If you’re anything like me, the SAT might seem irrelevant to your high school classes. I know the College Board says that the SAT tests the same skills you learn in high school, but let’s be real – it never feels that way. High school essays have different questions than SAT essays, high school math questions are much more detailed, and high school science content barely shows up on the SAT.
However, even with these and other differences, you shouldn’t totally divorce high school from the SAT. There is some important overlap between the two, and it’s important to use every resource you can to improve your SAT performance. Here are some solid strategies that will help you best use your time in high school to prepare for the SAT:
1) Build good vocabulary habits. The new SAT has done away with the notoriously obscure vocabulary questions the old SAT was known for, but there are still vocab words in context. When reading challenging texts for English class, be sure to look up words you don’t know and practice using them in appropriate ways to prepare for this type of vocab usage on test day.
2) Learn math content basics. It is true that SAT math does not align perfectly with high school math, but hey, numbers are numbers! Focusing in on high school math, especially on what you learned during your first few years of high school, can be a good way to establish basic comfort with a lot of the skills the SAT will test you on. Even if SAT-specific strategies are the most useful in answering SAT math questions, knowing how to do quick calculations and having a familiarity with important formulas will serve you well on this exam, especially with regards to time.
3) Recognize grammar rules. Many high school English curricula place a strong emphasis on grammar in writing, but lots of students tend to dismiss it as boring. Don’t be one of these students! Having a basic understanding of grammar rules is key to being confident on the SAT Writing and Language section. Even if you don’t remember all the exact rules and exact names of the things you learned in class, by paying attention, you will be more likely to spot mistakes and know how to correct them.
4) Get practice writing essays. The old SAT essay had almost nothing to do with anything you would write for high school, but the new SAT essay (the one that matters now) has some overlap with high-school-style assignments.
The new essay is all about argument analysis – a skill that many Social Studies and English classes in high school try to hone. If you practice these skills in class and work with your teachers to improve your writing ability, you will be more comfortable writing the SAT essay. Merely the act of writing itself tends to improve your overall writing ability, so think of all your high school assignments as making your writing clearer and stronger for the SAT down the road.
5) Develop good test-taking habits. The SAT is a standardized test, unlike many tests you will take in school. However, a test is a test, and there are mental strategies you can develop that will help you no matter what kind of test you’re taking, and a big one is discipline.
Tests are long and can be boring, so the more practice you have taking tests, the more you’ll be able to effectively deal with the feeling of just wanting to give up. Also, you can use the act of taking high school tests to practice things like bubbling in answers, getting better at timing, and knowing how to utilize multiple choice questions to your advantage.
6) Take the pressure off your SAT score. Practically everyone will agree that how you perform in high school is more reflective of your academic merit than how you fare on one exam some Saturday morning. Even so, the SAT is weighted pretty heavily in college admissions, so it’s a good idea to do as well as you can. The better you perform in high school, though, the less pressure you will have to do as well on the SAT.
Without the intense pressure to do incredibly well, many students find that they end up performing better on the SAT, since they are more relaxed and confident when taking the test. Therefore, living up to your potential in high school is a win-win situation: if you do well in high school, you’re likely to do better on the SAT, and even if you don’t do well on the SAT, you’ll have your good grades to fall back on.
The SAT and your high school classes may have more in common than you think. To achieve your best results on the SAT, it’s important that you apply the lessons you learn and the skills you acquire in high school to your preparation for the test.
By Aidan Calvelli.