The 5 Most Common Types of SAT Problems

Assure Yourself a Head Start on the SAT: Get To Know these 5 Test Trends

No one can tell you exactly what questions you’ll face when you sit down to take the SAT. However, there are certain types of problems you’re guaranteed to face. Preparing for these types of SAT problems (and learning to diagnose them quickly) will put you in a stronger position to improve your score.

The 5 Most Common SAT Problems

1. Rates-Ratios

These are ratios of related things that have different units. For instance, rates can involve time, speed, price, and work output. Recognize the underlying ratios, and you’ll have a head start on answering correctly.

For instance, the famous ‘train’ problems almost always fall under this category. Two trains arrive in New York at the same time. One, traveling at 80 mph, left Washington (160 miles away) at 4 pm. If the other arrives from Cleveland (500 miles away), and traveled at 100 mph, what time did it leave?

For this question, you first need to figure out what time the Washington train arrived. It takes 2 hours to go 160 miles at 80 mph, so it arrived at 6 pm. (160\80=2)

The other train took 5 hours to travel (500/100=5), and since it had to arrive at 6 pm as well, it left at 1 pm (6-5=1).

The more quickly you can translate the words in rate questions into their underlying mathematical formulas, the better you’ll do.

2. Exponential Growth and Decay

Here’s where you’ll be dealing with percentages. Be prepared to figure out, for example, what ten years of 10% growth will equal.

You can do this the long way – multiplying your original amount by 10% 10 times. Or you can use this formula:

Answer = original number x (1 + growth rate) number of cycles

So, if you have 100 people having 10 kids a year for 50 years, you get the answer with this formula

100 x (1 +0.10)50

3. Know Your “Trick Spellings”

Test makers love trying to confuse you with similar words – like compliment (Nice tie!) and complement (This wine complements this fish). Discrete/discreet, who/whom, and affect/effect are also common trips. Make sure you know– there/their/they’re as well. (There they go. Their house is just up the road. I think they’re home right now.)

4. Get a Leg Up on Your Vocabulary

It’s impossible to guess which words you’ll be given. However, knowing a number of common SAT words is a great start.

Here is a list of 100 of the most common SAT vocabulary words.

5. Prepare for the “Algebra Misdirect” (And know the question!)

Don’t get tricked by always solving for x. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to use x to come up with a different number.

For instance, you might be asked…

If x + 8 = 10, then 8x + 5 =

a) 2

b) 5

c) 8

d) 10

e) 21

Many students will rush to judgment and circle a – the value of x. But that’s not the question – x is 2, but 8x+5 is 21, or e.

Be ready for this sort of misdirection.

For more info about the SAT and how to prepare for it, check out our article, 9 Ways To Increase Your SAT Score.

To your successful SAT,

Scott Weingold

Related Articles:

Why Your SAT Prep Course Could be Ripping You Off

What are the Hardest SAT Problems?

The Best Way to Improve SAT Scores

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.