I’m not particularly brilliant, despite what my grandmother will tell you after a glass of wine. NO ONE (not even Grams) would describe me as a genius, especially when they hear the things I yell at the TV during a UNC basketball game. So how did I score in the 99th 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 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:
1) Know the SAT
The SAT is a very specific test that is set up in a very specific way. Even with the changes that are occurring with the format of the 2016 SAT, the style of questions and the tactics used by the SAT writers are fairly consistent from year to year. I have looked at so many SAT’s at this point that I can often point out the wrong answers in a question just because of how they are phrased.
This is not a magic trick and can be learned with practice. For example, the SAT does not favor overly specific or overly all-inclusive answers, and it also favors fractions over decimals because they are easier to work with without a calculator. These are small pieces of information that make the SAT much easier to approach, so start looking at practice tests today and work with an instructor who really knows the SAT well to learn how to easily identify test writer tactics.
2) Is the Answer in the Passage?
This is the question you should be asking when you are tackling a reading analysis question. All of the answers in the Reading Comprehension section are based on things directly stated in, or heavily implied by, the passage. Questions also usually ask you about a specific portion of the passage, so the better question would be, “Is the answer in this portion of the passage?” There are times when a section is continuing from something that comes before it or establishing something that comes after it, but usually you are looking for what is directly stated in the lines that are referenced in the question.
Never say an answer “could” be true! It either is or it isn’t correct, and that is based on whether or not the answer is accomplished by, or stated in, the passage. The final caveat is the answer is usually the same idea represented in the passage but restated in different words, so don’t be distracted by plagiarized words from the passage that aren’t actually part of a full correct answer.
3) Show Your Work and Know Your Terminology
Avoid “silly” mistakes by writing out all your steps in the Math section! Be very careful not to lose negatives and to distribute anything outside of parentheses to all the terms in the parentheses. Also, review your basic math terms in advance of the test (i.e. Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, Rational Numbers, Geometric and Arithmetic sequences, etc.). Know what isosceles, equilateral and right triangles are and what those distinctions mean. Overall, the biggest part of answering math questions is knowing what the questions are asking, and the worst feeling in the world is knowing how to answer a question but then bubbling in the wrong answer because you made a silly mistake.
4) Start Working on Problems That Aren’t Obvious
If you don’t know how to solve a problem, just start working on it anyway. The easiest way to start is to write down your givens and any applicable formulas. Often time, this can at least give you a hint as to what you are able to accomplish. If the unknown you are looking for is a part of the given equation, try to solve for it – if not, see if you can use the information given to solve for other things that might help you ultimately find the answer. Feel free to use real numbers if problems involve equations but does not give you numbers. This may help you to figure out a range of answers or could provide insight into what the equation will produce. Just make sure not to sit there and do nothing, there is always something to try!
5) Know the Parts of a Sentence
It sounds pretty basic, but just identifying what the subject, verb, and (sometimes) object in a sentence can be very helpful in determining the most common errors in SAT Identifying Sentence Error questions. Also be sure you can recognize a prepositional phrase, an introductory phrase, and descriptive phrase, as these are also useful in identifying incorrect parts of sentences.
6) Check for What Could be an Error When Correcting Sentence
There are really only a finite number of things that could be wrong in a sentence, so, especially in the Identifying Sentence Error questions, look for what could be wrong. Does the underlined portion contain a subject, verb, pronoun, idiomatic phrase, or punctuation? If you know what could be wrong, its much easier to see if something is wrong. As an example, one tricky error occurs when multiple words that are supposed to represent the same object or objects disagree. For example:
There is no way to know if the problems with the neighbor’s homes are caused by the roof or if they are caused by cracks in the foundations that have gone unnoticed.
This is very tricky, but the problem here is with number of items mentioned. There are multiple “homes” and the sentence refers to multiple “foundations,” so to use the singular “roof” is incorrect. These errors of numbers can be hard to spot, but if you are looking for them, you can certainly learn to identify them.
With all of theses tools you are set to achieve at the highest level on the SAT.
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.