Answers Don’t Crawl Out of The Rubble


If you haven’t seen it yet, take a moment to watch this video which shows one of the more feel-good stories to come out of the horrific damage caused by the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

This woman goes into the storm with a plan. Granted, it’s not the best plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless. Then the storm comes and throws everything around and all that’s left is a pile of rubble. And somehow, under a pile of debris, appears the dog that was feared to be lost. It’s a tremendous story, but it’s not a model for you to take in your test prep.

Some students have what I call “Mad Scientist Disease”. They imagine that upon seeing numbers and equations they should immediately start performing calculations, scribbling notes so quickly that smoke rises from the paper as the sweat pours down the intensely furrowed brow. After several moments of this process they imagine that an answer will reveal itself as correct. They create rubble and hope that the thing they hope for will crawl out from under it.

Math problems are not best solved by hoping for the miraculous. Unlike the tornadoes in Oklahoma, students who go down this road are creating the disaster rather than dealing with a force beyond their control. Rather than jumping directly into calculations you should begin at the end. Figure out what it is that you need to solve for in order to find your answer and then figure out what information you need in order to get that intermediate information. Once you’ve plotted out your steps, THEN it’s safe to begin the process of doing calculations.

Planning your approach before the danger comes is the best way to minimize the danger of a natural disaster, and the best way to survive your test unscathed.