SAT Math scales are becoming harsher and harsher. For example, on the January 2012 SAT one wrong answer cost students -40 points, two wrong answers cost students -60 points, and 3 wrong answers cost students -90 points.

Yesterday I was working with a group of 8 SAT students all of whom are excellent math students who are taking courses ranging from Pre-Calculus to AP Calculus. However, their impressive math credentials did not prevent half of the students from making a careless mistake on the following January 2012 Level 5 math problem: “A square with an area of 2 is inscribed in a circle. What is the area of the circle?”

Solving this problem requires students to understand that the length of each side of the square is root 2. Using the Pythagorean Theorem we can see that the diameter of the circle is 2 and that the radius is therefore 1. So the area of the circle is pi. No problem. But wait! Four of my students calculated the circumference of the circle instead of its area. Their answer – 2 pi – was naturally one of the choices. This careless mistake cost the students -40 points!

The lesson is obvious. In order to control for careless mistakes carefully read each question and check your work!

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