Your Secret SAT/ACT Weapon: The PIN Technique

Your Secret SAT/ACT Weapon: The PIN Technique

When it comes to the math section of the SAT or ACT, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by complex or confusing questions. Luckily, even if you find yourself truly struggling with a difficult question, there’s a helpful last-ditch technique that can still get you the right answer.

Allow us to introduce your new secret weapon: “Plug in Numbers,” or “PIN.” PIN is a great way to turn an algebraic problem on its head. Remember, one of your biggest advantages on these exams is that most questions are multiple choice. The PIN technique can be used to leverage the answers provided to your benefit. This works particularly well on these exams because no one is checking your work or critiquing how you answer a question — you get the points for the correct answer no matter how you arrived there.

The basic idea of PIN is to plug in your own numbers in place of variables or unknowns to solve questions. Often, this can work for both algebra and geometry questions. These questions are often asking about relationships between numbers, and those relationships will stay the same, no matter what the numbers are. That’s why, as long as you follow the rules of the questions, you can answer them by plugging in your own numbers.

Here’s an example of how you can solve a problem using PIN:

problem1

Let’s begin by assuming we have no idea how to solve this question. Using PIN, let’s plug in a number for t to help figure out  this problem. We know that t has to be greater than 1, so let’s try something simple like 3.

If t=3, then the question is asking “If 3 is a number greater than 1, then 3^2 (or 9) is how much greater than 3?” Simplify even further and the question is asking, “9 is how much more than 3?” This is much easier to understand than the original question, isn’t it? We can clearly see the answer is 6.

Now, we can take what we’ve found and test it against the answers. Which one comes out to 6?

The first three answers can all be eliminated immediately because they are too small (1,2 and 3), which leaves us with just D and E.

Plugging in our numbers to D, we have 3(3-1), which simplifies to 3(2) and solves for 6.

So answer D is correct, but let’s solve answer E too, just to be sure D is our only correct answer.

Plugging in our numbers to E, we have (3-1)(3+1), which simplifies to (2)(4) and solves for 8.

This doesn’t work, which means that D is our answer!

More PIN Considerations

As another “PIN” tip, when deciding which numbers to test, consider including irregular numbers, such as 0 and/or a negative number.  In this example, those numbers would not have held true with the statement in the question, but in other cases, they may be extra helpful in allowing us to see the right answer.  

If you intend to use PIN on an exam, make sure that you’re confident in your understanding of this tool. Be warned: PIN can sometimes take a bit of time, so also make sure you’ve got an eye on that clock. Sometimes, when you start to use PIN, you’ll see that one or more of the answers is immediately incorrect. Take a few moments to strike out these obviously incorrect answers! It may seem trivial, but any time saved can really help in the end.

Also, if you’ve completed your math section and find that you still have some time, PIN is a great way to double check your answers or return to questions you skipped initially. It’s always smart to double check an answer using a different method than what you used to solve the problem originally, to ensure that you’ve actually solved it correctly.  This can help you avoid making the same mistake multiple times and, as a result, getting the same incorrect answer.

Extra PIN Practice

Think you’ve mastered the PIN technique? Here are some sample questions that you can practice your skills on! Good luck!

problem2

problem3problem4
(Answers: A, B, K)

So, how did  you do? Have you mastered the PIN technique? If so, stay tuned for the next SAT/ACT blog post coming soon.

2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

Whether you forget them by January 2nd or you’re in it for the long haul, New Year’s Resolutions are a great opportunity to take stock of who you are, who you’ve been, and who you want to become.

Think about what you’d actually like to address, not just the things you think you “should” be doing.

Below, you’ll find four resolution categories: self-care, physical health, academics, and relationships. For each four categories, you’ll find four resolutions. Your task is simple: pick one resolution per category. This should ensure a well-balanced, thoughtful entrance into the new year.

Self-Care:

  • Limit screen time
    • We all know the dangers of too much social media and too much time staring at our phones. Set some time limits, and you’ll be the happier for it! There are even some great apps to help you measure your time, such as Moment or ZenScreen.
  • Worry less about what others think.
    • Maybe this will be the year that you let yourself be you! Remember that your own approval is often what matters most.
  • Volunteer for a cause that resonates with you.
  • Try to let go of some of the regrets or grudges you may be holding.
    • We can all be really bad at this one, but if you’ve got axes you’ve been grinding all year, maybe it’s time to let those go. Easier said than done, but a great goal for the new year is practicing forgiveness for yourself and for those around you.

Physical Health:

  • Fitness
    • A little exercise can make a big difference for your peace of mind. Your body will thank you! There are plenty of free options out there, like going for a run, local community classes, and an endless number of apps that have expert teachers leading a variety of free exercises.
  • Sleep
    • No matter how much fun Red Dead Redemption 2 is, your body needs those sweet eight or nine hours. Be nice to yourself, be nice to your body, and get the rest you deserve (your gang will understand).
  • Water
    • Water! Health experts recommend 8-10 cups a days. Keeping yourself hydrated might be annoying or might feel like one more thing you have to remember, but it is a key part of staying healthy and keeping your body machine running smoothly
  • Limiting Coffee
    • If you’re up to the challenge, you’re a true champion.  Benefits include reduced anxiety and better sleep. Not convinced? Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s article for the Huffington Post by clicking here.

Academics:

  • Start earlier on projects and papers.
    • Who doesn’t love procrastinating? But starting projects earlier means giving yourself more time to consider things carefully, more time to ask questions, a better shot at work you can truly be proud of, and not least, a break from the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
  • Start a study group.
    • This is one a bonus — friends and work! How do you beat that? Round up some of your peers and set aside time to get together and work. You’ll be amazed at how much easier studying can be with people around you to help.
  • Take a class in something outside your comfort zone.
    • Maybe you know nothing about astronomy but you’ve always been captivated by the night sky. Maybe you’re intimidated by French but have always longed to learn another language. This can be the year to go for it!
  • Ask for feedback from teachers, mentors, or family friends whose opinion you respect.
    • If you come across someone who inspires you or who is ahead of you in a particular path, ask for their guidance! It’s a change to learn some invaluable lessons. At the very least, they’ll be flattered, and you can have someone you respect in your corner.

Relationships:

  • Do nice things for others.
    • This seems simple, but it’s bigger than you might think. When’s the last time you called your grandparent? How about the last time you wrote a handwritten letter to an old friend? Doing small (but heartfelt) deeds goes a hell of a long way, and it’ll start to fill your life with sweetness.
  • Befriend someone you normally wouldn’t.
    • Have you always surrounded yourself with similar types of people? Consider breaking through that this year! It’s a chance to see the world in a new way and open up your life to new adventures and new ways of thinking.
  • End or address unhealthy relationships.
    • This is a big one. If there are relationships in your life where you’re not appreciated, respected, or things just aren’t working, maybe this is the year to stand up for yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting someone out of your life completely (although, in extreme circumstances, it may be your only option) but it does mean speaking your mind, communicating honestly, and being strong. You can do it!
  • Practice respectful conversations with people you disagree with.
    • This may be the most timely resolution here. Practice having civil, non-judgmental conversations with people who have had different life experiences, who see the world through a different lens. And, not just on Facebook.

Listen to yourself. If something new you’re trying isn’t working or is making you miserable, change it! It doesn’t mean your weak or a failure.   By choosing four small resolutions (as opposed to multiple, major-life overhauls) you’ll still feel a big impact while enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes with commitment.

Best of luck out there! Go shine in 2019!