in. Over my next several posts, I’ll be teaching the math content you need to upgrade your understanding of these “easy” concepts so that you can apply them in the new and more advanced ways that the SAT will demand.


So if you’re concerned about your math scores, this is the series you need.

I’ll be bringing you the high-impact math content that will help you level up your understanding of those “easy” concepts…so you can level up your scores. If you just can’t wait or need individualized help, contact me here.