SAT Question of the Day (ACT too!): Jan 10, 2014

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. (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.)

Do you want to improve your score?  Then you need to start thinking like your opponents, the test writers.  People who are excellent test takers look at questions differently than do people who are simply good at school work.  They see how to solve the problem/puzzle  in ways that typically aren’t taught in school because the SAT questions aren’t written to see if you can just do math; they are written to see how you think about math.  After all, this is the SAT Reasoning Test.  Let’s use this question to see what I mean.

The answer is B.  They are just asking you to do a little thinking.  First, what do you know about the test (or game) structure?  Do you know that the answers are going to be in ascending (almost always) or descending order?  Of course you know that one of these answers is going to work because it is a multiple-choice question!  The test writer even reminds you of that fact by asking, “Which of the following…”  Which one works?  That’s an easier question to answer than doing any math.

Because the answers are in ascending (or sometimes descending) order, it makes sense to start with C; if it is wrong, we can eliminate some other answers without even considering them.  Let’s try the third term in the sequence 14 and see which formula works.  Yes, it is that simple.  Plugging in 3 for n, Answer C gives us 18 which is too big and that means answers D and E are too big as well.  (I love eliminating three answers for the price of trying one!)  Let’s go smaller.  Trying B works when you plug in 3 for n. (3 times 3 plus 5 is 14.)  Just to make sure you didn’t make a silly math mistake, check out Answer A.  It is too small because 2 times 3 is 6 and 6 plus 6 is only 12, not 14.  Bingo!  We are all done.

The test writer’s explanation is a huge waste of time–neither unusual nor surprising.  You only need to check out one term, not all of them.  My mantra “The world of math is a world of patterns” supports that.  If we eliminated all the answers except B using the third term, 14, then all of the other terms would accomplish exactly the same thing.  Why bother with them?  I contend the SAT and ACT folks are good test writers but I’m not so sure they are good test takers!  At least their explanations are often way too involved and cause you to waste a lot of time.

Less than half of the students are getting this question correct.  How hard was it to do?  Why did over half of the students miss it?  I think it is due to the fact that they were trying to do math rather than thinking about the puzzle.  Now that you see how all the pieces fit together, it is not very difficult.  The challenge of the test is seeing the pieces.  That’s where practice is going to come in.  The more of these questions you do, the more confident you’ll become when you see the questions.  You’ll begin to easily recognize the traps inherent in the question.  By watching my videos on the online course, you’ll learn the strategies that you can easily and quickly use to attack the questions.  Watch your score go up.  Remember my promise: “No surprises on test day.”

Let’s see what the ACT folks have for us today.

ACT Question of the Day: Use your “back” button to return to my website after reading the ACT Question of the Day.

Thank you ACT folks for providing more evidence that I’m right about you guys being good test writers but not good test takers.  Their explanation is harder to follow than the question and it is unnecessarily complicated and way more math than you need to do.

The answer is E.  Grab your calculator and divide 18.75 by .75 and you’ll get 25.  You are all done!

When I was writing questions for the SAT publisher, I would have made this question much trickier and sometimes they will too; so, let’s take a look at how it could have tricked some students.  What if the box had contained 18.5 cups?  You would have divided using your calculator and gotten 24.67.   Some students would round that up to 25 and gotten the wrong answer.  There would be 24 whole servings and not enough to serve the 25th person.  The answer would have been 24.  Be careful when you see questions like this one and make sure you are appropriately rounding.  As in this case, sometimes you can only round down and never round up!

This sample question points out the value of watching my videos and practicing.  When surprises are eliminated and you practice, you know what to expect on test day and what to do when you see their unusual puzzles.  Watching the videos also alerts you to the types of traps and tricks are going to be on the test.  It will also warn you about common math mistakes students make (rounding errors, for example).  I’m quite convinced that if you could eliminate your silly mistakes be being forewarned, your math score would significantly increase.

Hey, it’s Friday.  Have a great day and enjoy your weekend!

The SAT & ACT 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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