July 9, 2019

5 Tips to ace the SAT Math No Calculator section

The thought of having to go an entire section of the SAT without a calculator might seem jarring to some. Have you ever wondered if the section actually required a calculator though?

The first section that you are faced with after finishing the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections is the SAT Math No calculator section. The section contains 15 multiple choice questions and 5 grid-ins. It is 25 minutes long and is followed by a 5-minute break.

This means you get roughly 75 seconds, average, to attempt the questions on this section which will comprise 1/3rd of your SAT Math score of 800 in the end.

The no calculator section tests two SAT subscores, Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. Along with these SAT subscores, it can also include questions from lines and slopes, nonlinear functions, circles, lines and angles, solid geometry, triangles and polygons, trigonometry, and complex numbers.

Unlike the rest of the SAT Math section, No Calculator section does not include problem solving or data analysis questions.

Here are some tips you can follow to help you ace the SAT Math No Calculator section.

Practice arithmetic the old-school way

One of the most underrated things while practicing for the SAT is practicing arithmetic problems.

Although the SAT Math no calculator section won’t ask you to make complex calculations at the level of finding the square root of 5987, it can, and will probably ask you to perform basic math calculations. While a high school student is well versed at performing calculations with a calculator, it will not hurt you to practice this section.

The easiest way to do such is by not using your calculator for most of your SAT Math prep.

Write every step of the solution

In school Math tests, students were required to show every step of their solution. Every step of the solution counted for some amount of the final mark allotted to the question and thus even if you got the answer wrong you could get some marks.

While SAT won’t give you marks for getting anything other than the answer right, this way solving no calculator questions will definitely help you follow your work. In this way, when you get the answer wrong you can simply start tracing back your steps to figure out where the deviation originated rather than having to completely start over with your question.

Brush up on fundamentals

Find out why a question is difficult for you. Questions on the SAT Math no calculator section can be a mix of two different concepts. If the question is too complex learn how to break it down. Some questions will be difficult to attempt at first, but you will notice that as you move forward, breaking down the concepts in a question will come much easier to you.

You will also get some questions wrong due to having weak fundamental knowledge about the same. Make sure you learn everything there is to learn about the topic and attempt these questions again.

Some questions in this section won’t have anything to do with calculators at all. A few questions on the no calculator section require you to have a strong understanding of the core concepts of the aforementioned topics. These questions won’t ask you to solve for arithmetic problems. They will simply lay down a question challenging your theoretical knowledge of mathematical concepts.

Figure out what the question wants

One of the things that students often get wrong is what exactly the question wants them to answer. Sometimes students are in such a rush to finish the test due to time constraints that they might solve for the wrong thing.

This is especially an issue with word problems as they tend to have more information than relevant for the final question. The student needs to figure out which information he/she needs to use in order to achieve the correct answer.

Practicing active reading is very important. Unlike the passages in the SAT Reading sections, you should at no cost skim though an SAT Math question, calculator or not.

Practice as much as possible

This goes without saying but without practice you will get nowhere with any tricks or tips. Your coach, and I can keep feeding you information on how to ace the test, but without practicing the same, you won’t be able to do so.

These tips should be a part of your muscle memory by the time you take your SATs. That’s the amount of practice you need. Also, if you don’t follow all these steps during practice, no one might as well have informed you about it.

No matter how tired you are, if you decide to practice one more question, that should also be attempted using the tips you wish to use on your SAT.


I started this article by asking you if you’ve ever wondered whether the no calculator part of SAT Math even required a calculator in the first place, it doesn’t. For the most part, this section of the test isn’t present to see you make big calculations. The examiners know that no one ends up doing calculations by hand eventually in life.

This section is present to evaluate your knowledge of the core concepts of the subject. These core concepts don’t require a calculator but a deep and clear understanding of every Math concept you’ve worked on.

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