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Tips for Taking the SAT

By Edited Jan 26, 2015 1 0
Taking the SAT
Credit: KF via Wikimedia Commons

Taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, is an annual ritual for most high school students and it can be a stressful time for many.  After all, admission into the college of your choice as well as scholarships may be on the line.

Currently, a perfect score on an SAT is 2400. That means scoring an 800 on all four major sections within the test. Although that is rare, if you have your sights set on the top school, you need to strive for at least a 600 in each section.

While the SAT is challenging for the average student, there are ways you can prepare for it so that you can achieve your best results. 

Start Preparing for the SAT Early in High School

Make sure you know what high school courses are required by colleges and that you are taking the right classes starting the year. If you have advanced placement course work in your high school, try to get into as many of those classes as possible.  

At the very least, you should be taking a full load of classes every semester.  Make sure your course work includes classes in math, science, social studies, english and the arts.

Explore SAT Subject Courses and Subject Tests

Most high school students take individual SAT subject test at the beginning of their junior school year, however try to those tests as soon as possible after taking courses specifically on those subjects.

Focus your study time on math, vocabulary and grammar sections.  Use SAT testing aides and practice tests.

Read and Write Often

The more you read about all subjects, the more you will absorb and take with you in all of your life experiences, including the SAT tests.  Read anything whether it is for school or pleasure. Everything increases your vocabulary and grammar just by seeing things over and over again.

Practice your writing even if it is just for a personal blog or journal.  This will also improve your reading comprehension.

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Create Vocabulary Lists

Tips for Taking the SAT
Credit: U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

As you read anything whether it is personal things online, school work or SAT prep work, write down any words you do not know the meaning of and define them in a notebook or excel spreadsheet.  Throughout the year as you prepare for your tests, review your unknown words so that you can become more familiar with them.

Learn Your Calculator

Do not wait until the last minute to learn how to use your calculator. You will need it during the test and you cannot afford to lose time making errors on calculations because you did not spend enough time before hand learning how to use it.  

When to Take the Test

Most high school students take the SAT during their junior or senior year. At least half of all students take the SAT twice, or take the PSAT once in the spring of their junior year, then the SAT in the fall of their senior year.  The more you are exposed to the test, the better your scores will be.

Night Before Test

If you have taken the steps listed above leading up to your SAT test, there is no need to stay up all night studying. In fact, it will only hurt you. A good night’s sleep will do much more good than trying to cram answers in your head at the last minute. Sleep is not only for a tired body. Sleep allows the brain to go into a low function state allowing it to recharge. You will need that energy and clarity of thought the next day in the testing center.

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Day of the Test

Get up early enough to eat breakfast. I recommend eating several eggs and maybe some toast. The eggs will hold your hunger off for hours. The last thing you want is your stomach growling during the test, so do not skip this step.  However, do not drink a lot of caffeine which will make you go to the bathroom a lot later.

Know the location of the SAT test center before the day you are supposed to go. The last thing you want is to get lost or be late. You will be nervous enough without having the added stress of trying to get to an unknown location.

Don't forget your ID. Bring your SAT admission ticket and a photo ID to gain admission into the testing area.

Bring a bottle of water. When people are nervous, they sometimes get a dry mouth and you do not want to be distracted by this during the test.

Taking the Test

Tips for Taking the SAT
Credit: Opensource

Set your own personal timing device when the test begins. Sure, the testing coordinator will notify you of time, and there will be clocks in the room, but it is easier to glance at your device while working than diverting your attention in another direction.

Don’t spend too much time on each question. If you can’t answer it within 15 seconds, move along to the next. The idea is to answer the easier questions first then go back to the ones you skipped later.  The easier questions are at the beginning of each section and get progressively harder as you go along.  

Do not be afraid to guess. If you are unsure about an answer but you are certain you can rule out at least one of the potential answers, take a guess because your odds increase substantially if you can narrow it down to 2 or 3 possible answers. In short, never leave a multiple choice question blank. Guessing is ok, but you want to guess smart. Additionally, because scores are rounded up to the whole number, quarter point deductions for 1 wrong answer that you guessed on will not affect your score due a rounded up answer.

Try different strategies for reading comprehension section if you struggle. There are several strategies to try and the one that is right for you will depend on you. Try to read the questions first, and then skim the paragraphs of the passage. Or read the first and last sentences of each paragraph in the reading passage, then try answering the questions.

After reading a question, go with your gut. If you know you are not going to be able to come up with an answer for it unless you spend the next 5 minutes reading it over and over again, skip it. You can come back to it if you have time.  

Acknowledge the opposing view point. When writing your essays during the test, consider acknowledging the opposing point of view to your thesis in your conclusion. This will demonstrate to the grader that you have a more mature outlook on life acknowledging that not everything in the world is black and white.

Break down the math problems. If you struggle with a math problem, ask yourself what is the basic question is being asked. Test writers will try to throw in a lot of extraneous information to throw you off so make sure you read the math questions and pull out what is needed and what is frivolous.

Final Thoughts

When I was in high school, I took the PSAT once, then the real thing toward my junior year and I was done. I never took it again in my senior year because I was satisfied with my score and I had already been accepted to the college I wanted to attend.

The SAT will try to score your level of thinking and the way that you think in general, not merely how you can recite facts from memorization.  Traditionally this has been a way for colleges to see how you can think overall when not presented with short pieces of information that you are tested on throughout your high school classes. The SAT is a more encompassing representation of your knowledge and they want to see what you can do when you are put under a little bit of pressure. After all, college is not going to get any easier.

However, recently the College Board announced some changes coming to the test in 2016. Students will be given the option of writing an essay. It will not be mandatory. 

The revamped test is also said to focus more on the context of words when used in certain situations and get rid of a lot of the vocabulary testing of words no one has ever heard of nor uses in everyday life.

Additionally, in certain math sections, students will no longer be allowed to use their calculators.

The scoring is also going to change a bit in 2016. They are going back to the old scoring system where a maximum score was 1600 rather than the current 2400.

In any event, proper planning and studying leading up to your junior year in high school can get you there if you are committed to the goal.  If you follow the advice in this article, you can increase your score and reduce your anxiety on test day.



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