A student in one of my classes recently asked me how best to set up his scratch paper while taking the exam, so my first task is to give a shout-out to Robert and thank him for giving me the topic for this article!
I shared a few things with him during class and I’ll share these things with you below. Plus, now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I have some other ideas for you.
What’s the Scratch Paper like?
You’ll be given a bound booklet of 5 sheets of legal-sized paper (that’s the overly long paper often used for legal documents). This yellow graph paper will be laminated, so you’ll use a special marker to write on it. (If you’re in one of our classes, then you received your very own scratch paper booklet as part of your books and other materials.)
While the booklet technically has 10 faces (front and back of 5 pages), the first page has a bunch of writing and instructions on it, so in practice you’ll have 9 faces on which to write. You can have only one booklet at a time, but you are allowed to exchange the booklet for a new one during the test.
The test is divided into four sections. Chances are that you won’t need much scrap paper, if any, during the essay section. In fact, I recommend typing your notes right onto the screen as you read the essay prompt. For example, every time I find a flaw in the argument, I type up a note, then hit enter. When I’m done, I look through the list of flaws, decide which ones to keep, and cut and paste to reorder them. Now, I have a template for what I’m going to write for each paragraph.
Integrated Reasoning (IR) and Organizing Your Page
You will definitely use your scrap paper during the IR section, but there are only 12 question prompts and 9 sheets of paper, so you should have plenty of space.
Organization, though, will be important, since most IR question types have two or three parts. Plan to spend about half a page per problem and keep that work discrete. In fact, I recommend drawing a horizontal line halfway down the page to force yourself to work in a discrete space and keep your steps organized.
Have you ever done this?
[Internal monologue] Hmm, there’s not a lot of room left on this page, but I think I can squeeze one more problem in here. Oh, there isn’t quite enough room after all, but if I turn the paper sideways and write in this blank space between some other work over here, I can finish it off. Argh, none of the answers match. I must’ve made a mistake…let me check my work… Wait, am I looking at work from this problem or from the last problem?
I’m one of the worst offenders on this on quant. Check this out. I just went and found an old piece of scrap paper (I did not create this just for this article—I promise!):
I don’t even know whether that’s one problem or two different problems. Either way, that is NOT good scrap paper practice. I think this might have been one of our challenge problems and I was definitely struggling to figure the problem out.