After the pages upon pages of n00b questions that I've been seeing lately, I decided to write a SAT FAQ. Some parts of the FAQ are based on personal opinion, but the large majority is based on general consensus from these forums (special thanks to Xiggi's thread). If you have a problem with what I've written (i.e. PR IS SO 1337 OMG!!!!!!!11!11one1!! ), remember that nobody's forcing you to take this advice.
Also, as this is my first version, there may be obvious questions that I have missed. If you see anything that should be added, please do not hesitate to let me know. Also, if you see any typos/errors/incorrect information, a correction is only a post away. Thanks to everyone here for getting me a great score, and without further ado, my SAT FAQ.
Q: Should I take a prep course?
A: Depending on your score, you may or may not need a SAT course. However, STAY AWAY FROM LARGE PREP COMPANIES AT ALL COST. THESE PEOPLE ARE ONLY OUT FOR YOUR MONEY!!! Generally, if you are motivated and are scoring above a 1600-1700, you will be able to get the score you want by self studying. If you are less motivated and/or scoring relatively low, the I would recommend getting a tutor or taking a local prep course. You should start by looking for high scorers in your area; these people know the test and know the secrets to doing well on the test. As I said before, you can also look for local companies, but make sure to talk to some people who took the course to make sure that it is useful. The bottom line is that if your family does not have $1000+ to spend for an SAT course, it is perfectly ok. You can buy all/most of these books for $100 (and they can be resold).
Q: What's are the best prep books?
A: The general consensus is to use the Official CB Study Guide for practice tests (affectionately dubbed the BB), Rocket Review Revolution (RR) for Writing, Gruber's for Math, and Grammatix for Critical Reading. I personally also recommend Maximum SAT as a generally good guide, it's really very well written (and helped me a lot).
Q: Are these books the 2400 version?
A: No, unless otherwise noted, do not assume that we are referring to the 2400 versions of these books.
Q: I can't find Grammatix on Amazon...
A: The book has been discontinued. However, if you look around on the internet, you can find yourself a copy. Don't ask for a link, as I believe that's illegal.
Q: Should I use Kaplan?
Q: What about Princeton Review/ Barron's/ Sparknots/ Every other crappy prep book that I forgot to mention?
A: No. The reason is that all non-tCB test materials are not standardized according to CB standards. The point of studying is to find out what tCB is looking for, not what Kaplan/PR is looking for (the answer is money, btw). If you are looking for review materials and test strategies, look in the books I mentioned above. If you are worried that there are not enough tCB test materials, I'm here to tell you that there is.
Q: Ok... so where do I get all of these tCB test materials?
A: the BB has 8 tests, BB2 (second edition of the Official SAT Study Guide) has 10 tests (3 are new, so between the 2 books you have 11 tests). The Official Collegeboard Online Course has 10 tests (I believe it was just updated recently), and there are 2 official released practice exams (one is repeated in the OC, I believe). So after all this, you have a grand total of 21 tests. If you study all 21 tests, you will not have a bad day come test day (I promise). Not to mention that there are previously released QAS booklets, if you've taken the SAT before.
Q: Ok, I don't want to spend all this money to buy the OC... and I'm out of tests. What do I do?
A: Redo the BB. You'll be surprised how many questions you get wrong (questions that you supposedly "reviewed"). If you wrote all over your first copy, a new copy costs like $3 on Amazon. Alternatively, you can also buy old PSAT tests from tCB for a nominal fee ($5/test or something). You must email tCB for the answers.
Q: Great, so I have all these prep books... Now what?
A: First, you'll want to take a diagnostic test under timed conditions. Do everything as you would on a real SAT (bubbling, snacks, breaks, etc). Some people say it's better to have a parent time you, but I've found no problems timing myself. Take the diagnostic score to see what sections you need to improve in the most (i.e. if you have an 800 on math, do yourself a favor and don't study the math section).
