3 Tricks for SAT Math Problems with Student-Produced Responses

SAT math

Even if you’ve reviewed the SAT math tips in Merrick, NY tutor Justin L.‘s previous article, the SAT math problems that require a student-produced response can cause a whole new level of anxiety. Read on to learn a few helpful tricks…


It’s very rare to see something on the SAT break a student’s stride and morale worse than the Student-Produced Response (SPR) questions. Everything about them goes outside what you’ve expected on the test. They are not multiple choice, the answers aren’t there, there’s no way to check if you’ve done it right, and they always seem harder. But if you can keep three simple things in mind, you can overcome this stigma and approach these SAT math problems as if they were any other question.

Question Order

There’s only one section of your test that will have these and the SPR questions will always begin at question nine. This is important because the difficulty of this section is structured as if it’s two mini-sections. All the multiple choice math problems will go from easy to hard, and then it resets and the SPR questions go from easy to hard again. A lot of students will just go from start to end, which isn’t really the best approach. Think about it: you get to questions seven and eight of the multiple choice and they tend to be pretty tough. These questions take a lot of the time and effort that could be spent on other questions. People tend to get burnt out with these two and rush through the SPRs, and make countless careless mistakes.

I’ve always been a firm believer of focusing on the easy questions first. The best thing to do would be to do the first three (or so) multiple choice, and then jump right into the SPRs. You’ll notice that questions one and two tend to be just as easy as nine and 10. At the same time, questions seven and eight will be just as difficult as the final two SPRs of the section. So pick out all the easy ones first. Don’t get stuck at the end of the multiple choice questions when you have easier questions waiting for you.

Incorrect Answers

For every multiple choice question that you get wrong, the SAT folks will take a quarter of a point that you’ve already earned away from you. This doesn’t apply with the SPRs. If you get one of these incorrect, your points aren’t touched like with the multiple choice questions. If you get it right, then you earn the point. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do them, this means you should do them! Even if you guess one of these questions wrong, you don’t get any points deducted.

I’m not saying to dedicate 25 minutes, but don’t leave them blank, EVER. If the question is too tough, then take an educated guess. If the question wants a number between one and 10, guess a number. You don’t have to work out a question you can’t answer, but at least fill something in — you have nothing to lose

Know the Scantron

You have to fill the bubbles in. This may seem silly to even point out, but I’ve seen students write correct answers in the boxes on the scantron without filling in the corresponding bubble. The College Board isn’t going to have someone sift through tests to check for this, so make sure to fill in the bubbles if you want the points.

There’s no negative scantron bubble. All of your answers will be positive or zero. If you came up with a negative answer, something went wrong. Also, remember that fractions are your friend. Don’t waste time and convert all of your answers into decimals, just grid in the answer that you came up with. The test will score 11/5 the same as 2.4. If you have a repeating decimal, play it safe and just enter the fraction. Gridding in .3 for an answer of 1/3 will be graded as incorrect. If your calculator shows you the repeating decimal (.33333333333333) just hit Math, Enter, Enter on your graphing calculator for the fraction to grid in.

Keep these three easy tips in mind and these SAT math problems will be just as easy or just as hard as any other question. Do the easy ones first. Don’t leave any of them blank. Know what you can and can’t grid in.

JustinLJustin L. teaches ACT math, PSAT, SAT, and test prep in Merrick, NY.  He received his Bachelor of Science in Math and Masters of Arts in Math Education at Adelphi University. Justin has more than six years of experience working with students privately, in classrooms, as well as store-front tutoring companies. Learn more about Justin here!



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