SAT Tip of the Week: 6 Strategies You Learn in High School That Will Help You Prepare for the SAT

SAT Tip of the Week - FullIf 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.

Still need to take the SAT? Check out our variety of free SAT resources to help you study successfully. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.

SAT Tip of the Week: Don’t Stress Over the PSAT!

SAT Tip of the Week - FullAs many of you already know, PSAT stands for Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. What many people might not believe, though, is that “Preliminary” is the most important word in that title. Sophomores and juniors take the PSAT to prepare for the SAT exam, and that preparation is exactly what the PSAT is designed for.

The PSAT helps students determine what sections of the test they need to work on, what kind of score they could expect on the SAT, what SAT questions will look like, how to manage timing on the test, how to handle high-pressure situations, and a host of other things.

Each of these facets is important, and using the PSAT to get familiar with them can be a big boon to students’ scores come test day.

However, it’s crucial to not let the PSAT become a bigger deal than it really is. Except for those rare students in the top 1% of scorers that qualify for National Merit Scholarships, PSAT scores are only important to one person: the person who took the test. Even for those high-scoring students, the PSAT’s primary function is to get students ready for the SAT – the test that truly matters for college admissions.

PSAT scores are designed to help you do better on the real SAT. They are not meant to be a complete reflection on your academic ability or future success in college. For that reason, you should not stress out about the PSAT at all. The scores are meant to get you acclimated with your strengths and weaknesses; they aren’t intended to crush your confidence and make you overly worried about the SAT. When students get nervous before taking the PSAT, or worried after finding out their scores, that represents a real misunderstanding of the role of the PSAT.

To see why it’s totally fine to not treat the PSAT as a life-or-death occurrence, here’s how I approached the PSAT 2 years ago when I took it (yes, it was the old PSAT that corresponded to the 2400 scale SAT, but the general principles of the PSAT’s importance remain the same):

A few days before the PSAT, I looked over a review packet my school gave me and completed and scored the timed practice sessions. The night before, I looked over the practice test, reviewed a little vocab, and went to bed. It was pretty light studying, but I was feeling good – not stressed out at all. I took the test the next day and it seemed like it went well, but when I got my scores back, I had done a lot worse than I thought. Even still, I knew that that my score didn’t really matter, and while it did frustrate me a little bit, I refused to get stressed out and decided to keep a positive attitude as I got to work preparing for the real SAT.

Using my struggles on the PSAT as a framework for studying for the new SAT, I scored an equivalent of 430 points better on the SAT than I did on the PSAT. That’s an incredibly wide disparity, and it proves that a mediocre PSAT score is definitely not the end of the world.

Keep in mind that stress will make your score worse and increase the already enormous amount of pressure you probably feel to get into college. Your score will not be an accurate depiction of what your real SAT score could look like – the score you’d get with a positive attitude and calm demeanor.

So, how should you approach the PSAT? For starters, don’t act as if your future depends on it. Pro tip: it really doesn’t. It’s also important to remember that you can always bounce back from a sub-par PSAT score, and that the test is valuable for a lot more than just a score.

Think of the PSAT as a free check-up – a great way to practice for the real test that also provides a gauge of how you can expect to do on it. When you think of the PSAT like this, you’ll realize that there isn’t much to worry about. You don’t need to spend weeks studying for it, and you definitely don’t need to feel any anxiety about it. Just get acquainted with the test, do some review, and go take a test that only has the potential to help you.

Do you still need help with your college applications? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and register to attend one of our FREE Online College WorkshopsAnd as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.

SAT Tip of the Week: 2 Phones

SAT Tip of the Week (3)Welcome back to Hip Hop Month in the SAT Tip of the Week space, where we’re firm believers in the art of telecommunications. As Kevin Gates has been informing the world the last couple months, it’s important to have two phones (and maybe two more) to get the job (or various jobs) done. Which jobs is he talking about?  The SAT Math Sections of course!

When tackling the SAT Math Sections, you need to have “two phones,” or multiple strategies.  Some are “the plug” – plugging in answer choices, or at least using them as assets – and some are “the load” – just rolling up your sleeves and doing a load of math to grind out the answer. And of course you should always have other strategies (two more phones, and then even more phones, as the chorus goes): picking your own numbers, using process of elimination, guessing intelligently, etc.

So, let’s talk about some of the “phones” you’ll want at your disposal on the SAT Math Sections.

“The Plug”
Notice that KG leads with “The Plug” before “The Load” – of course everyone on test day should be ready to do some algebra and arithmetic, but the savviest of test-takers are very ready to use the answer choices to their advantage, and look for every opportunity to save time by doing so. Consider the problem:

Jack is now 14 years older than Bill. If in 10 years Jack will be twice as old as Bill, how old is Jack?

(A) 14
(B) 16
(C) 18
(D) 28

Here you could set up the algebra, or you could go to “the plug” and plug in the answer choices to see which one fits the setup. Since Jack is 14 years older than Bill, that means that Bill would be (for each answer choice):

(A) 0
(B) 2
(C) 4
(D) 14

Now look to see which pairing, when each is increased by 10, would have one double the other:

24 and 10 (no)
26 and 12 (no)
28 and 14 (yes), so C is the correct answer.

Here you could go to the “load” and slog through some algebra, but seeing that you can just plug in the answer choices allows you to turn your mind off for a few seconds and answer the question that way.

“The Load”
Often, you’ll see that there isn’t a shortcut available for an SAT problem or that the math itself is straightforward enough that you should just do it. That’s why it pays to have a second “phone” – each is going to be valuable in different circumstances. For example, consider the problem:

If 5x + 6 = 10, what is the value of 10x + 3?

(A) 4
(B) 9
(C) 11
(D) 20

Here, you’d do just as much work going from the answers to the problem (you’d have to take each answer, then set that equal to 10x + 3, then solve for x…) so you might as well load up on algebra and do it the straightforward way:

5x + 6 = 10
5x = 4
x = 4/5

So take that and put it in the new equation:

10(4/5) + 3 = 8 + 3 = 11, so C is our correct answer.

More than 2 Phones?
As Kevin Gates is careful to note, often 2 strategies (or phones) just aren’t enough. And for those looking to score above 700 on the SAT Math Sections, you’ll almost certainly want to have more tools in your toolkit. Another involves picking your own numbers to test the algebra. Consider the problem:

The expression (5x – 2)/(x + 3) is equivalent to which of the following?

(A) (5 – 2)/3
(B) 5 – (2/3)
(C) 5 – 2/(x + 3)
(D) 5 – 17/(x + 3)

Here, you’ll be glad you have another phone in your pocket. Since the given expression and the right answer have to be equivalent regardless of the value of x, you can pick your own value of x and see which answer matches. Rather than go through an ugly load of algebra, you can pick an x that makes the math clean (try x = -2, for example, since all the denominators are x + 3; if x = -2, then you’ve set the denominators to 1 and made the arithmetic really simple):

If that’s true, then the given expression becomes (5(-2) – 2)/(-2 + 3), which ends up at -12. Clearly A and B don’t match, so you can then plug in to the answer choices. For D, the correct answer, you’ll see a fit:

5 – 17(/-2 + 3) = 5 – 17 = -12, which matches the given expression, so D is right. And by using another strategy, you were able to skip some ugly algebra and save time for other problems where you need to have time for “the load” of algebra.

So remember, on the SAT Math section, you always have more than 2 phones – and that’s essential if you want to be an SAT baller. While you’re hustling on the SAT Math grind, remember those multiple “phones” in your toolkit, and your score will be the next thing that’s ring, ring, ring.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Brian Galvin.

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.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.