SAT Tip of the Week: How to Improve Your Timing When You're Stuck on a Hard Question

SAT Tip of the Week - FullBefore getting into test prep, I was a classical music composer.  I worked pretty long hours composing pieces for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and symphony orchestras.  Sometimes I would run into writer’s blocks at very specific places in a composition.  I couldn’t decide which motive the oboe should play, or whether or not to double the counterpoint on the harp.  How I found my way out of such binds is also how I later found my way out of tough questions on standardized tests like the SAT.

When I got really stuck trying to write music, I just stopped.  Usually I made this decision too late and ended up wasting a lot of time racking my brain to no avail.  After finally throwing in the towel late at night, I hit the sack hard.  Overnight, a strange thing would happen.  When I tried to give my brain the break it deserved, it would actually work overtime instead.  I would dream all night long about different variations of the oboe theme and would be nonchalantly sifting through my options as if I had all the time in the world.  By the time I woke up, I knew exactly which notes to transcribe. You can use a similar strategy on the SAT, called Skip and Return, and I’ll explain this strategy later.

I’m also a big fan of popular music and came across an interview with The Beatles’ songwriter Paul McCartney after discovering my hidden lazy-man talent.    Now I don’t know how long Paul toiled on the piece before going to sleep, but the melody for “Yesterday” came to him in a dream, after which he furiously rushed to the piano not to forget it.  While Paul wrote over thirty songs that reached number one, “Yesterday” is by far and away the most successful of all, having been recorded over 2,000 times.  For musicians, letting our brains work behind the scenes seems to breed creativity.

Be Creative

And creativity is the name of the game on the SAT.  The best test takers are the ones who can solve a question in multiple ways, so that if one method is foiled, an alternate is waiting in the wings.  Less creative students go with just one approach and try to force it through with all their might.  They start and stop the problem many times in close succession and get frustrated when they can’t seal the deal.  Be flexible on the SAT and don’t let one method or strategy constrain you when there might be alternate ways to solve if you open your eyes a little.

Skip and Return

Enter the Veritas Prep SAT 2400 strategy, Skip and Return.  As soon as you encounter tester’s block on your SAT, we recommend you skip right over that question.  It’s that simple. Just circle that sucker and pretend it never existed!

Here’s where the music analogy ends though.  We don’t want you to take a nap right in the middle of the SAT after all.   Instead, “rest” your brain by doing other questions, especially manageable ones on other topics.   We already know that your brain will be assiduously laboring behind the scenes, working out the intricacies of the skipped questions as your muscle memory feasts on lower hanging fruit.  By the time you circle back to your circled questions, they will look completely different and much less scary.  You may even hear a harp in the background.

Unlike “Yesterday,” we don’t want you to replay your SAT 2,000 times.  At Veritas Prep, strategies like Skip and Return allow us to hit all the right notes the first time through. So remember, if you run into a tricky question on the SAT, skip it and move on. Then, return to it after your brain has had a small break and you can look at the question with a new perspective.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Jon Small is the Vice President of Sales for Veritas Prep. After completing his undergraduate studies at McGill in his native Canada, he went on to Berklee College of Music and NYU, where he earned his master’s. He discovered an affinity for standardized tests when applying to graduate school, and is now pursuing his MBA from UCLA Anderson while working full-time. 

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