Mar 23 ACT & SAT Question of the Day

If you are reading this in an email you received from me, do not click the link to below. Use the link to my website that is farther down on the email. If you are seeing this in my blog, do the SAT Question of the Day by clicking on this link: (This link takes you to today’s question. If you use my archive, you will see the question related to my SAT explanation for that date.)

The answer is A.  Wow, this question is an “oldie but goodie.”  I saw this question for the first time at a College Board presentation in 1993 or ’94.  The presenter did all the calculations of multiplying the numerators and then the denominators followed by reducing the fraction.  Of course, she got the right answer, 1/7.  As a member of the audience, I asked her why she did all that work.  Why didn’t she just cancel all the matching numerators and denominators?  That left her with 1/7 and it took about 1/7 of the time!

That’s what you can learn about the test from this question; if you find yourself doing a lot of work, ask yourself, “What’s the shortcut or quick way to do this?”  There usually is one when there’s lots of tedious math work to do.  The SAT staff even says so in their explanation this morning.  (It makes me wonder if that presenter from 20 years ago went back to her office and told all her colleagues about my strategy for doing this question.  Just kidding.)

When you practice using real SAT test questions, notice that there’s usually at least two ways to do every question.  Do both ways: the “Math Teacher Way” and the “Thinking (or Wizard’s) Way.”  The way to dramatically increase your speed on the test is to start watching for the “thinking way” and get comfortable with using it.

Let’s take a look at what the ACT folks have in store for us this morning. (The ACT staff does not put a date on their questions so if you click on an archived blog, you’ll get today’s question and the old explanation. Sorry. The SAT staff has dated their questions; so, the archive is helpful. The ACT folks simply don’t do that.)

The answer is D.  Just like today’s SAT question, this is another perfect example of avoiding the “Math Teacher Way” and doing a question the “Wizard’s Way.”  Try doing this question without doing any math and think your way to the answer.

The sine of angle A is the opposite/hypotenuse.  (Sorry.  You’ve got to memorize that and a lot of other math facts for the ACT.)  So the answer is 24/something.  The only issue is, “What’s that something?”  It has to be greater than 24 since the hypotenuse is going to be the longest side of the triangle.  That’s answer D, 24/25.  All done — no calculator!!  Just like today’s SAT question, thinking your way to the answer is often the quick, most effective way to do the math questions.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the ACT staff’s explanation for doing this question.  Yuck!  Just practice doing questions the Wizard’s way when confronted with a lot of time-consuming math.  Please don’t wait to try doing that on test day unless you’ve practiced.  You could waste a lot of time trying to figure out the quick way during the test and that would be antithetical to the the strategy.

I would like to thank the ACT and SAT staffs for both providing questions today that let me make this point: the “math teacher” way is often not the best way to do the math questions on the tests.  You are rewarded for not only math skills but analytical skills as well.  They are usually quicker and these are timed tests.

Check back in tomorrow and learn more about how to become a better test taker and raise your SAT and ACT scores.  Enjoy your day off.

The Wizard

About Bob Alexander

Bob has been a professional educator starting with teaching biology, becoming a school administrator, and then working as an education lobbyist in Washington, DC. He got his start in national testing by becoming a consulting test writer, later joining Kaplan as a director, and finally starting his own business in 1995. He has written numerous books, consulted for school districts and colleges, developed his website and been featured on a DVD set. He offers SAT and ACT prep classes and tutors individuals and small groups of students in central Florida.
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