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Conquering the SAT: A Personal Story

ArachnotronArachnotron 1658 replies103 threads Senior Member
edited December 2011 in SAT Preparation
I remember when I first signed up on these forums. I was naive, eager, and in every sense of the word, a test-prep neophyte. The posters here were demigods, "complaining" about what appeared to be amazingly high scores on the vaunted "SAT" that, in the eyes of the layman, is effectively a measure of one's intellectual capabilities. I had scored a 2040 on my first, untrained attempt and felt ashamed to be on this forum. However, I still had a competitive spirit, so I resolved to conquer the SAT, once and for all. I began my journey in March 2007 and for nine long months, I was consumed by the SAT, motivated by the promise of glory and boundless educational opportunity at the end of the tunnel; to graduate as one of the elite.

It began with the Blue Book (1st edition). I went ahead and did a good number of the mathematics sections in the book (since this was my favorite subject). These problems were magical in a way, unlike anything in school. They demanded knowledge, creativity, and ingenuity that nothing I had ever done in school had offered me before. I would routinely be "stuck" on level "4" and "5" problems, unable to see how to unlock their secrets during the allotted time. However, I was proud, I was stubborn, and I certainly wasn't going to ask for help. So I locked myself in my room and worked out these puzzles, not leaving until I "saw" it. Sometimes it would be a matter of minutes, sometimes hours (depending on how many problems I couldn't get), but I persevered and managed to find a logical explanation for each correct answer, even if I had to be given the answer in advance.

The other subjects, reading and writing, I worked even more painstakingly. I had never read a full novel in my life (still haven't), I've never been drilled vocabulary words, and I'd certainly never studied grammar formally. It was an alien world to me, and working on these sets of questions was demanding. I would get many wrong answers or I would run out of time. Or both! But since I had no other form of aid, I spent hours reasoning through the problems in the blue book, understanding what was going on, looking up words I didn't know, and slowly -- but surely -- increasing my knowledge of grammar and ability in reading.

During the time mentioned above, I never took full practice tests, but I did do each section timed (with untimed analysis of answers after). However, after about two months of this, I bought up a whole pile of past PSATs to use as "mini" practice tests. I sat down, set my cell-phone alarm as a timer, and did the first practice test. I was shocked as I tallied up the scores

72 CR, 73 M, 74W

"What the heck?" I thought, "How did I get a 219? That's national merit semifinalist level!"

At this stage, I had developed my "power" greatly and the practice test showed. However, my goal was a 2300+, to be among the best, so I continued my study. However, from that point on, it was a matter of taking practice tests. Every time I missed a math question, it wasn't because I didn't know something, it was because I hadn't had the right idea to solve it . With writing, it was usually carelessness in reading the sentence; I had learned that each sentence had to be checked with common sense and not any prescribed rules. Sure it's fine to memorize that parallelism is correct, but it's better to understand why it makes sense in plain, simple logic. The writing test, I had learned, was an exercise in common sense, disguised as a grammar test. Reading, well, that was still a weakness. I am a slow reader and I read the passages through once before even looking at the questions, so it was a challenge to stay within the time limit. And, those level 4/5 questions do get DIFFICULT. There's a non-subjective answer, but you need a very precise line of thought to get there.

It was at this point that I bought workbooks. I figured that I should "save" my practice tests, so I bought the Kaplan workbooks (very good, btw), and did every question in each workbook. Some were easy, some were approachable but took a bit of thought, and some were ridiculously hard -- but I made sure to figure each question out. This helped my "power" as well as my "speed" because as I got more used to the questions, the better heuristics I had built for solving tricky problems. In even the strangest situation, I could at least make some headway right away.

After these, I bought the mock practice tests by Kaplan and Princeton review. I admit, I found them not as high quality as the CB tests, so I only did a few before I started seeking out QAS .pdf files to test my mettle against real questions (I'd used up the BB). [Note: do not ask me for QAS. I have since delete them from my PC] And noticed that my skills were improving -- my scores were within the 2200 range. A lot better, but still not 2300.

At this point, the power was there to answer the questions, but the very hardest, I couldn't always solve within the time limit. So I worked up a new strategy: FLY through the easy questions so that I have time for the hard ones! This came from extensive practice on old SATs, PSATs, and pretty much every CB source I could find. Eventually, I scored my first timed "232" on a practice PSAT. I was shocked, pumped, amazed, and in disbelief, but I had hit the low end of my target score! The test was near, so I took tests every other day until the exam. At that point, I ranged from 2280-2330.

I then took the exam. It felt hard, but I kept my mind positive. I focused on the goal and kept my cool. I walked out of the exam confident that I'd beaten 2040, but not so sure that I'd hit 2300+.

Scores come back. I got a 2340. I jumped up, ran around the house screaming with happiness, woke my parents up (who really didn't appreciate being woken up), and told all of my friends. I had done it. I scored a 2340 early in my junior year. Success, oh, sweet success! The highlight of my HS career.

