If you’re trying to nail the final 2400 SAT, then you’re probably trying to figure out which tips (given the endless amount of SAT strategies already out there) will truly impact your score. While I do recommend using these remaining two weeks to improve your grasp of content and of strategies (viz., don’t skimp on learning vocabulary words or on practicing tricky word problems), there are a few key habits that you should implement on test day to ensure you perform at your highest level.
1. Be Aware Of Order Of Difficulty
Imagine it’s test day. You’re near the end of the long Writing Section. You’re feeling good; so far, you’ve answered every question with confidence, and you only have a couple of questions left to answer. You know you’re close to that dream score you’ve been working hard for. You take a quick look at one of the final grammar-based questions before you begin the paragraph corrections:
This question seems easy enough. There aren’t any glaring mistakes, such as subject-verb disagreement. And if you ignore the descriptive phrases (such as “Not very particular in nesting sites…”) you’ll notice that the sentence also makes sense, meaning there aren’t any problems with sentence construction. You may be tempted to choose E, No error, and move on.
Unfortunately, if you did think the answer was E, you fell for a classic SAT trap. There in fact is a mistake in this sentence! So let’s consider it more carefully. For example, when you look at A, rather than just giving a knee-jerk answer, try using the phrase “not very particular ___ …” in your own sentence. How would you say “my sister is not very particular ____ what she wears”?
Hopefully, you realized that you would say “my sister is not very particular about what she wears”. Therefore, “particular in” is an idiomatic error, because in English, we say “particular about”.
Maybe you’re groaning and thinking to yourself that you’ll never be able to tell the difference between plain easy questions and tricky questions on the SAT. However, if you pay attention to Order of Difficulty, you actually can predict when you are likely to see tricky questions. That is, on the SAT, difficult questions tend to appear near the end of the section, say about the last 5 – 6 problems. So, although you may be able to do a writing or math or vocab question at the beginning of a section in less than thirty seconds, if you do a question at the end of the section easily and in little time, chances are you fell for a trap! In fact, if a problem at the end of the section seems strangely easy, an alarm bell should go off in your head. So, my first tip for you is this: on test day, whenever you are at the end of a section, be sure to always pause and carefully consider an ostensibly easy question, rather than just circling the first plausible answer.
2. Skip and Return
Skipping tricky questions on multiple-choice tests (so as to return to them later) is one of the oldest tricks in the book, so I’m sure you’re familiar. However, I want to break down this trick a little further, because although many students do use this strategy, not all of them do so as well as they could.
First off, let’s identify under what circumstances you should absolutely skip, versus when you should stick it out. You should skip whenever:
-You don’t understand what the question is asking, or the question really confuses you.
-You can’t eliminate more than one answer choice.
Some test prep companies recommend guessing when you can eliminate just one answer. The reasoning is that you have a 25% chance of guessing correctly, which will outweigh the ¼-point guessing penalty that is in effect on the 2400 SAT. However, this isn’t really good advice, because students rarely guess without any partiality towards certain answer choices. In other words, when students are presented with four answer choices, they are more likely to choose some answers than others. And unsurprisingly, the College Board leverages this by purposely making some answer choices look more appealing than others on difficult questions. So, when you guess between four answer choices, you actually don’t have a 25% chance of guessing correctly. Your chance of guessing correctly will always be lower than 25%. Therefore, only guess if you can eliminate two or more answer choices.
Take a look at the following difficult question from a SAT Reading Section:
Can you eliminate more than one answer? If you can’t, this is the type of question you should skip and leave blank.
Can you eliminate more than one answer? If yes, you should work through this question as best as you can, even if you can’t instantly identify the correct answer. Although you sometimes will have to skip some hard questions because they are either too confusing or too time-consuming, you should not skip every single difficult question on the SAT. In fact, being able to work through hard questions is what sets apart top test takers.
Looking at this question again, let’s say that you were able to eliminate C, steadfast, and E, frank, because you know both of those words have positive connotations and you’ve figured out that the word in the blank must have a negative connotation. However, now you feel stuck, because you don’t know what convivial, steadfast, or clandestine mean.
