Until a few years ago, the SAT was known as the “S.A.T.”, its letters standing for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” In 2004, however, the test makers removed the periods and officially declared that “SAT” doesn’t stand for anything – admitting that the SAT is not an aptitude or intelligence test: It’s just a test of how well you can take the SAT.
So what does it take to do well on the SAT? Intelligence is helpful, of course, but intelligence – even when paired with knowledge – is insufficient without strong test-taking skills and strategy. Here are some key tips for SAT success.
1. Do plenty of timed practice SAT exams. Take at least four full, timed SAT exams, each one in a single sitting, before you take the real SAT. Use real SATs from the “CollegeBoard Official Guide to the SAT” and take each one under test-like conditions using the bubble answer sheets, timing yourself precisely for each section. Then go over your results, thoughtfully analyzing your errors and adjusting your pacing for next time.
2. Plan to take the SAT in January of Lower Sixth year, treating it as a practice test. Take it again in May, ordering “Question and Answer Service” when you register. This will provide you with a copy of the exam test booklet along with your annotated answers, a great study tool for next time. Finally, take the SAT in October of Upper Sixth. Most universities will select your best score from each of the three test sections over the range of all the tests you take, so it is definitely in your best interest to take it again in the fall (especially if you’ve used the summer to study).
3. Remember that each question – whether easy or hard – is worth only one point. So spend more time on easy questions than hard ones, ensuring that you don’t lose points by rushing through the easy ones in order to make time for harder questions (which you are more likely to get wrong, even with more time, anyway).
4. In Math, be alert to the twist, that aspect of the question that you don’t expect. Maybe you are solving for x, but the answer requires you to use x to complete one more equation. Make note of whether the question asks for any integer or a positive integer, only. Watch out for questions which specify “must” versus “may”.
5. In Critical Reading Sentence Completions, remember that the questions go from easy to hard. Easy questions have easy answers and hard questions have hard answers, right? So if you are stuck between two choices in question #8 (the last one on the page, and thus definitely a hard question) choose the harder word – even if you don’t know what it means. That’s more likely to be right.
6. Resist the urge to automatically cross off answers that contain words you don’t know. Train yourself to put a little squiggle mark in front of those words and only deal with them once you’ve eliminated all the others you can.
7. For Writing multiple choice questions, don’t trust your ear to judge what sounds right; everyone has an ear! If that’s all it took to get a high score, everyone would score high. Instead, learn the rules of grammar that the SAT commonly tests and be on the lookout for errors in those areas. Learn to pair up the subject of a sentence with its verb. Know when to use “who” versus “whom.” Be alert to the difference between a comma and a semi-colon. And remember: The word “being” is almost always wrong.
8. Build vocabulary drills into your daily life, spending 5-10 minutes twice a day to learn and review new words. Carry a few paper flashcards with you to school or use an app for digital flashcards that you can bring up on your cellphone. Practice the words you learn, saying them in sentences, using them at home and in your schoolwork. Over the course of six months to a year, you can make a substantial difference in your word power that will help you on this test and far beyond.
9. On the SAT essay, choose your side and pound away at your point. Don’t equivocate; be bold and emphatic. Have two strong examples with lots of details that all support your point. Aim to write two full pages because a long essay is, by definition, a good essay. Throw in a bucket of those big words you’ve studied (especially near the beginning when the reader may still be reading, rather than skimming, your essay). Be descriptive, lively and interesting. If you can’t remember details, make them up, because facts do not count.
Use the SAT error “penalty” to leverage partial knowledge. If you can eliminate one answer choice, you should guess. Just don’t let a hard question steal time that you could be using to get other, easier questions right.
Enjoy preparing for your SAT! Treat it as a challenge: the math a puzzle, reading an opportunity to build word power and comprehension, writing multiple choice a game of “Where’s Wally?” and overall a chance to hone your skills in making thoughtful decisions fast. As you engage, you’ll find you start making real progress.
About the Author:
Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, is a New York City-based tutor with over 25 years’ test prep experience. Karen teaches students internationally via Skype for the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, GRE and TOEFL exams.
Learn more about Karen at www.karenberlinishii.com or contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was originally published by The US-UK Fulbright Commission for their newsletter. Find it here.