With the introduction of the redesigned test this year, SAT math has changed tremendously, and most students agree that it is significantly more difficult overall. Yes, the error penalty is gone and you only have to choose from four answer choices, down from five. Odd math puzzlers are history and students can safely forget most of what they learned in plane geometry. In their stead, however, is a whole new world of hard math.
Math has gone from one of three scores on the test to half of the test score again, as it was historically until the last SAT redesign in 2004. There is now a calculator-prohibited section, a calculator-allowed section and new focus. Algebra has been elevated to the status of near poetry in its “Heart of Algebra” designation by the College Board. Problem solving and data analysis entailing paragraph-long word problems, charts, graphs and tables are prominent. Challlenging problems in trigonometry, quadratics and complex functions are front and center.
All this new and harder math demands new study resources. So what’s out there? The best resource I’ve found for my students is PWN the SAT: Math Guide, 4th edition by Mike McClenathan. You may have read my rave of the earlier edition of this book, “A terrific SAT Math textbook raises scores from good to great.” Well, Mike has done it again. One advantage his book has over the major test prep publshers’ works is that it was written after the new SAT official sample tests had been published by the College Board. So this book is expressly tailored to what is really on the test, not what publishers were able to glean from the College Board’s broad outlines prior to publication of their guide in the fall of 2015.
McClenathan’s text is classic PWN: funny, concise and student-friendly without pandering or patronizing. The author has studied the SAT in depth and adapted his solid textbook for the old SAT to the new one with fresh chapters and skillsets to practice. This is a book for all students, not just the top scorers, though they will particularly benefit from it. The focus is on understanding the math and then finding smart ways to get to the answers fast, learning flexibility to solve problems by multiple paths. Among the new topics that I found particularly helpful are complex functions and data analysis. Each chapter has sample questions to work on throughout the lesson, followed by a full drill and, as in the previous editions, a page listing comparable problems from the official College Board guidebook and official PSAT practice test. This way, students can hone their skills specifically for the real test questions.
PWN the SAT: Math Guide has one more trick up its sleeve: a free website and blog with explanations to tough SAT questions. The author is active on his blog, answering students’ questions clearly and vividly. He is currently rolling out challenging online quizzes with video explanations coming soon, offered to all for free for the first week and then exclusively for PWN the SAT: Math Guide owners. It’s a terrific resource and almost makes you feel excited about doing SAT Math: It’s not a chore; it’s a club!
In future editions, I would like see a little clearer organization of the drill answer explanations; it’s a little difficult to find the right page, as one chapter’s answers run into the next one’s. It would also be very helpful to include at least one diagnostic test. I’m optimistic that Mike will be including one as more real official SAT tests become public and he has more time and material to work from. Finally, since the new test really does require facility with a graphing calculator, some dedicated, illustrated calculator lessons would be very helpful for many students.
In sum, choosing to study with PWN the SAT Math Guide is a no-brainer: Get your SAT math on with PWN and get more points on the SAT.