I have been out of my formal education, and certainly out of high school for many years now but I still have stress dreams where the time is slowly running out on a standardized test. I’m stuck on a hard problem and am waffling between two answers: “What does it mean if these two points are co-linear!” I scream and wake up in a cold sweat. If this describes your own dark dreams, you are not alone. Negotiating timing on a test is tough, but there are a few great tricks that will help you to zoom through some of the tougher sections and complete the SAT without feeling that stress.
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There are very few people whose idea of a good time includes spending hours outside of regular school poring over SAT material. With all the other constraints on a high school student’s time, is it worth it to do an SAT prep course? The honest answer is yes. The SAT is very important to the university admissions process and the skills necessary for lifting an SAT score can be learned over a much shorter period of time than it takes to dramatically change a four year GPA or achieve success in extracurricular activities. In terms of results for the time put in, success on the SAT is a lot of bang for your buck, and the skills learned in SAT prep are applicable to any standardized or multiple choice test.
Anxiety can often feel like an indestructible creature of mythical strength. If it is not enough that students must learn five hundred vocabulary words, spend hours drilling algebra (everyone’s idea of a fun Friday night), and learn to identify hidden grammatical mistakes, students must also fight the dragon of anxiety which paralyzes with its powerful breath and leaves students feeling defeated before they even begin. Anxiety is a mighty beast, but there are ways to combat this force and slay the dragon of fear so that you can focus on what really matters: answering the questions on the SAT correctly.
Have you ever had a fight with a parent, a partner, or a friend that was about one thing but was really about something else? Maybe mom yells that she can’t believe you left the milk out when really she’s mad that you watched the new episode of Homeland without her? Things are not always what they seem, and the SAT is just as guilty of hiding what it truly wants as your Homeland watching parent. So how do we approach a problem where the true skill that is being tested is not obvious? As in life, the real trick is digging down to what is really going on and addressing the true nature of the problem. Here is an example where this technique can be used:
The SAT, like so much in this big beautiful world, is a complex assemblage of pieces. It is, therefore, a complex task to improve one’s score on the SAT as it involves an understanding of the different parts of the test. There are, however, a few simple steps that can help start the process of improving one’s score that many people may not even realize are necessary. Here are three simple changes that can help to significantly improve your score and can, with the aid of other strategies, help you to rock the SAT.
When approaching a reading passage on the SAT, it can feel overwhelming to go through all of the information in the passage and extract the little tidbits that are truly useful in answering questions. While it is wonderful to read in a more lackadaisical way when sitting at the beach with a tale of vampire love affairs, this method of reading is more about following plot and big picture than about gleaning important details. If you feel like you have trouble wading through the information and finding what is important, fear not! There are a few strategies that may help you to navigate the reading section more effectively.
One of the biggest differences between the SAT and other non-multiple choice tests is that for nearly every question on the SAT, the correct answer is right in front of you! Given that the answer is right there, the real trick is figuring out how to use this to your advantage. Let’s look at an example to show us how we can use these answer choices to our advantage.
For those of us who grew up speaking English, we rarely find a personal benefit from translating English into another language. One big exception to this is in the math world. We may find ourselves able to understand the most erudite texts with ease, but figuring out how to interpret mathematical terms can be difficult without a little translating. Here is a quick and easy guide to help translate our language of communication into a language of computation.
Some of the most difficult kinds of problems in the math section of the SAT are the problems where there doesn’t seem to be enough information present to solve. Fear not brave test-taker! Often times, a problem that seems to be lacking simply has information hidden somewhere in the question. But like the great detectives of the past, it is possible to use our wits to find this information. The first step is to know the common shapes hidden in SAT math questions.
For those of us who grew up speaking English as our native language, grammar can be somewhat of an afterthought. We take for granted that the linguistic constructions that we use when we are arguing with our parents or flirting with a prospective prom date employ a regimented structure that we may not realize we are using. Basic understanding of piecing a sentence together is necessary for really taking that grammar score to the next level. Let’s take a look at some of the basic grammatical elements that make up our language.
