Next time you’re doing a practice SAT math problem, you might just find that it could be helpful to channel a little Missy Elliott from her classic hit song “Work It” and ask yourself “Is it worth it?  Let me work it.  I put my thing down flip it and reverse it.”  Let’s explain.

The SAT is primarily a reasoning test as opposed to a test you might see in high school.  On the math section, although the SAT tests some math, it primarily tests reasoning skills and students abilities to think critically with math as the common language.  SAT math questions will rarely be the straightforward type that you see on high school math tests.

If a high school math class teaches you to start from point A and work your way to the solution at point G, the SAT will start you at point G and see if you can reason your way back to point A.  As a result, Missy’s hook actually makes a lot of sense.  When we reverse English sentences, they make no sense:  “ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod ginht ym tup I.”  In a similar way, when the SAT reverses math problems, students become paralyzed and don’t know what to do since it does not match the training they received in their high school classes.

Don’t worry though—a little Missy Elliott training will get you to think the right away about your SAT Math practice.  The key is to see if you can anticipate how the SAT might flip problems on you and make sure to practice solving math problems from different angles.

Consider the following SAT Math problem:

If the average (arithmetic mean) of 3, 2x, 2y and 7 is 5, what is the value of x + y?

1. 2
2. 3
3. 4
4. 5
5. 6

In a straightforward math problem, it might ask you to find the average.  However, as you can see in this SAT problem, the SAT has flipped and reversed the regular order of solving an averages problem and starts you off with the average and asks you to find out something about the individual terms.  You’ll still need to apply your basic knowledge of what an average means and then extend it with some critical reasoning.

Here, we know that the arithmetic mean is defined by the sum of the terms divided by the number of terms.  So the average here can be expressed by:

(3 + 2x + 2y +7) / 4 = 5

Starting with the definition of the mean, we now have to work our way back to see if we can find anything out about the original terms.

Start by multiplying through by 4:

3 + 2x + 2y + 7 = 20

Now let’s isolate the variables:

2x + 2y = 10

We’re looking for the value of (x + y), so let’s get the equation in that form by factoring out a 2 and dividing through:

2(x + y) = 10

x + y = 5