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.