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Sequence Problems

Arithmetic: Sequence Problems

Read the following SAT test question and then select the answer. 

Always read the question carefully and identify the bottom line.  Then assess your options and use the most efficient method to attack the problem.  When you have an answer, loop back to make sure that you solved for the bottom line.

8, a, 14, b, 20, …
The first term of the sequence above is 8. Which of the following could be the formula for finding the nth term of this sequence for any positive integer n?

Bottom Line: You want a formula to describe this number sequence.

Assess your Options:  You could try to write a formula, but you will have a hard time doing that because you do not know the second and fourth terms in your pattern.  You also do not need to find numbers for the variables a and b in order to solve this problem.  Instead, use the answer choices to help you find an answer.

Attack the Problem: The first thing to do is realize that n is not a variable that you have to find algebraically; the nth term just describes the number of that term in the sequence, like the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth.  Therefore:
8,   a,  14,  b,   20, …
1,   2,   3,   4,     5

That means that when you plug in 1 to the formula, you should always get 8, when you plug in 3, you should always get 14, and when you plug in 5, you should always get 20.

Take a look at your answer choices:

(A) 2n + 6
(B) 3n + 5
(C) 5n + 3
(D) 6n + 2
(E) 6n + 5

You could start by plugging in 1 and finding out which of these equals 8, eliminate any that do not, and then try plugging in 3 and then 5 (this method is used on collegeboard.org).  However, just by looking at the numbers (a lot of 2s and 6s and a lot of 3s and 5s) you should be able to tell that a lot of these will equal 8.  To save time, start by plugging in the biggest term you know, the fifth, and see which answer choices equal 20.

(A) 2(5) + 6 = 16
(B) 3(5) + 5 = 20
(C) 5(5) + 3 = 28
(D) 6(5) + 2 = 32
(E) 6(5) + 5 = 35

Note: if you use logic, you do not even have to work out (C), (D), and (E) because the product of the first two numbers is larger than 20 before you even add to them.

Only one answer choice results in the correct 5th term of 20.  You don’t need to check any other numbers!

Loop back:  You found the only formula that will work for every number in the sequence, so select that answer.

(A) 2n + 6
(B) 3n + 5
(C) 5n + 3
(D) 6n + 2
(E) 6n + 5

The correct answer is (B).


On sat.collegeboard.org, 43% of the responses were correct.

For more help with SAT math, visit www.myknowsys.com!