Going Off the Grid: Tackling Student-Produced Responses on SAT Math

Every so often, you’ll encounter a fill-in-the-blank question on the math portion of the SAT.  You’ll be asked to “grid-in” your answer rather than choosing from four choices. The College Board refers to these questions as “student-produced responses” and they can be found in both the calculator and no-calculator math sections. Out of the 58 math questions on the SAT, about twelve of them will be student-produced responses.practice-graphic2

Though student-produced responses can be intimidating (and make multiple choice questions seem almost comforting by comparison), here are 10 tips for conquering student-produced responses.

  1. Bubble in your answer AND write it at the top. You’re actually only required to bubble in your answer, but writing it down makes it much easier to make sure you’ve written the answer correctly.
  2. The answer to student-produced responses will never be negative or irrational.. So if you get to the end of a problem and you have a negative number, an irrational number, or a number that doesn’t fit into the grid (like 10,000), go back and check your work.
  3. Your answer can include a fraction but you should always write fractions as improper fractions or decimals. 1 1/2 should be written as 3/2 or 1.5, because 1 ½ would look the same as 11/2 when gridded in.
  4. Don’t waste time reducing a fraction unless you’re short on space. If the answer is 7/28, you don’t need to reduce it to 1/4. If the answer is 45/30, you will need to reduce the fraction (or convert to the decimal form), in order to fit the answer into the available space. For example, if the answer was 45/30, the SAT will accept 1.5, 9/6, or 3/2.
  5. If your answer to a student-produced response features a repeating decimal, write as many  of the repeating decimals as will fit in the grid. For example, if the answer is 1 ⅓, it should be written as 1.33.
  6. If you’re gridding a decimal number that’s less than one, you should not include the zero to the left of the decimal. In fact, if you look at the sample grid pictured above, you’ll see that zero isn’t even an option in the first column. This is to free up additional space and allow you to grid rounded decimals as accurately as possible. Omitting the zero allows you to write .625 rather than 0.63.
  7. Some of the student-produced response questions will have more than one possible answer, but you only need to give one answer. Don’t waste time looking for the alternative answer or try to fit two answers into the same space.
  8. As with multiple choice, there’s no penalty for wrong answers.
  9. Though it’s impossible  to grid in all possible answers on a student-produced response question, you can take an educated guess and plug it into the equation. You might be able to work backwards from there. Of course, plugging in answers tends to be time-consuming and should be used sparingly.
  10. Double check that you’re actually answering the question that has been asked, and make sure you check your answer before you move onto the next problem.