Don’t Do Math; Pick Numbers!

The math sections on the SAT and ACT may seem daunting at times, especially if math isn’t your favorite subject. But the best thing about these exams is that you DO NOT have to treat them like math class in school. You are only being scored on your answer choice, not on the work that gets you there. It is important to use this fact to your advantage. The Pick Numbers strategy is a key method in “beating” the exams. Using this strategy will allow you to eliminate algebra from the test, essentially simplifying algebraic problems to a middle school (even elementary school!) level. Rather than solving a problem with complicated algebra, you will substitute simple numbers and solve the problem using those numbers. You will then look for the answer choice that corresponds to your numerical answer.

Below is everything you need to know about the Pick Numbers strategy:

  • Use this strategy when you see variables in the question AND answer choices.
  • Choose EASY numbers to replace the variables, but avoid picking 0, 1, or 2.
  • Choose different numbers for each variable and WRITE what each variable equals at the top of the question.
  • If you have time, try every answer choice. If you see two answers that work, change the numbers you picked to numbers with different properties (i.e.: choose a negative if working with a positive, choose an odd number if working with even).
  • On EXCEPT questions (circle the EXCEPT!), just plug in numbers until you find the correct answer. You DO NOT need to try all answer choices.

If you employ this strategy while taking the tests, you are sure to limit your mistakes and save time in the process! Even the best math students will make errors while working through the tougher algebraic problems. With this strategy, those time consuming, difficult questions are now a piece of cake!

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