Know the process, not the formula, if you want to ace the SAT

Teachers, prep books, and tutoring services often recommend memorization as the best and sometimes only way improve your score on the SAT. You memorize vocabulary for the English section, formulas for the math section. Sometimes you even memorize question types.

We’ve already explained why vocabulary memorization is ineffective and what you can do instead. But what alternatives does learning math have? SAT Math seems so far removed from everyday life that we have trouble thinking of mathematical concepts as anything other than a series of equations and formulas.

Knowing the building blocks and the correct way and time to use a formula is important, but it’s equally important to understand why things work rather than memorizing meaningless symbols. Just like vocabulary building, to build your math knowledge you need to engage concepts and make them more meaningful to you.

Flow chartThink of it this way: when you have to reach a new address you simply plug the coordinates into your GPS and follow the directions on screen. But would you be able to repeat the commute without the GPS? Can you reach the address if you start from a different location?

A math formula is like a broken GPS: it can tell you how to get from one place to another, but it doesn’t change on the fly when you make a mistake. If you make a wrong turn somewhere, you probably can’t forge on or backtrack if you have no sense of where your goal is in relation to your current location. When that happens, all you can do is start over, wasting valuable time.

Instead of relying on faulty GPS, study the map. Know the terrain. The better you understand a concept behind a math problem, the better you’ll be able to plough through a math problem on the SAT. Even better, having a foundation of knowledge allows you to apply what you know to other problems, even if you’re unfamiliar with the type of problem or don’t know the formula.

Math is all around us. Take your eyes off the directions and watch the scenery instead. You will learn much more if you do.

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