Arguably the most infamous subject tested on the SAT is vocabulary. My students moan when I present them with a lengthy list of hundreds upon hundreds of words they need to learn by test day. Many report that vocabulary-based questions are responsible for most of their missed points on the Reading Section, others complain that they’ve never even heard of at least half of the tested vocabulary words.
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One of the questions nearly every college-bound student wrestles with is which college entrance examination is right for them. There are a number of widely-spouted, all-encompassing statements about these tests flying around, such as one test is a skills test and the other is an aptitude test, or one test is more suited to creative thinkers than the other.
One of the biggest mistakes students make while prepping for the SAT is fixating on the correct answer during practice tests and problems. While getting answers right is obviously the ultimate goal of the SAT, having too much of an obsession with the right answers during test preparation can actually be very harmful to your overall objective.
The SAT is a coachable test, so any type of structured preparation is extremely beneficial and almost certain to help raise your score. Whether this is a class with others or one on one tutoring, any type of instruction is helpful. To decide which option is best for you though, here is a breakdown of the benefits of both group lessons and one-on-one tutoring:
The concept of “Order of Difficulty” is something that can be extraordinarily helpful to any SAT test taker. In general, the SAT orders its questions from easy to hard and on the surface, it seems to be a pretty simple concept (this information is readily available on the College Board’s website). While this is extremely important and helpful to know, it is even more essential to analyze and understand how to use this to your advantage. So let’s talk about the “Order of Difficulty” and how you can benefit from it come test day:
Triangles are one of the first shapes that we learn in elementary school, and yet they are often the source of much consternation on the SAT. Though there is much to know about trigonometry that can require complex and intricate calculations, the knowledge of triangles required for the SAT is actually quite concise. Here is a quick review of the basics of triangles and how they might be used on the SAT.
Q: Studying for the SAT feels so useless. I know this will help me score higher on this test, but ten years from now I won’t really care about PIN, TAC, WYPAD, misplaced modifiers, or order of difficulty. Why should I even care about any of this? Why is the SAT testing me on things I’ll never actually have to know? Am I the only one who thinks this whole exercise is just a huge waste of time?
Many of my students tell me that the most difficult questions in the Writing Section are those testing knowledge of idiomatic phrases. An idiomatic phrase is simply a phrase that is commonly used by native speakers; so an idiomatic phrase can be anything from the common way native speakers use prepositions – such as “in”, “around”, “of”, and “above” – to what aphorisms native speakers tend to use – such as “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” On the SAT you are typically only tested on your knowledge of idiomatic preposition use, not on your knowledge of aphorisms. For example, if you want to be truly prepared for the SAT, you should be able to hear the idiomatic error in this sentence: “I have the ability of listening carefully to my friends.” In English, we use the preposition “to” with the word ability, so the correct sentence would read: “I have the ability to listen carefully to my friends.”
The highest achievers on the SAT all have one thing in common, a ton of preparation time. The grand majority of these students also have another thing in common; they used their summers effectively in terms of studying for the test. This doesn’t mean that you have to hit the books 9-5 every day and effectively eliminate any possibility of a relaxing and rejuvenating summer. In fact, that type of approach would probably lead to burnout and actually be detrimental to your test performance.
As the last day of school bell rings, the sun is shining, the beach is beckoning, and studying for the SAT is often the last thing on students’ minds. It is almost certain that taking a little bit of time to not think about standardized tests is beneficial, but that does not mean that the next two months should be devoid of any work. With a work out plan, the two most important things are consistency and attitude. This is true of SAT studying as well. The summer should be fun, but in less than an hour and a half a week (about 13 minutes a day!), students can keep sharp on the SAT without sacrificing their tans (please students, tan responsibly).
A lot of times, students focus on the things they should be doing to get a perfect score. This is a great attitude to have, as it puts the focus on students actively completing tasks. Many of these tips, like studying vocabulary on a daily basis and taking consistent practice tests form the foundation of a successful SAT plan. However, it’s also important to note that there are certain habits and strategies to avoid during preparation in order to get your best score possible. Here are 3 things you absolutely should not be doing if you want a 2400.
A worry I often hear from my students is that despite the fact that they’ve taken numerous practice tests and learned new test-taking strategies, there’s just one section on the SAT that they haven’t achieved their dream score on. With only a few weeks until the SAT, a student will nervously reveal that although she’s improved on both the Writing and the Math Sections, her Reading scores haven’t jumped up. This student is especially confused because their study practices have been effective in all other areas – so why, they ask me, am I getting stuck only in this section?
