Ed and I had an amazing conversation last night with an SAT math tutor. He told us that for him SAT math is super-easy, so easy that the first time he saw the test he wondered whether it was a joke. He estimates that in his years of tutoring he has encountered 20,000 SAT math items: for each item, he instantly knew the answer.
At the same time, he's not adept at other aspects of math, particularly anything to do with spatial reasoning, which predicts success in math, science, and engineering. He has trouble doing problems like this one:
His brain, he said, works exactly like the brains of the people who write the SAT, and nothing like the brains of other people who are good at math. He himself is good at math, spent most of his life writing software for Wall Street and briefly taught math. As to the latter, he told us US math teaching would be much better if schools cut the curriculum by 2/3 and had students learn the remaining 1/3 really well. He'd never read Schmidt and had never heard of mile-wide-inch-deep.* It just seemed obvious to him that a good 2/3 of US curriculum should go.
Naturally I was keen to know what kind of brain he and the SAT people have, and the answer was: a puzzle brain. He loves, loves, loves puzzles; puzzles are his thing.
That's SAT math, only the puzzles are too easy for him.
A funny moment: he said his ex-wife told him she was reading a book that explained his brain: "You have no right brain at all," she told him, or words to that effect. When he read the list of right-brain characteristics, he agreed.
I wish I'd asked him how he fares on find-the-hidden-right-triangle items specifically.
* Schmidt: "[A]t eighth-grade [we're] telling teachers to teach 35 topics. Other countries are telling their teachers to teach 10 to 15."