SAT math strategy prerequisite June 2, 2010Posted by Jason McDonald in : SAT tips , trackback
Think with your pencil!
No matter how rusty students’ math skills are, they could benefit first from learning SAT math strategies to increase their score. When I tutor students for the SAT, they often start our tutoring session with “I had NO idea how to do lots of those problems.” I can often tell which problems they couldn’t get right before they even ask me a question.
I simply look at their test booklet and over 80% of the time, if a problem has no writing near it, they didn’t get it. I don’t ask them which of the six essential strategies they tried because I know they didn’t. Why didn’t they? They were like a deer in headlights.
Whether you know the essential six math strategies or not, you need to know where to begin when you’re stuck. The saying in whitewater kayaking is, “When in doubt, move your paddle.” This helps someone struck with fear and not sure which way to go.
Heading in any direction is better than not moving at all, even if it’s the wrong direction! Simply recognizing you’re moving in the wrong direction is enough to tell you to change course! Physical movement keeps the brain involved and doesn’t allow you to “freeze up.”
The SAT question writers have an amazing ability to write questions that lead you to think, “I have no idea what to do here.” The saying that applies to the SAT is, “When in doubt, move your pencil.” If you’re stumped on a geometry problem with a diagram, create a crude protractor or ruler and start measuring! Sketch your own diagram if it doesn’t have one! If a problem is “wordy” or confusing, display the information differently. Make a table or a chart. Draw a tree diagram or a simple picture.
If you’re stuck on a problem with variables, make up numbers or plug in answer choices; and more importantly – write them down and work them through (think with your pencil)! Do anything that gets your pencil moving! If your pencil is moving, your brain is engaged. If your brain is engaged, you are one step closer to a solution; even if that solution is, “I’ll come back to this problem later if I have time.”
The most important fact you need to experiment with is it takes little to no more time to write stuff down than it does to do it in your head. The points you gain by avoiding errors and sparking ideas when stumped, by far, outweigh the time it takes to move your pencil. If you review your practice test and find yourself saying, “I should have got that right,” or “that was a stupid mistake,” you need to write more stuff down and let your pencil do the thinking.
Don’t let the limited blank space intimidate you – use scratch paper. Ask for it before the test begins.