The Reading Passage is difficult for two reasons: the passages are often complex and you aren’t given much time to read and answer all of the questions. As I tell my students, one of the most effective ways to deal with this conflict between absorbing the main ideas in the passage and finishing the questions in the allotted time is reading strategically.
Whenever I talk with students about subject-verb agreement, there is at least one precocious youngster whose eyes glaze over as they wait for something more “challenging”. As basic as subject-verb agreement can seem, even those students who have an impressive grasp of grammar can have a difficult time identifying the true subject and verb of a sentence. The best way to get good at identifying subject-verb issues, as well as many other errors, is to get good at identifying the parts of a sentence. Here is an example of a rather complex sentence.
One of the biggest barriers to success on the SAT is summertime. For most students entering their senior year, the summer represents the first time during their SAT prep experience that they will have a prolonged break from school. After months of prep, you probably took the test in either January, March, or May, but still didn’t get that exact score they were hoping for.
We’ve all heard it before, the only constant in life is change. Sometimes change can be a good thing? One could argue the Sammy Hagar Van Halen (this might be before your time, but they were a California rock band formed in the ‘70s) was far superior to the David Lee Roth Van Halen. Or for a slightly more timely example, one could argue we’ve yet to see the best of One Direction in the post-Zain Malik era. Regardless, change is a constant, and that applies to standardized testing as well.
By now you have received your SAT score in the mail. For some, it will be a welcome relief. You will have achieved your target score and can concentrate on college applications for senior year. For others, you missed the score by a wide margin and are dead set on retaking the test. For these two groups, there is no true analysis or consideration for taking the SAT again. However, not everyone falls into one of these categories.
Last week, SAT scores became available online. Generally students focus on one number: the overall total out of 2400. Some will focus on the breakdown of the three sections: reading comprehension, writing, and math to see which areas they excelled in and which still need work. This bird’s eye view evaluation is a good way to measure your overall progress in terms of your score, but looking at it from such a distant perspective does not give you the tools you need to improve for the next test.
As another testing season comes to an end. I want to share my personal experience on the SAT. After all, the first time I took it in high school was in the late spring – perhaps just like you!
I always have been fascinated by standardized tests. From ERB’s in elementary school to the ISEE, which is the standardized test Los Angeles private schools used for middle and high school, I was always intrigued by the questions. It’s probably a strange obsession to have, but for some reason I like to learn all about any type of standardized test and try to get a perfect score.
The SAT is a beast of a test, and not some seemingly ferocious beast that turns out to be cute and cuddly: it is a true monster with fangs and all. While acknowledging that the SAT is a force to be reckoned with, like all monsters, the SAT has certain “Problem Areas” that students tend to find more dangerous than others (the fangs and fire-breath, to continue our already stretching metaphor). Here are three techniques to help conquer these problem areas and thus de-fang our foe. OK, enough metaphor!
Time is one of the ways the College Board tries to get inside students’ heads. This varies from student to student. Some breeze through only to find the clock running out on their Math section with four problems left. Whatever the case is, timing can be an incredible source of anxiety for students and have adverse effects on one’s score if not managed properly.
I have never met a SAT student who enjoyed writing essay conclusions. I understand that conclusions are important and I appreciate a well-written one, but at heart I’m in the same boat; even though I’ve been a writing tutor for several years now, I still think that writing SAT-style conclusions feels redundant, uncreative, and boring. Fortunately, conclusions aren’t quite the monster that we tend to make them out to be.
As a young test taker I remember the terror of looking up at a clock and realizing that I was only halfway through a sixty question exam while my time had dwindled to a measly ten minutes. Many adults still have stress dreams in which they are running out of time on a timed test (how unfortunate that so many cannot even escape this dread in their sleep!) The SAT is a beast of a timed test and many students have a hard time determining how to manage their time while taking this exam. While the timed nature of the test is daunting, there are a few concrete steps that can be taken to avoid a panic attack when the words “five minutes remaining” are uttered on test day.
For many hopeful college applicants, the essay can feel like one of the most stressful portions of the SAT. It is not simply that it is the first section of the SAT, which is certainly stressful, or that so little time is allotted to complete the essay, another legitimate concern, but also that there is no way to know the question that will be posed and thus no way to know if the right example will pop into the brain of the nervous test taker while he or she is taking the test. These are all valid concerns for all the college hopefuls out there, but all of these concerns can be addressed by studying for the essay in the right way, and yes, you can study for the essay! Here are three tactics that can help alleviate some of the stress of this section and prepare students to rock the SAT essay.
