So, you want to do well on the SAT, but don't know where to begin? Or, perhaps, you've already done well but want to get those extra few points to impress that adcom at that ivy league school? I'm writing this guide because I feel that after two years of studying and having taken every released exam for the new SAT (both SATs and PSATs), I think I can be of help to many people.
You can't go into the SAT thinking that it's "stupid" and "doesn't measure anything". This is counterproductive. The SAT does, in fact, measure the essential skills you need to be successful in academics. Perhaps it's not perfect, but it's the best way that college admissions officers have of comparing students from all over the country. Whether you like the SAT or not, you've got to put the negativity aside and have a positive attitude. Without one, preparation will be painful and fruitless.
You don't need to be rich and have parents who have money flying out of their noses to be able to afford to prepare for the SAT. With a few bucks and a lot of dedication, you can adequately prepare. I come from a middle class family and couldn't afford to go to any $1000 preparation courses (like most of my friends did) -- but in truth, I think it's better to prepare on your own. If you want to succeed with the SAT, go out and buy the following materials:
- The Official SAT Study Guide ($18)
- Both Wednesday and Saturday forms of the 2006 PSAT ($3/each on collegeboard.com)
- The 2004 Wednesday PSAT ($3 on collegeboard.com)
- The 2007 Saturday PSAT ($3 on collegeboard.com)
See how inexpensive it is? All I'm asking you to do is spend $30. You don't need any more than this. I'll provide you with the strategies here (hence why I didn't ask you to buy any "strategy" books). Let's go!
There are of course general "test taking" strategies that people who are "good test takers" know:
Process of Elimination
: oddly enough, not many people take advantage of this! For the critical reading and writing sections, this is especially important. The idea here is to just cross off answers that you KNOW are wrong and to pick from the remaining answers. If you can narrow it down to one, then great! But what if you're down to two? three? four even? Still just guess. If you manage to narrow every question down, on average, you will end up with a net increase in score rather than just leaving things blank.
Don't be too liberal in crossing things off. Often times, in a really difficult question, you'll eliminate all the choices (it's happened to me...), in which case you must go back and carefully figure out what to eliminate.
This is a basic strategy -- it's helpful, but it should be integrated with reasoning skill and not used in substitute of it.
: you wouldn't believe how many people misbubble or SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ON BUBBLING! The two mainstream strategies for bubbling are:
1. Bubble as you go. Some people prefer to just bubble in questions as they answer them.
2. Bubble in chunks. Some others prefer to do entire "chunks" of their exam and then bubble them in together. This method is more efficient, but some may not prefer it.
The other issue is that some people are so paranoid about erasures/stray marks that they spend forever just trying to perfect their bubbles. Screw that! Just fill in the bubbles as best as you can without wasting time. Odds are, your bubbles are fine and that little picometer extra pencil that strayed off will not hurt your score. Lingering and not having enough time to answer questions will
hurt your score.
The word on bubbling? Just do what is most comfortable for you.
How to prepare
Now that we've got all the basics out of the way, it's time to learn how to actually prepare for this thing.
First and foremost, you MUST get used to doing full exams. Doing individual sections is fine if you want to do it with one test or two, but the bulk of your preparation regimen should be focused on taking full tests in timed, realistic environments. Remember, the SAT isn't just testing whether you can answer the questions: they're testing how well you can answer questions in a timed environment
So, here's how you should prepare:
In that big-blue book that I made you buy, there are 8 practice examinations. THESE ARE GOLD! Once you run out, they're gone. Those PSATs won't last very long either.
So, at the beginning of your preparation regimen, take one exam under timed conditions and score your exam. To convert your scores to the college board scale, you can use the following chart to get a good approximation of where you stand:
Now, the tests may be harder/easier, so just give yourself a "score range" of +- 30 points. So, say, if you get a 620 on a test, consider it really a 590-650.
Learning from your mistakes
A lot of people just zealously take a lot of exams without stopping to figure out what the heck they got wrong (or right). After each exam, you should spend a lot of time analyzing each question. Figure out what you did wrong! There are three kinds of errors:
Lack of Knowledge
These errors occur because you simply didn't know something. Perhaps it was a word or a property of some geometric figure. In these cases, MAKE SURE you look up that concept. The SAT is standardized -- any concept you don't know WILL haunt you.
This is the annoying one. You know how sometimes you know everything there is to know about parabolas yet you couldn't figure out a particular problem involving parabolas? Or how you understood the passage perfectly yet managed to get 1/2 of the questions wrong? Unfortunately, these errors aren't quite as easy as looking something up. For these errors, you have to go back to the question/passage/whatever and really sit there and try to figure out WHY the right answer is right. MAKE THIS AN ACTIVE PROCESS! Don't just rely on instinct when figuring out problems: reason things out to yourself. Follow a thought process and make sure it makes sense. The more you practice doing this, the better off you'll be.
Don't you just hate that? You solved for x when they wanted 2x. You missed the "NOT" in that critical reading question. Perhaps you made this error because you were going too fast or because you weren't focusing. In any case, try to make an effort to read things carefully and minimize these errors! But luckily, these are the easiest to fix.
