4 Key Math Concepts You Won’t Find on Standardized Tests

For the most part, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are good indicators of math aptitude and college readiness. Since the tests are timed, you have about a minute to answer each problem. Success on these tests means having your fundamental math rules memorized and being fluent with their use.

However, there are some problems types that are really good for students to learn, and that take more than a minute to solve, even for the most fluent student. And these are not found on the SAT, PSAT or ACT. So, if a teacher and/or a math course is designed to “teach to the test,” it may be lacking some key concepts that are fantastic at building good problem-solving skills. More importantly, these concepts are (or should be) vital for teaching math as the “language of science,” which is what makes math real and useful and connects students to their world and their Creator.

The following is a list of 4 key concepts, all of which are present in Shormann Mathematics, but are normally missing from the SAT and ACT. Shormann Math teaches these concepts in more basic forms starting in Algebra 1, progressing to more complex forms later. Much of the text below was pulled directly from our Shormann Math lessons.

Measurement/Unit analysis

“To measure is to know” is a quote by William Thompson, Lord Kelvin(1824–1907), a Christian and scientist. What Kelvin meant was that if we can measure something, we then know something about it. As Christians, we must be careful about faulty reasoning that says by building our knowledge of nature, we gain enough evidence to conclude God’s existence. We should never think we need to “conclude” God from the evidence. On the contrary, God designed us to know He exists (Romans 1:20), so we start with God, who is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

When we measure things, we often have to convert the measurement from one unit to another. Measuring and converting units are essential skills in everything from cooking to engineering. Measuring accurately, and honestly, is also important to God (Proverbs 20:10 and elsewhere).

Proofs

To understand any subject well, not just math, one must start with rules and definitions. As the famous math teacher John Saxon said, fundamentals like these form the “basis of creativity,” and this is true. Likewise, to understand God, you have to start with some foundational rules. And while Scripture is much more than a “rulebook”, it contains Truth that helps us know who He is, how to build a relationship with Him, and how to do the things He has called us to do. It is self-evident that to learn anything, we must do so using the deductive process of applying rules.

While postulates are statements assumed to be true without proof, theorems (propositions) are true statements requiring proof. One mark of a maturing Christian is that they are able to use Scripture to “give a reason” for the hope that is in them (I Peter 3:15). In the same way, a mature math student should be able to give a reason for the steps they use to complete a problem. In mathematics, proof and the techniques used to write proofs require us to be prepared to have an answer we can back up. It forces us to slow down and think things through a little more before we answer.

Infinite Series

Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) said that infinite series are a subject that should be studied with “the greatest attention.” Unfortunately, in most modern math courses, infinite series are studied little, if any, until calculus, where they tend to create a lot of confusion because students have a poor foundation. But Euler put them in his algebra book, Elements of Algebra, a book that most modern Algebra 1 and 2 courses are based off. If you start Shormann Math in Algebra 1, you will learn a lot about Euler and other famous mathematicians, and you will probably know more about series and infinite series than the average student your age.

But why did Euler think infinite series were so important, especially in regards to fractions? Well, what is calculus? It’s the study of speed, right? Or even more generally, it’s the study of rates of change. It’s a study of how this changes as that changes, and when we compare this to that, we are studying fractions! Not only that, when we break a fraction into an infinite series of discrete pieces, we are doing computations that computer programs must do. Building fluency with infinite series can really go far in connecting students to fundamental aspects of computers.

Vectors

If you understand that traveling North at 60 mph is different than traveling South at 60 mph, then you have a basic understanding of vectors. Vectors allow us to consider two things at the same time, such as an object’s speed and it direction of travel. And something called the Parallelogram Law provides a simple way for understanding how to add vectors. In fact, the famous mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) believed that the Parallelogram Law “is the chief bridge over which the results of pure mathematics pass in order to obtain application to the facts of nature.” In other words, vectors are a really important tool for studying God’s creation!

Concepts like these are not usually learned overnight. Like learning a language or a new instrument, sport, etc., it take patient practice over several years. That’s why Shormann Math introduces these concepts in more basic forms starting in Algebra 1, giving students time to gradually build skills through practice and repetition. Click here to learn more about Shormann Math, and how Shormann Algebra 1 and 2 also help prepare students for the SAT, ACT and CLEP exams. Thanks for reading this post!

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