Using sophisticated vocabulary and writing really long paragraphs in high school essays has been a subject of intense debate. Some teachers love the added eloquence when a student includes a few large words, while others mark down for the use of a thesaurus and overstating what has already been written.
A lot of times on the SAT, students worry about the level of rigor and complexity associated with some of the more difficult questions on the math sections. Some people assume that in order to really succeed on the test, they have to be advanced in mathematics and skilled in high level topics. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Don’t read too much on Critical Reading? That’s right! Passages are many students’ least favorite part of the SAT, and understandably so. Many, especially the longer ones, are dense and full of detail. It’s harrowing to spend five or ten minutes trying to absorb everything, only to have to read parts of it over again in order to answer the questions.
Circle problems are one of the toughest things for students to master on the SAT math section. Moreover, geometry as a topic is always a cause for concern. Any type of question that brings in circles is difficult. Part of this stems from the fact that when you learn Geometry in school, you focus on a wide variety of quadrilaterals, proofs, and other concepts. But the SAT includes more circles and triangles, and less proofs and parallelograms. While the reference to simple shapes may bring you back to Pre-K, the complexity of some of these problems is anything but simple. Here is how the radius makes all circle problems easy to solve. The best thing you can do is to treat the radius like your north star. It will guide you in the right direction no matter what the question asks. Understanding the radius and knowing how to manipulate it in a variety of different problem structures will make mastering circles a piece of cake.
This is a class of problem that is among the most dreaded on the SAT: the hard pattern problem! DUN DUN DUN [Cue dramatic music]! Though this type of problem is not very familiar to many students since it is not often specifically taught in many high school math classes, the actual skills necessary to dominate these questions are straight forward. The general set up of this type of problem is as follows:
Singular focus is a lost art. Whether it’s studying for a test, preparing for the SAT, or getting a presentation together, the ability to shut everything else out and concentrate on one activity is almost impossible for most people in present day. The influx of technology, social media, and heightened obligations are culprits for this new phenomenon, which author Daniel Goleman addresses in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Goleman, who is well known for his book Emotional Intelligence, is a psychologist who has spent years studying the ability to focus. Years after revolutionizing how people understood and defined someone’s “intelligence” as more than a transcript, he has also provided very interesting observations and notes on the ability to focus and concentrate.
Techniques for studying for the SAT are as varied and numerous as the students who adhere to them. One student may swear that the only way to prepare for an exam is to study for six straight hours before bed once a week, while another might say the only way to succeed is to do two questions a day and then eat a grapefruit to help all the information stick. Though there are a variety of studying techniques with which many students have found success, there are a few core study practices that will create consistency and clarity within whatever practices already work for each student.
In the late 1960’s, Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford conducted a series of studies that examined the concept of delayed gratification. His research team offered preschoolers the choice of one reward immediately or two rewards if they waited for about fifteen minutes. The rewards were usually marshmallows and the study later became famous in popular culture, known as “The Marshmallow Test.”
One of the more challenging classes of math problems for any aspiring SAT master is what we in the biz calls the “Abstract Problem” (it even sounds confusing). This is simply an easy and all-encompassing term to describe problems that ask for an understanding of a concept rather than an exact number answer. “But we have only been taught to arrive at a numerical answer to difficult math questions!” you might exclaim. The truth of the matter is that conceptualizing difficult math topics is very hard to do without some input of real numbers. But with the input of actual computations, even confusing concepts can become crystal clear. Let’s look at an example:
I loved martial arts growing up, but used to absolutely detest drills. My teacher always insisted on placing the most physically demanding forms at the end of each drill session, so every other evening I spent my practice time dreading the end of the hour. Today, however, I apply the same strategy to teaching SAT classes: I have my students complete an essay (for many of them the most daunting part of the SAT) at the very end of each 3-hour class. Most of them complain or groan a little, but many have told me afterwards that the practice was very helpful!
Everyone makes a few New Year’s resolutions. Most of them are about getting in shape, reading more, and other activities that improve one’s livelihood. In 2015, if you are a high school student gearing up to take the SAT, you should start it off with a different sort of resolution. Resolve to study one hour each day until the test on Saturday, January 24th.