SAT Tip of the Week: The Importance of Knowing What Will Be On the SAT

SAT Tip of the Week - FullNow that the SAT has changed, students all over the country are spending their time making sure they keep up with the new content and questions that might now be on the test. Learning about new content is valuable – clearly, you have to know the subjects being tested in order to do well. But in the scramble to brush up on trigonometry and America’s founding documents, students seem to be forgetting another big change on the test: its format.

The new SAT is structured differently than the old SAT in terms of section length, order, scoring, and instructions. To do your best on this exam, it is imperative that you come into test day knowing exactly what it is going to look like. If you walk in thinking it will be like the SAT last year, you will be in for a shock.

The main reason it’s so important to know the structure and form of the test is that people get better scores when they can focus all their attention on the actual questions, rather than the instructions. For me at least, being nervous that I’m doing something wrong or not knowing what will come next on the test would only hurt my score.

So, it is well worth every student’s time to use a day of studying to familiarize themselves with the instructions, structure, and types of questions that will be on the SAT. Pop onto the College Board’s website or get your hands on an official practice test and read over all the directions on the test, down to the last word. True, much of this will be tedious and unnecessary, but you don’t want any surprises on test day. Reading through the new SAT will yield some important information about what the new test looks like. A sampling of important changes is below:

  • There are now only 4 main sections on the SAT: Reading, Writing and Language, No-Calculator Math, and Calculator Math. These sections are all longer than 25 minutes, whereas the old test had sections that were all shorter than 25 minutes.
  • There is no penalty for answering incorrectly. This means that when you are bubbling in your answer sheet, you should definitely guess on all questions to which you don’t know the answer.
  • Some questions will require you to analyze an article and a chart in tandem. So don’t freak out when you see a graph on the reading section!
  • The new essay, which is optional and 50 minutes long, asks you to analyze an author’s argument rather than craft an opinion of your own. If you aren’t careful to understand what the essay is asking for, your resulting work won’t yield a high score.

When I just took the March SAT, I witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of not being familiar with the new test. As the essay started, a student sitting to my right raised her hand and tried to ask the proctor a question about the essay. He wasn’t allowed to answer, and the student remained confused about what to do. While I hope that the student ended up scoring well on her test, I advise you to not make the same mistake she did.

Study up and make sure nothing about the structure about the new SAT catches you off guard, and you will be set on your way to a good score. If you are comfortable with the way the test operates and how it will look on test day, the peace of mind that you’ll have is one little advantage that you’ll have over all the other students who didn’t put the time in to prepare.

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By Aidan Calvelli.