General Strategies for the SAT

The SAT is a widely feared exam by high school juniors and seniors.  It creeps upon the already sleep-deprived junior to only add extra stress.  The present fear of the exam has been spread by rumors that correlate high scores to acceptances and low scores to rejections from colleges.  So much tension can make it hard to even get started with studying for the exam.  However, a proper battle strategy can help decrease the tension and the nerves often associated with the dreaded SAT.

Part A: The Books

Many students spend thousands of dollars on expensive prep programs.  These prep programs essentially photocopy material from books one can pick up at the library or at some book store.  The only book one really needs is “The Official SAT Study Guide” by Collegeboard.  This book is not only published by the actual test makers, but has 10 practice exams.  These practice exams contain questions that are on the same level of difficulty as the actual SAT.  Although one does not need any more books, more practice can be acquired from “10 Practice Tests for the SAT” by SparkNotes Test Prep Series.  These tests are also very close to the real deal (although the reading passes may be a bit longer at times).

Note: Although more practice books can be used to hone skills in the subjects of math, reading, or writing, constant test-taking and review can also accomplish just as much if not more.  However, if you feel you are lacking in knowledge, do buy books from the Barron’s Workbook Series.

Congrats, you just saved thousands of dollars and I bet your parents are pretty happy too.

Part B: The Schedule

Although not necessary, it is HIGHLY recommended that one makes a schedule for when to take practice exams.  This will enable one to allot a particular part of their day just for the SAT.  If you have a whole summer ahead of you, attempt to build up stamina with test taking.  Schedule one test the first week, two tests the second week, three tests for the third and for subsequent weeks (4 tests in a week can be very tiring don’t you agree?).  Increasing test amount in a week will increase your stamina significantly.  You will be more than ready by the end of the summer.  If you have only 1-3 months during the school year left, then schedule practice exams during weekends or on days you are most free.  If you have week left before the exam however, simply review tips and strategies.  Overworking oneself during the week of the exam may tire one out for the real deal.

Part C: Taking the Practice Exams!

It can be very hard to start practicing.  But remember – if you don’t you may have to settle for a score you do not like.  That will end up worrying you later.  Who wants extra stress anyway?  Make sure you have a quiet environment in which to take the exam. Bring an analog watch (watches that make noise won’t be allowed in an actual testing location).  Bring numerous sharpened pencils (no mechanical pencils allowed) and the calculator you will use on the actual test day.  Bring a snack and water for breaks between sections 2 and 3, 5 and 6, and 6 and 7 (actual break times may differ but you will receive three 5 minute breaks during the actual test).  Many students do not write the essay at the beginning a practice session.  Write it!  It will seriously prepare you for the actual test day and constant study will make your style smooth and consistent.  Ask a teacher to grade it or grade it yourself by using the rubric provided in the Official Study Guide.  Be harsh and critical – being honest with yourself will benefit you in the long run.  Take the practice test with an honest effort.  If you do not understand something, mark it in the book*.  Take the breaks when they come.  Stay focused and remember: this will benefit you in the long run.  After completing the practice test, take a break. Then grade yourself (sometimes getting someone else to grade helps if you are fearful of how well you did).

After grading yourself, create a chart and write down your score.  Keeping track of your score will enable you to asses weaknesses and tackle them during the next test.  If you get a question wrong, completely redo it.  Looking over and redoing questions will help you not only assess your weak points but also make you realize the mistake you had made previously.  You may realize you tend to make careless errors.  Now you can attempt to be more careful the second time around.  Sometimes it helps to not review your answers until a day or two later when your mind is fully refreshed.  However, when you review answers is totally up to you. Looking over a question many times a week will help you remember that type of question much more easily.  You will start to see that each SAT exam contains questions similar to other tests.  When you realize this trend, you will soon understand how to find the answer very easily.

*If you want to get the most out of a book, write your test answers on a separate piece of paper rather than in the book.  You can use the book if you wish to retake a practice exam.  Retaking a practice exam helps you revisit questions you may have gotten wrong the first time.   It will enable you to see if you can actually do it when you see it a second time.

Part D: Rewarding Yourself

Reward yourself after taking each practice test.  Watch a movie or go out with some friends.  Anything to refresh your mind.  You deserved it for doing some practice.

After so much practice, the actual test can become very easy.  Your timing will improve and your nerves will decrease.  The test won’t be an enemy.  It will be more like a familiar ally.  Tips for acing specific sections of the test will be posted soon!

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