The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good – An SAT Attitude Adjustment

This is one of the “Attitude Adjustments” in The New Math SAT Game Plan: For 2016 and Beyond!

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good  (With Apologies to Debbie Stier)

            The SAT, and really the entire college application process, is notoriously stressful.  You may have already noticed this.  And it may be that your parents are adding to your stress, not quite able to maintain their cool as they guide, cajole, push and pull you, trying to help you navigate these waters.  I am well-known for being a calm voice of reason (with other people’s children) but as a parent, I can tell you it is hard for us too.  We are eager to see you succeed and we are older than you.  With our advanced years and wisdom, we can see some of the challenges that lie ahead with a clarity we are convinced that you lack, but we have less control of the situation than you do.  So we feel, and attempt to communicate, a sense of urgency.

            Different parents deal with this stress in different ways.  The author and parent, Debbie Stier decided to immerse herself in the SAT experience.  Over a period of a year, she tried a variety of prep methods and then took the SAT every time it was offered.  She then wrote a book about it: The Perfect Score Project.  Though I never actually worked with Debbie, she did interview me, and my book was one of her resources.  She improved spectacularly in reading and writing and helped her own kids to great success.  But her math improvement was actually quite small.  When her project was finished, we emailed about what she could have done differently.  I’m going to tell you what I told her: the goal of “perfection” got in her way – and lowered her score!

            I am not telling you to abandon that goal.  I have not met you!  If you are already scoring in the high 600s – low 700s and you have just begun to prepare, well then maybe a perfect 800 is in your future.  But for most students, obsessing over perfection makes it harder to achieve their personal best.  Look at your PSAT score or your last SAT score. Ask yourself: how you would feel about raising that math score to the next level? Let’s start by turning a 440 into a 570.  A 540 into a 650 or even a 700.  Take that 650 and turn it into a 720.  I’m not asking you to give up on long-term dreams, but let’s start by making incremental progress.  I am telling you that you are more likely to raise your score on the very next SAT you take if you approach it in a slower, more low-key and playful way.  You need to give yourself time to think and time to breathe. 

             As for Debbie Stier, though she never attained the perfect math score, I’d still say that her project was a tremendous success.  When I first heard about it, I admit that I thought it was a crazy idea and that she would drive her own kids nuts!  But that didn’t happen (much) and I really enjoyed reading her book.  One thing that comes across very clearly is a steady respect for how difficult this all can be.  There’s no sense of “hey-you-lazy-kid-why-can’t-you-be-perfect-like-me?”   It’s more like: “Wow. This is very challenging.  How can we find a path to help you succeed?”

            So when I recommend that most of you take the SAT with a strategy that causes you to run out of time, please be open-minded.  If you do this, you probably will NOT get a perfect score.  That’s OK.  It’s also the single easiest thing you can do to raise your score to your own personal best.  And if when you walk away from this test (and this whole college application process), you have achieved your personal best, isn’t that the perfect score?


More Polar Graphs!

Lot’s more! 

Since it does not look like I will be learning to write my own applets any time soon (or getting any papers graded!) I have continued using the Interactive Physics work-around to generate a gallery of these polar graphs.  If you are learning (or teaching) graphing in polar coordinates, I  hope you find these helpful.

NOTE: I am not claiming that these are the fastest ways to get these graphs.  There are many graphing programs that can sketch these diagrams more quickly.  But I think these might help you to build an intuitive understanding of why the graphs come out the way they do.

Reminder: I am using Anton’s idea about an ant that walks along a rotating clock arm.  The ant’s position along the clock arm is give by the polar function r=f(θ).  These animations show how the polar curve is constructed as the ant’s position changes while the clock arm rotates.

Anyway, here they are.  Click on a video to play it.  And it’s easier to see what’s happening if you expand the video to full-screen mode.

A CIRCLE on the x-axis


A CIRCLE on the y-axis



 A CARDIOID — symmetrical w/ y-axis



ANOTHER CARDIOID — symmetrical w/ x-axis



A CARDIOID with an inner loop



A ROSE PETAL with 3 loops



ANOTHER ROSE PETAL with 3 loops — what’s different about it?





OK, that’s all for now.  If you had another one of these that you were eager to see, post a comment and I’ll try to add the one you want to the gallery.