The good news is that you can continue to work through this problem, even though you don’t know the exact definitions of the words. So, rather than guessing randomly between the three, or deciding to return to the question later, you could use two Veritas Prep strategies to continue to eliminate answer choices. Notice that convivial has the root viv. If you know Spanish or Latin, you can intelligently guess that viv probably means life. This means that answer A likely has a positive connotation, and should be eliminated. Also, notice that fortuitous sounds like fortune, which means that it also has a good chance of being related to the word fortune, another word with a positive connotation. Thus, you should eliminate answer D, and choose B, which in fact is the correct answer.
Now that we’ve talked about when you should skip versus when you should stick it out, let’s talk about when you should skip and return. Take a look at the following math problem, which was taken from near the end of a SAT Math Section :
The question seems simple enough. You might think to yourself that if the can is eight inches tall, then four of the pencils cannot fit entirely inside the can. However, this question is from the end of a SAT section, so it shouldn’t be easy to solve.
So when should you skip a question like this, to return to later?
I recommend skipping a question like this when you don’t have a lot of time. For example, let’s say you still have 4 math questions, and you only have 4 minutes left, and you can only eliminate one answer – answer choice D, because it’s too obvious an answer. Unless you can quickly think of a method for working through this problem, I would advise skipping it, and returning to it if you have any remaining time.
Note: At the end of this blog post, I’ve included an explanation for this problem. Once you finish reading these test-day tips, try to solve the problem yourself before reading the explanation.
3. Set Pacing Goals
One of the most avoidable ways students miss points on the SAT is by not working quickly enough. Thus, it’s essential that you set pacing goals for yourself whenever you do practice sections. For example, if you regularly don’t finish the 35-question Writing Section, then you should try to do the first half of it (approximately questions 1-18) in no more than twelves minutes. That means that at around question 9, you should check your watch to see if you’re on target. If you’ve spent more than six minutes on the first nine questions, then you’re falling behind, and you need to speed up.
Note that it isn’t a good idea to check your watch either after every single question, as that will just disrupt your flow. It’s also ineffective to check your watch only near the end of the section, as that may not leave you enough time to finish. Thus, it’s essential that you set simple but effect pacing goals for yourself (i.e., every 5 minutes, I finish 9 questions) so that on test day, you can keep track of your pace. Pacing goals will be different for different students, so use these next two weeks to develop goals that work for you.
Before you take a crack at that hard math question with the pencils, I want to give you one last piece of advice. Studies show that resting before a major exam is just as essential as studying, so, be sure to get a good night’s sleep on the two nights leading up to the test. You’ll only perform at your best on test day if you take good care of yourself!
Explanation for math problem:
One great way to deal with geometry-based questions at the end of the math section is to draw on the provided diagrams as you think your way through the problem -in other words, thinking visually. Doing will help you consider possible solutions you may otherwise overlook, such as in this tricky problem. So, let’s start by “drawing” the nine inch pencil in the tin can:
Clearly, the pencil sticks out of the can. But, seeing the pencil sticking nearly straight up from inside the can gives me a new idea: what if the pencil were tilted? Couldn’t a pencil longer than eight inches fit inside the can? And if so, what would be the longest possible length of a titled pencil that could fit entirely inside the can?
To get a better grasp of this idea, I would draw the longest possible tilted line that fit inside the can, meaning a line starting in a bottom corner of the can, and stretching to the top corner, like so:
As you can see, the line that represents the longest possible length of a pencil that fits entirely inside the can is also the hypotenuse of a right triangle with side lengths of 6 inches and 8 inches. Because I can identify the side lengths of this triangle as multiples of the lengths of a 3-4-5 triangle, I know the hypotenuse is 10 inches, meaning that any pencils less than or equal to 10 inches long can fit inside the can. Therefore, my answer is B: only two of the pencils cannot fit entirely inside of the can.
Good luck on the final 2400 SAT!
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By Rita Pearson