Over the last few years, I have seen so many students spend weeks and weeks in SAT test prep. They do all the practice tests and go over everything, yet for some unseen reason these efforts do not translate to results. From my personal experience and from working with some students, I have identified some key techniques that can be implemented to be better prepared for the test.
From Visually. A quick primer on how the SAT determines your grades
Week 1: SAT Prep Resource Building
- Be resourceful: There are hundreds of resources available online, make sure to use them to your advantage. Some of them include the official Collegeboard resources (link) for official SAT practice you can download directly, making sure its a registered trademark on the resource for authenticity. Tutopiya also has some resources
- Use different types of full length practice tests: Some practice test publishers make the tests harder than the actual test, while some make it easier than the actual. Only CollegeBoard practice tests are an accurate representation of the difficulty level of the actual test. It can be useful to practice from different publishers before coming to the College Board ones (since they are limited in number), but make sure to diversify and know that a bad performance on those tests doesn’t represent your actual preparedness.
Week 2: SAT Practice Strategy
- Do most practice tests AFTER going over all the theory: While it’s important to do maybe one full length practice test in the beginning to see what SAT looks like, it is highly recommended that you first understand all the theory and then start doing practice tests. Again, there are only a limited number of good practice tests, so use them wisely.
- Practice reading faster: Studies have shown that there exists a positive correlation between the total time taken reading before answering a question (y-axis) and the number of correct answers. A lot of students find it very hard to finish the reading part in time. There are no shortcuts, you just have to SAT prep continuously. Keep practicing reading different things while timing yourself and keep track of your speed. Afterwards, you can analyze the progress you have made.
- Try to practice on paper: The actual test will be on paper, so it’s smarter to print your practice tests and then practice them.
- Understand why you are losing points: The only way to improve while doing practice tests is to analyze why you are committing the mistakes. Ask yourself if it is the time pressure, lack of theoretical knowledge, inattentiveness or anything else. Identifying the reason will help you work on that specific area and lead to improvement.
- Try to resolve your mistakes before checking explanations: After checking your practice test, do not read the explanations right away. Instead, go over all the mistakes and try to solve them again. Only after you have spent time on them, you should see the explanation. Reading the explanation first makes you go, “Ah, I knew it!”, and then you just forget about the mistake. On the other hand, spending time on it will help you remember the mistake and prevent it from happening again.
- Memorize names and functions of rhetorical devices: For essay, it is also very important that you memorize the names and functions of important rhetorical devices. Pointing out the devices, giving evidence of their using, and explaining what effect they have on the text is the key to getting a good score in analysis.
Acing the SAT Mathematics Section
- Look for shortcuts: For Maths questions, there is always a shorter way you can take. Make sure you know all those shortcuts and techniques because they will help save a lot of time. Khan Academy can be an effective tool for Mathematics especially.
- Practice with and without calculator for Maths: While doing practice tests, use a calculator for the calculator part and definitely not use a calculator for the non-calculator part.
- Memorize all the important formulas: It is very important that you memorize all the important formulas for the Maths part. There are also some shorter versions of certain long formulas that can really help you save some time.
- Familiarize yourself with Math terminology: If you are from a non-English speaking country and have studied Mathematics in a different language, make sure you familiarize yourself with all the relevant terminology in English before you start preparing and going over anything.
- Change your solving speed according to time: You can also choose to speed up or slow down when you are going over or under the set time checkpoint respectively.
- Use text booklet for rough writing: Remember that you can write anything on the text booklet given to you. So feel free to use it while solving Maths problems and extrapolating answers.
Acing the SAT Reading Section
- For reading, allocate specific time per passage: Divide the total time available to time per passage and have checkpoints in your mind for each passage e.g. “I need to finish passage one by 12.5 minutes, passage two by 25 minutes and so on”. This will help you manage time on a micro level.
- Approach the passages with genuine interest: A good technique for doing well in the reading part is to approach the passage with a curiosity. All passages have some new interesting piece of information that you can learn. Thinking about that will help develop your interest in the passage and you will be able to understand and grasp the concept better. This will in the end help you answer the questions better.