Your next test
This depends greatly on how much time you have to prepare. If you have these 12 tests and you have 9 months to prepare, a test per week is NOT advisable. Perhaps one per month until "crunch time" when you can up the number.
The trick is to just space them out so that you don't end up out of exams before the real test. I will leave this up to your good judgement. But I will say, though, to make sure you've reviewed your previous test so thoroughly that, if you took that EXACT TEST again, you'd get a 2400.
Strategies for Math
For math, the best preparation is to do math. Make sure to keep up with your homework in school, take math AT LEAST through Algebra 2, and try your best. The more math you do, the more comfortable you will be when the SAT arrives.
Of course, there are certain strategies for the exam that are useful:
If a particular diagram is drawn to scale (which they always are unless otherwise specified), then use common sense. Get rid of answers that look too small or too big. Try to figure out the relative largeness of a value with respect to the choices if you can't directly solve the problem.
I cannot specify how important this strategy is. It's not only a strategy, it's a necessity. If you find there's a weird geometric figure that you've never seen before and don't know how to tackle (for area, perimeter, etc.), then DRAW LINES! Try to break it into things you know how to work with or try to extend things to make something you're familiar with. Make sure to mark angles, sides, etc. Geometry problems should be thoroughly written all over when you're done.
It's multiple choice! What better way to find which choice is correct than to test them out? For something you can easily tackle, don't bother, as this method is inefficient. But for something that is difficult, then just try to plug in to see what works. At worst, you'll eliminate the blatantly wrong answers, and at best, you'll eliminate all the wrong answers.
Another really important one. If you get a really long expression or quotient, odds are, you're meant to simplify it. Usually just cancelling out a factor or two will magically yield what you're looking for. Oh, so satisfying!
Always, always be able to recognize how to factor/unfactor something. Many times those intimidating numbers & operation problems can be solved if you just factor or unfactor. Learn things like the expansion of (a+b)^2 and how to undo its expansion to get this. With practice, this becomes second nature and you gain a LOT of points!
Learn to recognize when to plug in one quantity for another. Usually this solves a great number of the harder problems.
For a review of the actual mathematics, the Official SAT Study Guide provides a fairly good refresher. I suggest that almost everyone work through it -- there's always something you never learned/forgot, even if you're in upper level math.
Strategies for Reading
This is the hardest to find strategies for because, when it comes down to it, you've just got to be able to read. But there are things you can do to help your score!
Single Passage: Read through the passage FIRST
That's right. Just treat this as just another magazine article (albeit a more boring one). Read the passage through -- don't take too much time, though, just make sure you understand what's going on and what the main ideas are. THEN go to the questions and refer back to the passages as necessary.
Single/Dual Passage: Vocabulary In Context
AKA free points. Make sure, when you go back to do these, that you read a few lines BEFORE the word and perhaps a few AFTER, so that you know what the word means.
LONG Dual Passages: Give 'em the ol' one-two!
My personal strategy for doing duals is to read passage #1, answer the questions pertaining to it, then read passage #2, and then answer the questions for just #2 and the ones that ask about both
SHORT Dual Passages: Tangled from the start
The short passages almost always have questions pertaining to just both, so your best bet is to just read both of the passages and then answer the questions.
Sentence Completions: Know thy word
There's no way around it: You need to have a strong vocabulary to do well on the SAT. So when you take practice tests, make sure to look up every word you didn't know. But what if you're at test-day and you didn't learn a word? Well, be calm! Eliminate what you can, then try to deduce a meaning for a word you don't know from something you may have heard before or a familiar sounding root. If all else fails, eliminate what you can then guess.
All passages: SUPPORT YOUR ANSWER
If you cannot directly support an answer choice with stuff explicitly stated or implied in the passage, then CROSS IT OFF. I don't care if you have outside knowledge: if it ain't in the passage, it ain't right. (unless it's a question with NOT, in which case, if it ain't in the passage it's right :D
Okay, so this is the biggie. The section everyone screamed about when it was added to the new SAT. Mostly because of the essay, in fact, so let's tackle that first.
The secret to getting a 12 on your essay? BE PERSUASIVE! When you get a prompt, immediately take a stance that you can support. Don't try to be fancy, don't even try to put in "SAT words". Write one intro paragraph that states your view and gives the reader an idea of what points you're going to make. Then write two/three paragraphs, each dedicated to supporting your point WITH CONCRETE EXAMPLES (that you can make up if you want). Then write a conclusion that restates and reflects on your thoughts. Nothing too fancy...got me a 12.
The Multiple Choice
Just learn the errors. In the blue book, on pages 101-102, there's a list of errors. Every error on the SAT falls into one of those categories. When you're looking at either an Error ID or Improving sentences, just look for these errors. If there's one present, it's wrong, if there's not one present, it's right. Sounds simple, but you've got to put in the time to learn the errors cold and be able to systematically identify them on the exam. I guarantee you'll see some major points if you do this.
The SAT isn't so bad to prepare for, but you've got to be dedicated. Follow this guide, practice, learn from your mistakes, and have a good attitude to mastering the test, and you'll improve your score. No $1000 PR class, no expensive tutoring, nada. Just follow these guidelines and combine it with your ingenuity, and you'll score the highest that you can -- which may be higher than you think :)
To prove I'm the real deal: