
The Importance of the Order of Difficulty
Imagine that you are taking a test that consists of two
questions. After your teacher hands out the test, and before you
set to work, a helpful little gnome whispers to you, “The first problem
is very simple, the second is much harder.” Would the gnome’s statement
affect the way you approach the two problems? Yes. For a “very simple”
question, it seems likely that you should be able to answer it quickly
and with little or no agonized secondguessing. You will probably
have to spend much more time on a “much harder” question, both to
come up with an answer and to check your work to make sure you didn’t
make an error somewhere along the way.
What about all the other students who didn’t hear the
gnome? They might labor over the first, easy question, exhaustively
checking their work and wasting time that they’ll need for the tricky
second problem. Then, when those other students do get to the second problem,
they might not check their work or be wary of traps, since they
have no idea that the problem is so difficult.
The moral here is you should spend less time on the simpler
questions that appear early in the test, and devote more time to
the harder questions appearing later. Because Math IC questions
are ordered by difficulty, it’s as if you have that helpful little
gnome sitting next to you for the entire test.
Knowing When to Be Wary
Most students answer the easy Math IC questions correctly.
Only some students get moderate questions right. Very few students
get difficult questions right. What does this mean to you? It means
that when you are going through the test, you can often trust your
first instincts on an easy question. With difficult questions, however,
you should be more cautious. There is a reason most people get these
questions wrong: not only are they more difficult, containing more
sophisticated vocabulary or mathematical concepts, they are also often
tricky, full of enticing wrong answers that seem as if they must
be correct. But because the SAT orders its questions by difficulty,
the test tips you off about when to take a few extra seconds to
make sure you haven’t been fooled by an answer that only seems right.
The tricky answers seem right because they are actually
the answers you would get if you were to make a mathematical or
logical mistake while working on the problem. For example, let’s
say you’re flying through the test and have to multiply 6 8 3.
So you quickly multiply 6 and 8 to get 42 and then multiply 42 by
3 to get 126. You look down at the answers, and there’s 126! You
mark it down as your answer and you get the question wrong. 6 8 equals
48, not 42, making the correct answer 144.
From this example, you should learn that just because
the answer you arrived at is among the answers does not mean you
definitely have it right. The SAT is designed to punish those who
make careless errors. Don’t be one of them. After you get an answer,
quickly check your work again.
