
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, “The first problem is
very simple; the second is much harder.” Would the gnome’s statement
affect the way you approach the two problems? The answer, of course,
is yes. For a “very simple” question, it seems likely that you should
be able to answer it quickly and without much, or any, agonized
secondguessing. On a “much harder” question, you will probably
have to spend much more time, 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.
Because Math IIC 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 IIC 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 correct.
But because the SAT orders its questions by difficulty, the test
tells 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 by 3
to get 126. You look down at the answers and there’s 126! That’s
the answer you came to, and there it is among the answer choices
like a little stamp of approval, so you mark it down as your answer
and get the question wrong: 6 8
= 48, not 42, making the correct answer 144.
From this example you should learn that just because the
answer you got is among the answers listed 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.
