It has finally happened … students have taken the new PSAT. I know because Singing Turtle Tutoring (the tutoring company that my wife and I run) prepares students for this test, and over the last two weeks I’ve been helping many get ready for the new PSAT’s math section.
My big word of advice for many students: learn your times tables!
No, I’m not kidding. The PSAT has two math sections, and one of them, the one with 17 math problems, forbids the use of calculators. The other math section, with 31 problems, allows calculator use, but for many students, seeing that prohibition against calculators is pretty scary!
Why so scary? Is it because the problems involve complex math computations, the kind of computations that most people need calculators to solve? No, not really. Actually, this 17-problem section is scary for two simple reasons 1) it does require students to do mental math, and 2) many students have become so calculator-dependent that even simple mental math has become a big challenge, for many.
Example: I was coaching a girl for the new PSAT. One step in the “No-Calculator” section required her to state the value of 4 x 7, as one step in solving the problem. Yes, This girl, actually quite a smart girl overall, had not only forgotten the value of 4 x 7, she had no idea how to figure out its value.
As I’m sure you’re aware, I could go off at this point on several different rants, if I chose to do so. But there’s no real point at this time … because there is no time to spare. The PSAT’s second administration date is Wed., 10/28.
The point I wish to make is simple and practical; if you’re about to take the PSAT, it behooves you to sharpen your mental math skills in general. And by all means, please go over the times table facts. If you know them, review them. And if you’re ‘fuzzy’ on them, re-learn them. You’re going to need them for those 17 problems, and no more reaching for that electronic gadget.