Preparing for the SAT is a lot like working out. In order to maximize results, it’s best to put in a little bit of work everyday. If you are trying to bench-press 300 pounds, you won’t get there in one work out (if you do, you probably have a career in professional weightlifting ahead of you). Similarly, if you are trying to score at the highest level on the SAT, it’s best to prepare with at least a little work each day. Here is a sample five day, thirty minute a day, brain work out plan that will leave you ready for brain swimsuit season (OK, that’s not a thing, but it will leave you ready to attack the SAT).
Anyone who really wishes to achieve success on the SAT should not only be able to identify what makes up a correct answer, but also what makes an incorrect answer. The anatomy of an incorrect answer choice is not as complex as one might expect and gives students an important tool in selecting the correct answer choice: the power to eliminate all the other, less deserving options. The most common characteristic of an incorrect answer choice is the fact that it cannot possibly be correct given the context of the problem.
One of the worst feelings in many student’s young test taking lives is furiously working away at some standardized test, and really feeling that they are NAILING IT, only to look up at the clock and realize they have five minutes to complete the next fifteen problems. Time management can be extremely tricky on the SAT, but there are a number of things that can be done before the test to insure that time is used effectively.
Of the errors on the SAT, the idiomatic error can seem to be the most difficult to spot. Though these kinds of errors are particularly tricky, there are some clear steps that can be taken to help prepare for the dreaded error of idiom.
What is an idiomatic error?
Essentially, an error of idiom is a mistake in the word or words, often prepositions, that are used in association with other words, often verbs. An example would be the previous phrase, “used in association with”. It would be incorrect to say “used for association with” or “used in association to”. There are literally thousands of idiomatic phrases in English. For this reason, it can be very difficult to strengthen this particular skill, though there are ways to increase one’s ability to spot an idiomatic error.
Considering how ubiquitous a piece of punctuation the comma is, it is surprisingly misunderstood. The comma has a number of uses that are described quite thoroughly here, but the most common comma errors on the SAT are comma splices, omission of commas when used with a conjunction to combine two independent clauses, and misuse of commas with the word ‘which’.
A lot of students, after they have gotten their first score, feel unsure whether or not they should take the SAT again. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to endeavor to conquer the four hour test after it has already been battled, but here are a few things to consider when deciding what to do.
One of the biggest tricks the SAT uses is to confuse students is putting a question in theoretical terms instead of in practical terms. This simply means the questions on the SAT will sometimes reference a general term, for example an even integer, rather than giving a concrete number that fits that description, such as two or four.
When students, even those who consider themselves strong in math, get to the final two problems of the SAT, many begin to sweat like they are about to embark on some epic journey from which they may never return. The hard probability problem makes students very uncomfortable, but in reality most harder math problems simply require one or two more steps than less difficult problems. Probability questions are actually some of the simplest to solve.
The essay begins the SAT and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of writing a five paragraph essay in 25 minutes, but there are a few steps that can make the essay a piece of cake!
1. Make An Essay Template
The time spent figuring out how to structure an essay on the SAT is time wasted. This may sound counter intuitive as structure is a big part of what the SAT graders are evaluating, but it is this reason exactly that makes the structure of the essay the first thing that can be systematized and recycled. The essential make up of a five paragraph essay is simple. There is an introduction which presents the topic, states the thesis, acknowledges the opposition, and lays out how the essay will argue its point, three body paragraphs which use examples to support the thesis, and a conclusion which restates the thesis and briefly reminds the reader what it has just read.
In grammar, as in life, agreement can be tricky. Subjects and verbs have to agree, verb tenses have to agree, sentence structures have to agree, and pronouns have to agree. Much agreement is necessary for a sentence to function properly, but one of the trickiest of the many agreement issues that can pop up on an SAT is the hidden agreement issue between some non-pronoun and its referent. This can be particularly tricky to spot, but with a little practice it will be easier than buying a pie (making a pie is actually pretty tough to do well).
