kitchen table math, the sequel: If you want to score 800, shoot for 900

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If you want to score 800, shoot for 900

I mentioned in the comments that I'm sick today, but I was just emailing back and forth with Debbie about the SAT -- we're down to the wire here; C. takes it for the last time on October 1.

Here's what I have learned -- and I hope I'll find time to put together a proper post.

Working memory, attention, focus, executive function: all of these faculties are limited resources. Period. In that sense, your brain is exactly like a muscle: fatigue and stress lower performance. (Anxiety lowers performance, too, but for somewhat different reasons.)

If your child is shooting for a high score on the SAT, he or she needs to do two things:
1. Automate everything he or she can automate. SAT Math is supposed to be a test of problem solving, but I am now positive that the 800 scorers are not solving problems. They're getting right answers on exercises they can do 'in their sleep.' In short: overlearning.

2. If you want to score an 800, shoot for a 900. Ditto for 700: shoot for 800. Which is another way of saying number 1.
The reason to shoot for an 800 if you want a 700 is that anything that knocks out mental resources will drop your score by that much.

Now I'm going to go crawl in bed.

overlearning by WiseGeek


Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of mental resources, I experienced an epic fail just trying to throw up this post.

TWICE I hit the icon for 'blockquote' instead of 'italics.'

Then, trying to correct the mistake, I produced another 2 or 3 versions that were formatted incorrectly.

That is the nature of careless error: when mental resources are depleted, your automatic pilot goes spritz.

Catherine Johnson said...

That's the other thing I've learned (and come to think of it, I may have read research years ago confirming this...): when mental resources are depleted, the questions you miss are the easy ones, not the hard ones.

I took another SAT math section with C. yesterday outdoors (will I never learn?) with somebody's lawnmower blaring in the yard just up the hill. Also, I was getting sick.

I made THREE careless errors in 18 questions, then couldn't do the final question.

The careless errors were all on easy questions, except for one question that was quasi-hard only because it contained a hidden logic twist, i.e. because it was a trick question.

Catherine Johnson said...

Last weekend C. -- who is now 'knocking on the door' of a 700 -- had an epic fail on an SAT math section when we took it in the same room with Andrew, who was watching opera on PBS & sporadically erupting. (I think I mentioned this in another thread.)

C's mind was preoccupied anticipating the next outburst.

Neither Andrew nor the opera had any effect on me, so I got everything right.

Catherine Johnson said...

We take timed sections, btw.

Anonymous said...

"If you want to score an 800, shoot for a 900."

What do you mean by this? I read it as equivalent to, "if you want to shoot a hole in one, aim for a hole in zero." Or, "if you want to score 300 while bowling, aim for 350."

I'm assuming some sort of metaphor here, but I don't get it...

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

That's pretty much it!

No, not really....

What I'm saying is that you should keep practicing until scoring a 700 or 800 (or whatever it is) is **easy.**

Then when you lose mental resources due to the kid in the next desk drumming his fingers or nervousness or lack of sleep you'll still hit your target score.

Catherine Johnson said...

Basically, **any** depletion of mental resources hammers your score. It's amazing.

C T said...

By accident, I found out that a normal-size package of Skittles during the break in the SAT did wonders for refreshing my mental resources long enough to do well during the rest of the exam. My pre-SAT-recentering scores ended up being well over 700 in math and verbal even though, to my mother's chagrin, I stayed up late with a friend the night before. I totally agree on the mental resources point. I'm not familiar with the new SAT. Is it much longer? Does it allow snack breaks? And does anyone know of some good research out there documenting sugar's ability to boost test performance in the short-term?

ChemProf said...

We run into this in preparing students for the MCAT. We offer a postbac program, to allow students with BA's in non-science fields to complete the premed requirements. Sometimes we have had pressure to simplify the science coursework, as they (legitimately) don't need the basic material at the level we teach it. But we find that they do really well on the MCAT BECAUSE we go beyond the minimum, so when they lose the more complicated cases, they can still do the simpler material. Overteaching is key.

I sometimes think this is something that frustrates teachers -- they know their students can perform a task, but they don't on high stakes tests. What they may not understand is that to have a student perform under stress, they need to be able to go beyond that task under low stress conditions.

Catherine Johnson said...

By accident, I found out that a normal-size package of Skittles during the break in the SAT did wonders for refreshing my mental resources long enough to do well during the rest of the exam.

Thank you for the tip!

I believe that!

What do you think about dark chocolate??

Catherine Johnson said...

Hey C T - have we met?

If not, welcome to the blog!

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm not familiar with the new SAT. Is it much longer? Does it allow snack breaks?

It's 3 1/2 hours, I think. (Everyone - correct me if that's wrong.) There are 10 sections, and yes, you get breaks. I think you have to do a couple of sections before you get a break, which means you have a break roughly every hour.

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof - Choke by Sian Bielock (sp?) has **huge** amounts of material on the difference between practice under low-stress conditions and performance under high-stress.

I've got to get some more of her material on SAT tests posted. She also has all kinds of interesting stuff on math anxiety, which turns out **not** to be about lack of knowledge as apparently many have speculated.

Love your anecdote --- **very** interesting.

C T said...

Dark chocolate? Let me answer that with a story. Once I was driving my mother-in-law's car because she was recovering from back surgery; I was driving an unfamiliar car on unfamiliar roads. All I'd eaten in the last few hours was some chocolate cake mix and chocolate frosting leftover from the cake that my in-laws had just made. While driving, I had a severe panic attack (first one ever), and my poor mother-in-law had to take over driving.
I'm not a fan of chocolate or anything caffeinated in high stress conditions. I've never gotten jittery from Skittles, though. :) Or candy corn. :) :) Come on, autumn.
Thanks for the welcome. I actually read this blog regularly. I'll keep posting as C T since my name is Catherine, too. Based on this blog, one might think that the name Catherine/Katherine is correlated with interest in rigorous mathematics instruction; someone tell Sian Beilock!

Debbie Stier said...

DARK CHOCOLATE! Yes, I'm a believer. I stumbled upon it during an SAT and it worked. The higher the cocoa %, the better. I use the 85% on test days, and it helps.

I eat breakfast before the test (the best I can, though honestly it's hard for me to eat that early) and then bring a big bottle of water and very large dark chocolate bar. At each break I eat as much as I can on my way to the ladies room.

The first two tests I brought other snacks too but there really isn't time to each much (esp. if you're using the bathroom at each break).

Catherine -- there are 10 sections -- and you get 3 breaks. The last 3 sections you don't get a break, but they are shorter.

And I totally agree with everything you say in this post.

SteveH said...

"Neither Andrew nor the opera had any effect on me.."

Which opera?

Lawnmower 1: opera 0.