For many students, SAT and ACT math differ greatly from school or classroom math. A typical math class in school is content driven: learn a specific concept, practice the concept and take a test on all of the concepts from the chapter.

On the other hand, SAT and ACT math problems leverage context and not content. Word problems, for example, challenge students to sift through the words and numbers in order to determine an equation. Similarly, other problems on the SAT or ACT require multiple steps that force students to use more than one content-based skill–like both algebra and geometry on one problem–to reach a solution. Given the significant difference between the content approach in school and the context approach on the SAT and ACT, some of the best math students falter on the SAT and ACT. Nevertheless, success for any student is attainable on the SAT and ACT when you have a Math Toolbox. The Math Toolbox is not a revolutionary idea. Simply put, the Math Toolbox is a series of different ways to solve a math problem. On the SAT and the ACT, each math problem may necessitate a different set of tools. With that, the Math Toolbox we help our students develop consists of the following six tools:

Pencil

Calculator

Mental Math

Translation

Back Door

Plug and Chug

This blog post, the first in a series of six, will detail how to best use the first tool: your pencil. Be sure to follow this blog for the rest of the series and details on each tool in the CROSSWALK Math Toolbox.

With respect to the pencil, it is obviously one of the few things you can carry into the test. Since you can walk into the test with a pencil, let’s really learn how to use it.

The pencil allows you to do several things to get to the right answer more efficiently:

Annotate the question: Questions on the SAT and ACT math can be misleading or tricky. For example, an algebra problem may get you to solve for “x” but the question is “What is 2x?” Use a pencil to circle the question so you know what is being asked.

Annotate and jot down the information you have: Notes are extremely helpful in word problems. Jotting down notes helps sift through the context to determine what information you need to find out versus what information you have. Create a table for what you know and figure out what you need to find out.

Draw pictures for logic problems and geometry: When in doubt, draw it out. The simple act of getting pencil to paper will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to get to the solution faster.

Make quick calculations: Your test booklet should end up looking like a messy conglomeration of notes and calculations. Use the space provided to make and track your steps. Perhaps most importantly, be sure to check your work when you are ready to finalize an answer.

In all, the pencil is an obvious tool that every student has. Use it the right way and it can be one tool to help you score points.

For more Math Toolbox tools, follow this blog or contact CROSSWALK today.