The Game of Math

Just the other day I yelled at my 7th grader for using his calculator to answer a simple math problem. Being able to do math computations without the assistance of a “device” is important. Yet, the SAT and ACT do not require, or want, school based math. The tests don’t care if a student can rationalize radicals or add fractions- they care about students’ math reasoning skills. In order for students to shine on test day, they must know various problem-solving strategies. So, mathematicians and math teachers, please forgive us for the following three IMPORTANT strategies:


Picking numbers is typically used for questions that have variables in the answer choices, although it can apply to many other question types as well. If you see variables in the answer choices, your first instinct should be to pick numbers. Pick simple numbers and evaluate the question using your numbers, not variables. Plug your numbers into the answer choices and see which answer matches. You should always go through all answer choices, as more than one may be correct. If this occurs, try again with new numbers.


If a question is asking for the value of x, or any numerical answer, it is sometimes best to look at the answer choices and plug them back into the problem, looking for the one that will work. Remember, on the SAT, numerical answer choices are arranged from least to greatest, so we always start with choice “C,” the number in the middle.


When you see average (mean) problems, you want to think “SUM.” For example, if the problem states, “In a group of 5 students the average age is 12,” you know that the sum of ages of the students is 60.

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