The Ultimate Math Strategy

The Ultimate Math Strategy
Read the problem a second time and write out what you're given and what you're asked to find (Photograph by Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Reilly Lorastein at Veritas Prep.

Tons of math strategies are floating around out there, and knowing which ones to apply to which specific problems can be hard. But whether you’re memorizing the special relationships between the sides of 30-60-90 triangles or solving a system of equations, there is one golden rule that you must apply to any math problem. And guess what? No calculator is necessary.

The trick to this rule is that you must always do all of it. Let me repeat that. You must always do all of it. That was not a typo. I wrote it twice because it’s that important (and if you’re skimming this, it will make you do a double take). If you apply this trick only sometimes, or if you do it only partially, you will not glean the benefits of it. Have I piqued your curiosity? Are you ready to know the rule that will boost your SAT Math score as well as your math grade at school?

Approach every math problem as follows. First, read it through once, to yourself. Then read it again, slowly, and, as you’re reading it, write out what you’re given and what you’re asked to find, side by side. This may seem redundant—a “time waster” to many students—but I caution you against that faulty logic. Here are a few crucial reasons why:

1. A “time waster”? Speed is important. But speed without accuracy is just foolish. This is especially true when taking the SAT, because every wrong answer equals a negative quarter of a point.
2. Yes, the information is already written out in the problem. But you have not written it out. If you write out what you’re given, you transform yourself from a passive reader to an active reader. As an active reader, you begin to process information instead of reading without digesting. (An added bonus? This is exactly the type of reader you will need to be for the Critical Reading Section of the SAT. Why not practice?) When you read actively, the problem-solving gears in your head begin moving before you even start doing any mathematical steps. This is a plus for all students, but especially those who tend to get overwhelmed with math jargon, because they think they’re “bad” at math. Taking the extra 30 seconds to translate a problem from English into “math” can make all the difference, because now these students can really understand what the question is asking of them. Furthermore, seeing the information on the page side by side (without extraneous words or phrases) can also help visual learners find more success with math problems.
3. Most important, by writing out what you are given and what you are asked to find, side by side, you will be able to see connections between the two you did not previously notice. If you employ this system, you will be surprised how often you will see the beginning steps to problems that had previously left you scratching your head wondering where to begin.
4. Last, this strategy guarantees that you will never solve for the wrong thing again. What do I mean by that? Have you ever gotten so excited you found x that you forgot the problem asked you to find 2x? Exactly. Say goodbye to points lost because of silly, easily avoided errors.

That’s it, simple and straightforward, yet effective. Try it out, because now you’re armed and ready to tackle all of those math problems.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? Take advantage of Veritas Prep’s free SAT resources including free SAT video lessons!.

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