Question of the Day: SAT & ACT May 26

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.  Always, always, always use the Wizard’s strategy for Sentence Completion because it will help you avoid silly mistakes and test writer’s traps.  Start by figuring out the topic of the sentence.  Then predict a word for the blank(s) before looking at the answers.  Then use your prediction to help you sort through the answers.  Find the best synonym or word that matches your prediction.  Finally, check your answer by reading the sentence using the answer you chose.  Let’s use the strategy for this question.

The topic: even if you don’t know the word genial, you can tell the host wasn’t happy if his opinions were challenged.  The prediction: words like “upset,” “aggravated,” “disgruntled,” “nasty,” and other negative words make sense.  The synonym: only “surly” means the host is feeling negative.  Check your work: reading the sentence while inserting “surly” makes sense.

Maybe you had trouble with the vocabulary.  What words did you know?  Even if you only knew “convincing,” you have to guess; you can’t leave this question blank.  Anytime you can eliminate one answer, the odds are with you and you should guess at the rest.  The guessing “penalty” becomes a guessing “reward.”

Let’s see what we can do with the ACT question. (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.)

Congratulations to the test writers.  This is the first time I’ve ever seen their explanation for a math question include the easy way to do this kind of question–one with variables rather than numbers.  Do you think maybe they’ve been reading my blog and are learning a thing or two?!

The answer is C.  Anytime an ACT or SAT math question has variables and it would be easier if it had numbers, then you just substitute numbers for the variables.  (What is freaky is that their explanation used the exact numbers I used when I substituted; so, I’m going to use different ones.)  Because it is a percent question, always use 100 to represent the beginning point, in this case n.  Let n = 100.  Now to make p% be a real number, let’s use 20%.  You could figure out in your head that if 20% of a 100 students play an instrument, 80 students don’t.  80 has to be the answer when n = 100 and p = 20.  Let’s look at the answers and substitute our real numbers for the variables (100 and 20 for n and p respectively).  Only C works.  All the other answers give you something other than 80.  C has to be the right answer.

I call this strategy a few different things: “turning algebra into arithmetic,” “converting the abstract into the concrete,” and “substituting numbers for variables.”  Whatever you want to call it, this is a very powerful strategy.  There are lots of questions on the SAT and ACT that look difficult because they don’t have numbers and use variables.  When you see one, simply plug in numbers and find the answer that is correct using your numbers.  It is simple, quick, and accurate.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend.  See you back here tomorrow.

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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