If you’ve made it to this point in our 10 tips to score over a 600 on the math section of the SAT, I hope that you feel like you have a good game plan (if you haven’t, start HERE). In our previous posts we not only talk about the strategy for preparing for the test but also what you should be focusing on during the test. Well, what happens when our best laid plans are thrown a curve ball by the test makers?
Our 9th tactic goes over a test taking strategy that not only can be used on the SAT, but for the rest of you classes (and not just math!). So, when we read through a question and our “normal” train of thought doesn’t make sense or work for the given problem, where do we go? I’m glad you asked, we go to the answers! When multiple choice questions are given, there tend to be trends in the answers. Once you’ve identified the trend you can then go back to the problem with more information on how to solve it. This is not only crucial for figuring out how to solve the problem, but also to save time. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but time management on the exam can be just as difficult as the actual problems.
Let’s look at a couple of examples…
For most students I work with, when they have a problem like this, they immediately go into trying to figure out how to FOIL this problem out. It makes sense and the majority of these types of questions are asking us to do exactly that. So, a student then can start to try to figure out HOW to get this problem to work out. The issue? They are actually looking for you to use the quadratic equation to find the answer. When you look at the answers, I hope you’ll see what I am talking about.
Knowing that the quadratic equation above, we can see how similar the form is to the answers given. This immediately tells me that my “normal” process isn’t going to be the correct way to get the answer. I can then quickly shift and save myself time, get the right answer and move forward.
Here is another example...
This question is tough enough as most students have not done a lot of work with imaginary numbers like “i ”. When you come across a problem that isn’t familiar or throws a variable at us that we haven’t worked with much, looking to the answers can be crucial in determining what steps to take.
Seeing these answers immediately tells me that I need to try to eliminate the i in the denominator because there is no i in the denominators of any of the answers. I know that if I multiply the given fraction by (8-2i) / (8-2i) that the i will fall out. From there it is just about executing the math and making sure that I don’t make any careless mistakes!
As you work through practice problems make sure to look at the answers when you don’t immediately know how to get solve them. This should help train your eyes and brain for the exam. If you don’t immediately know how to solve the problem, this should help get a strong foundation under you and give you the steps to start getting the right answer.