How many times has this happened to you? At a family function 6 to 10 of you are sitting at a round table when the server comes over to take the drink and salad order. He or she politely listens to everyone with hands behind the back. Not writing anything down! Amazing you think– this person has a steel trap memory. She can probably tell me that I was born on a Tuesday 55 years ago.

Ah, but then the food comes. Uncle Bob asked for a lemon in his drink and got a lime instead. You wanted dressing on the side with no onions but not surprisingly, your salad is smothered with both dressing and onions. Yuck!

What does this have to do with test taking? Great question. Many of my students try to figure out complex (and sometimes simple) math problems in their head. Many times this will result in sloppy mistakes and even worse– a blank test booklet makes it impossible to re-check your work should you have extra time!

As soon as I see this, I tell them the above waiter story which they can all relate. I also tell them solving a math problem is not like enjoying art at a museum. Math is a systematic step by step logical progression. Yet many like to solve a math problem by tilting their heads, sizing up the shape or pattern and filling in a blank as enjoying some piece of abstract art.

Math is not abstract art. Math is precise. Math is not subject to interpretation. There can be no debate about the correct answer. Don’t try to be cool while solving math problems. This is not Jeopardy where you must buzz in before your opponent. You will not impress me and you will certainly not be impressed with your score if you continue to juggle things in your head.