But I sit back now; it's all so bittersweet. The challenge is conquered, it's over. It's something that kept my fire burning for months, occupying my thoughts and keeping me motivated. But it's over. And it's been over for about two years now. And yet I still return to CC, just so that I can try to get back a small piece what was a very valuable, wonderful learning experience.

Your goal may be to get into a top tier college, but as you'll often find, the path is more rewarding and fulfilling than actually getting to your destination.

Good luck, CC'ers. I have no doubt that you all are among the most brilliant and motivated students in the country. And while I hope that you all reach your goals, I more sincerely hope that you never run out of goals, for the pursuit of them will enrich your life in far more ways than any single success can.

edited December 2011
29 replies
Post edited by Arachnotron on
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Replies to: Conquering the SAT: A Personal Story

  • HarambeeHarambee 2600 replies4 threads Senior Member
    Very motivational.
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  • Ren the SAT'erRen the SAT'er 2181 replies122 threads Senior Member
    I swear junior year was one hell we all have to go through.
    Dang, Arach, you're gonna finish college in 3 yrs cuz of AP credits?
    Good job :)
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  • ajsz033ajsz033 153 replies16 threads Junior Member
    Thank you. I'm saving this..=)
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  • xctfxctf 82 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @Arachnotron: Hi, I took my first SAT this past May without any preparation......yucko score of 1920 combined....1240/1600. So, this summer I've been hardcore studying for the upcoming SAT in October and November...now, on my most 2 recent full length timed exams I've gotten a 2280 (1520/1600) and a 2320 (1520/1600) I'm so ecstatic! (btw these tests are out of the new SAT official study guide) but my question is......considering I did so bad on the first SAT and the DRAMATIC increase in scores, should I be worried? I mean, I'm afraid that I won't do the same on the real test as my practice ones, that maybe this was just a false hope.........any ideas/advice?
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  • federernadalfederernadal 267 replies80 threads Member
    Extremely motivational. I scored 2050 after working hard for 3 months in my junior year. Ive got lesser than 2 months now. I want a 2200. Is it possible?

    P.S. I resumed my SAT training (always by myself) around middle july. But i feel the extensive training still needs to begin.
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  • ArachnotronArachnotron 1658 replies103 threads Senior Member
    I want a 2200. Is it possible?

    If you work hard enough, I think it is.
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  • fastbreakfastbreak 59 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Great story!
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  • Gwen2310Gwen2310 32 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Thank you for this wonderful story! It has been a great source of motivation.
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  • federernadalfederernadal 267 replies80 threads Member
    Hi Arachnotron! Thanks for encouraging me!

    I have a CR score of 630. I'd like to raise that. Any tips? Which word list, etc? [One month left now]
    Maths [720] and Writing [700]. I think I need to be more prudent at this, while keeping within the time limit. How exactly to do this?

    I have the 11 tests by PR. Should I use it or only the BB (I have done all tests a year back), but I still feel it gauges correctly. Thoughts?

    Thanks a lot for the help and motivation!
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  • massgirl92massgirl92 586 replies117 threads Member
    that's so inspiring! thanks for sharing!
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  • swans004swans004 383 replies1 threads Member
    Congrats and best wishes for the future!
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  • BilguunBilguun 1212 replies40 threads Senior Member
    This story sounds very much like LOTR at times. Particularly:
    "It began with the forging of the Great Rings."
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  • Duke99Duke99 703 replies25 threads Member
    i was motivated...............2200 here i come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
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  • Duke99Duke99 703 replies25 threads Member
    haven't got much time left though............and just started 1 and a half mths ago.....
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  • noimaginationnoimagination 6953 replies101 threads Senior Member
    It began with the Blue Book (1st edition). I went ahead and did a good number of the mathematics sections in the book (since this was my favorite subject). These problems were magical in a way, unlike anything in school. They demanded knowledge, creativity, and ingenuity that nothing I had ever done in school had offered me before.
    I'm not sure how those problems could ever be considered inspiring. But it was a good read anyway :)
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  • JakeusJakeus 314 replies55 threads Member
    Wish I had heard this 8 months ago, this is the best motivation for the SAT that I've come across. Now I have my own challenge to conquer; one that won't be too fun.
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  • swiftjabswiftjab 112 replies65 threads Junior Member
    You should use this as your college application essay lol
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  • BreadBasketBreadBasket 100 replies2 threads Junior Member
    This is one of the most interesting posts I've ever read. I hope you've found something to take the SAT prep's place. Perhaps the GRE?
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  • hotinpursuithotinpursuit 698 replies21 threads Member
    That was an amazing story.
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  • jwtraejwtrae 19 replies14 threads Junior Member
    *tear* very motivational! Hopefully i can reach my goal (2000+)
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