Sometimes the most difficult thing to do on an SAT question is to see something that isn’t there. The SAT provides test takers with enough information to solve the questions, but sometimes the information is not stated explicitly. The easiest way for the makers of the SAT to disguise information is to give written description rather than a picture. Luckily, it doesn’t require Picasso’s eye for line to translate words into pictures. Here is an example:
Studying for the SAT is a fantastic idea and really the only way to ensure that you will succeed on the SAT, but not all studying is created equal. I have encountered a number of mistakes students make while studying from watching “Sex In The City” because they think it is a good place to look for essay ideas, to studying non-Euclidean geometry to study for the math.
In my tenure as an SAT teacher I have heard all explanations imaginable as to why the reading on the SAT is the most boring and awful reading in the known universe. Students tell me the reading is too dense, too dry, too descriptive, too hard.
There is no arguing with the fact that some of the passages on the SAT are less than thrilling, but in order to score at the highest level on the SAT, students must find a way to stay present and actively consume the material. There are a couple of techniques that can help with this process and allow students to answer questions about the passage effectively.
As trembling hands turn the first page of the SAT, the heart of students drops like a rock. This first problem is a WORD problem and word problems are IMPOSSIBLE! The student drops his or her head. How can the test begin with such a hard problem? Be of good cheer young test taker, not all word problems are created equal.
So much time and energy is spent in preparing for the SAT. Many consider it the gate keeper to their college acceptence. It is a way to distinguish oneself on a level playing field from all others who are attempting to gain admission to college, but what is the SAT really? Is it an IQ test? Is it a college prep test? Does one really have to succeed on the SAT to do well in college?
One of the most common (and frustrating) questions SAT instructors hear from their enthusiastic but sometimes misguided students is this: is there a secret to dominating the SAT? As nice as it would be if there were some long guarded secret word or ritual that a student could invoke to dominate this test, there simply is no single secret. The SAT is a skills test and requires students to practice the skills it values. There are, however, a few tools that are useful on all tests which take the form of the SAT and use it to gain advantage. Here are 11 tips to help you on test day.
Picture in your mind the kind of person that gets a 2200 or above score on the SAT. You are probably picturing some Harvard bound wunderkind who attended the finest prep schools and excelled at all of them, or perhaps a bookish recluse whose entire life has been spent pursuing academia.
Friends, I am not those people, but I still managed to score in the 99th percentile on the SAT. I’m not a genius (ask the neighbors whose mailbox I destroyed because I was in reverse when I thought I was in drive), and I had a relatively normal upbringing in the public schools of North Carolina. I also did not do particularly well on the PSAT, which is generally an indicator of strength on the SAT.
The majority of your work should be finished a week leading up to the exam. You’ve already poured over mountains of vocabulary, towers of practice exams, and piles of practice problems (I love alliteration!). You know your triangles, you know the answer is always in the passage, and you know to check your pronouns for a clear and appropriate referent. Now, the only thing left is to take the actual exam and apply all the knowledge you have spent the last months cultivating. So what should be done the week of the exam to make sure that you apply all your knowledge effectively?
“NOT READING!” I can hear the cries of thousands of young SAT test takers as they get to this section of their SAT. “This section is impossible! And subjective! And you can’t study for it!” Dear student, you are wrong on all accounts! Not only is this section as objective as any other section of the SAT, but it can also be dominated like the other sections by taking into advisement a few simple steps:
Last week, we talked about 5 ways to score higher in math, and this week we’ll take a look at how to do that in the writing section. It’s actually easier than it sounds! I used to personally loathe (hate) this section of the SAT. I would have anxiety dreams about it: a giant semicolon would be trying to eat me and my children (I don’t have children). As time went by, however, I found that there is no need to fear as there are concrete steps that you can take to ace this section of the SAT. Here are 5 tips to help you succeed on the writing section of the SAT:
The SAT, one of the most loathed and feared tests for high school students, can feel impossible to conquer. For many ambitious young people, above 700 on math is the holy grail of scores: you hear that it can be achieved but actually reaching it seems impossible. Dear friend: fear not! The grail has been found and there are concrete steps that can be taken to help you achieve above a 700 on the math portion of SAT.