- Don’t ignore any part of the passage: Each part of the passage is very important. Some people tend to ignore the introduction. Read the introduction as it is very important, gives you a good idea about the upcoming passage, and helps you understand it better.
- For essay, always use specific evidence: A good analysis essay always points at specific evidence from the text. Analysis without specific evidence will make the essay vague and take away points.
- In the essay, your opinion doesn’t matter: The essay is not asking for your opinion on anything. All you need to do is provide an unbiased analysis of the devices that the writer has employed to convey his message. Giving your personal opinions will lead to losing points
- Understand punctuation rules for writing part: Make sure you understand the functions of all punctuations before you start practicing.
- Understand grammar rules for writing part: Make sure you don’t just memorize all the grammar rules and their definitions, but also understand them clearly. By understanding, I mean that you know what they are, why they are used, where they are used, and how are they different from each other.
- Identify key parts of the question: As you read the question, underline it’s key parts because a lot of students commit mistakes only because of misreading a question.
The Day Before: Mental Strategies
- Rest well a day before exam: Resting well a day before will help you perform better on the day of the test.
- Simulate the real exam: Do at least a couple simulations of the real exam day by waking up early, starting at the start time of the actual SAT exam, taking the same breaks, filling bubbles, and using all the same rules.
- Pack some water and snacks: You are very likely to get hungry or thirsty during the test. Make sure you take some snacks, water, or some drink and consume them during the breaks.
- Go over all the regulations: It is extremely important that you go over all the rules and regulations a day before exam. This will save you a lot of time, confusion, and stress on the actual day of the test.
Battle Plan for SAT Exam Day
- Take a watch with you: Make sure you have a watch on the exam day to keep track of time.
- Eat before going to the exam: It is extremely important that you have a healthy breakfast before going for the exam. Getting hungry during the exam will only distract you and affect your performance.
- Arrive before time to accommodate to exam centre: Arrive well before time and get familiar with the environment. Arriving just on time will only add on to the panic and can affect your performance.
- Don’t get blocked: Don’t get stuck on a difficult practice question and waste your time. Move on, solve everything else, and then come back to it later.
- Don’t leave anything empty: Remember that SAT does not have any negative marking so do not leave anything empty. If can’t find an answer, just make a guess.
- Keep track of time: Keeping track of time is very important. Do this while doing practice tests so you know how good your speed is and how much you need to improve.
- Filling circles takes time: If you are one of those people who fill the bubbles at the end, make sure you leave enough time to do so. You will not be allowed to go back to the previous section to fill the remaining bubbles.
Developing Persistence: Repeating SAT Exams
- Don’t get caught up with bad scores: As you start practicing, you are bound to get bad scores in the beginning. Don’t let it get to you, instead, look at it as a sign that you need to work harder and an opportunity to improve.
- Spend more time on your weaknesses: As you go through practice tests, it is important to give everything a fair share of time but it is also essential that you spend more time on areas that you are weak at. Doing so will help you make the best use of your preparation time.
- Find your own best strategy: Remember that different things work for different people. Some people would want to fill bubbles while doing the test while some would prefer to do it at the end. Similarly while reading, some people prefer to first glance over the questions and then read the passage, while some like to first skim the passage and then read the questions. There is no set rule that works for everyone. It is only through practice and trying out different techniques that you will be able to tell what works the best for you.
- Don’t trust your peers’ opinions too much: While you are preparing, each of your peers will try to tell you their own unique techniques and advices. Remember that different things work for different people, so do not let it get you confused. Instead, use the analysis of your own practice and advice from tutors and experts to make a decision.
- Don’t procrastinate: Start preparing early for the SAT. The more you procrastinate and leave it for the last couple of weeks, the more stressed you will get, and the more it will negatively affect your performance. Spread out your practice over a longer time period.
Leaving No Surprises: The Tutopiya SAT Strategy
There is no shame in seeking help. Whenever you feel that you are stuck, there is a topic that you do not understand, or there are a certain type of questions that you are always getting wrong, make sure that you seek help. In a matter of seconds, create an account with Tutopiya.com for a 60 minute free trial to consult with our subject experts.
Contributer: Sohaib Nashit