It is wise to maintain a general mistrust when reading math questions on the SAT. Each question comes with enough qualifying words and phrases to make you think you are reading the fine print on some contract. So most students are naturally skeptical when they see diagrams or geometric figures on the test. The good news is you can trust most of what you see.
A majority of figures are accurately drawn to scale. Knowing this can save you considerable time and effort in calculation. Trust the drawing unless you see this warning:
“Note: Figure not drawn to scale.”
Everything else is represented accurately and can be trusted.
How can this help? When you can trust the figure, you can estimate values and use P.O.E. (process of elimination) to remove answer choices and sometimes completely solve the question. Many times these “shortcuts” can lead to the correct answer in less time and with less effort, saving your brain-power for other harder problems.
What can you estimate? Depending on the figure, you may use the information to approximate:
- Length or distance
- Angle measure
If a strange polygon is presented and the length of one side is given as “6”, you can use that information to determine approximate measurements of the remaining sides. One way to do this is to “eyeball” it, but if you need to be more exact, you can use the edge of your pencil, calculator, or answer document to measure. It may not be as precise as using a ruler, but it is often enough to get the right answer.
Don’t give up on critical examination of math questions on the SAT. You still want to look for the fine print or qualifying words in questions, but relax and know most diagrams are not out to fool you.