You’ve always been a person who trusts your gut. You’ve got good instincts, everyone says so. It’s why you were such an early adopter on Instagramming pictures of your dog dressed as different fruits and why you knew not to eat the “cold noodles” at the sketchy Chinese food place on the corner that sent your friends into an abdominal abyss for days, so it’s no wonder you’re so good at tests. You just pick the answer that feels right, and most of the time, your feeling is right! Great, right? WRONG!
Once again there are two answer choices that seem equally alluring and dangerous. You know your stuff: the answer is always in the passage, but as you look at the two choices with growing unease you remember both statements being discussed. Which one is it? Which one is supreme!
This is a common situation that many students face during the reading comprehension section of the SAT. The first and golden rule of the SAT reading section is that the answer is always in the passage. If the passage doesn’t mention it, or accomplish the task that the question indicates, it is NOT the correct answer. However, our understanding cannot stop here! It is not just mentioning something in the passage that makes an answer choice correct, it is the presence of evidence to support that the answer choice is 100% true in the section being referenced.
6:45 pm. It has been a long day, but you have a big test in history, a biology quiz to study for, and you are three days behind on your SAT vocabulary, so you sit down to begin your studying. You start by opening your computer, just in case you need to do any research, and quickly check Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, as well as looking at activity on your blog.
As you stare at the particularly confounding and convoluted sentence pattern you feel your mind start to wander. You know the rules that you must apply, you know the subject and verb must agree, and you are a pro at identifying unidentified pronouns, but the sentence is just too confusing to dissect and examine for these errors. It’s alright friend; the key to unblocking your brain is to block off the sentence into its component parts. The key is getting rid of prepositional and descriptive phrases to look at the heart of the sentence.
For anyone who knows me, it’s no special news break when I describe myself as a pretty normal guy. NO ONE would describe me as a genius (especially no one who hears the things I yell at the TV during a UNC basketball game), so how did I score in the 99% percentile on one of the most competitive standardized tests in the country? I am certainly diligent, and it did take some hard work and practice, but there was nothing that I accomplished that I feel like another hard working young person couldn’t accomplish as well. In order to dominate the SAT, you really only need to focus on 6 things:
Once again you find yourself staring at an “Identifying Sentence Error” problem. You are prepared! You have in your arsenal all the common errors that occur on the SAT. You know to avoid the common indicators of awkward phrasing and you can identify a subject and verb disagreement with both eyes closed and two hands and a foot tied behind your back.
As you are sitting and sifting through the hundreds of pieces of mail sent to you from every educational institution this side of the prime meridian you begin to sweat and your hands shake. “Its not that big of a deal which school I choose,” you think, “After all its only the ONE decision that will determine EVERY PROCEEDING MOMENT OF MY LIFE”. Now the shaking has become a generalized tremor that seems to pervade every cell of your body. The pressure! Its too much! Maybe I should just start an organic kale farm and forget all about it.
On the SAT, you’ll see a handful of permutation questions. Permutation questions deal with the rearranging of existing elements. Let’s look at an example problem. The problem goes something like this “A northeastern (museum/school/restaurant) has four (displays/desks/seats) all in a row. How many different combinations of six (paintings/students/diners) can be made?”
Nothing sets my students into a panic more consistently than being asked to describe the main purpose or the author’s intent when examining a passage. “But that’s not fair!” they say, “This is an opinion question.”
Though it is easy to get oneself into a tizzy and wallow in frustration at a question of this sort, it is important to remember that nothing is a matter of opinion on the SAT. Every answer is objectively true and supported by the text. The trick is examining what the passage is accomplishing.