Updated: Nov 23, 2021
I often have to remind my students that, although they are beautiful wonderful unique individuals, the SAT is a place where you need to leave your soul behind and become a robot.
The test is created by robots. Or by people who have so deeply submerged their humanity and decency in service of the almighty bubble test as to become robotic. And if Arnold Schwarzenegger has taught us nothing else, he has taught us that the best way (sometimes the only way) to fight an army of soulless killing machines is to become one yourself.
The problems on the SAT are made to look unique, but they have to be able to be mass-produced. They are essentially the product of an assembly line. And no matter how crazy a problem looks, it must stick to a few reliable and identifiable rules within its question type. This process is embedded in the very name “standardized test.” So, the most effective way to deal with these questions is to come up with (or have a tutor teach you) a set of rules that you follow robotically. By their very nature, every single problem on the SAT should be susceptible to a decision tree approach, where a series of Yes/No decisions inevitably leaves the correct answer as the only remaining option.
Students, with few exceptions, hate this. It feels inefficient, and soulless, and redundant. Students want to use their reasoning, and their logic, and the cool shortcut they learned in 6th grade that they can only half remember. However, even the smartest students eventually give in to the fact that their humanity is actually their greatest weakness. Creativity takes energy, brainpower, stamina. Inspiration works on its own timetable. And on a 3-hour standardized test, the goal must be efficiency and focus. What’s more efficient and focused than a Terminator? Your normal imaginative critical thinking brain can tag along for the ride, like the adolescent John Connor.
In the end, it should feel like a sort of relief. Turn off your brain, turn on your Yes/No circuitry, and spend a few hours killing the bad guys. Then, take off your leather jacket and go do something creative.