AT THIS POINT, I WANT TO NOTE THAT IN GENERAL, REVIEWING EACH TEST SHOULD TAKE AT LEAST THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TOOK TO DO THE TEST!!! YOU MUST REVIEW THE TESTS YOU TAKE, OTHERWISE YOU WILL NOT SEE ANY SCORE IMPROVEMENTS.
After assessing your weaknesses, you'll want to do some sections untimed. This is where your handy prep books come in. When doing untimed sections, do problems until you hit something that you don't get. Then, run to your prep book to find the correct classification for the problem. If you don't mind the extra work, it also helps to classify EVERY problem in the section. This may seem tedious, but after a little work you'll get extremely good at it.
After 3-4 tests with this method, you'll find that you can pretty much get through every section without referring to your prep books. At this point, you should start doing the sections timed. If you go over the time limit, that's ok. It takes practice (especially for the writing section). Continue to review the problems you get wrong by classifying with a prep book. If you find that doing extra things (putting parentasis around prep phrases, redrawing figures, excessive note-taking in CR) is slowing you down, try to cut down and do some of these things in your head. After a while, you should be able to finish every section well under the time limit.
If your score is still not desirable, you either:
A) are making a lot of stupid mistakes (see below)
B) have not done enough problems, and still do not grasp the concepts tested. You need to go back to the beginning and do more untimed practice sections.
Q: I'm making a lot of stupid mistakes. Help!
A: You need to read more closely. It's as simple as that. You can try active reading (circling key words, underlining, drawing, etc) or just do it like most people and read slower, taking some time to absorb what you are reading.
Q: Should I memorize vocab words?
A: This one is slightly dependent on your vocabulary base. If you can consistently get no more than 2-3 vocab questions wrong per test, then you probably don't need to. Memorizing more words probably won't get you too many more points. However, if you're getting even the medium questions wrong, you might want to spend some time memorizing word roots or words. If you DO decide to go the words route, check our SAT Hit Parade or Direct Hits (more people seem to recommend Direct Hits. I did not actually study vocab, so I'm just posting what I hear other people saying.)
Q: Any tips for the math section?
A: The best one I can think of is what Mysterytutor (don't ask) called the "Grouping Standard." This means that the correct answer is usually the choice that is closest to the other choices. For example:
Here, the first coefficient will be 5 (there are 3 choices w/ coefficient 5). The sign will be + (there are 3 choices with +). The second coefficient will be 4 (3 choices with 4). Therefore, the answer is "e" 5x+4. This usually works, except when it doesn't, so don't use this method as a crutch. Rather, use it to check your answer, and if you have no clue, as a method of guessing. Just remember that it doesn't always work. Also, know the formula Average Speed = 2(R1 x R2) / (R1 + R2).
Q: How about writing?
A: Just use RR... it explains it quite nicely.
Q: How do I write a 12 essay?
A: Fill up the page. This is most important. Take a stance, and make this stance very very very very clear. Use good diction, and vary your syntax a bit. Use 2 or 3 examples, historical, literary, or personal experience. Some people say historical and literary are better. I personally don't think it matters. Just make sure you fill up both pages.
Q: Can I make up stuff for the essay?
A: Yes. SAT graders don't get paid to verify what you write. You can make up anything from personal experiences to books and authors.
A: Just remember the answer has to explicitly restate something from the passage. Do not assume or jump to conclusions. Once again, the CR section in Grammatix is very well written.
Q: OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG IT'S ___ DAYS BEFORE THE TEST WHAT DO I DO OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!!!!11on1!!11
A: Relax. If you studied, you'll do fine.
Q: What should I do the day of the test to maximize my scores?
A: If you studied, you should do fine either way. Get a good night's rest the day before, and eat a healthy breakfast. Just don't do anything that's not routine and you'll be good to go. Try to bring a snack with you for the test.
Q: What type of snack is best?
A: It really doesn't matter. I like to get some carbs in the first few breaks and some sugar (fruit) for the final break. It's really all based on personal preference. Just don't bring ribs or anything that'll make you sleepy, or spicy food that'll make you... well, you know.