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Avoid using test prep materials from the big companies. The practice tests that they provide do not give the student a good idea of exactly what to expect on test day. Stick with the material provided on the website. They currently have eight SAT practice tests and two PSAT practice tests. ♦


High School juniors should begin preparing for the SAT sometime shortly after their Christmas break. They should plan to take the SAT for the first time in either May or June of their junior year. This way, they can get a sense of where they stand. If their scores are good,then that’s one big hurdle out of the way. If their scores need improvement, then there’s plenty of time to prepare for the test administration in the fall of the senior year. ♦


The single best way to prepare for the SAT is to work through actual tests. As I mentioned earlier, the site provides eight practice tests. Print the first test out, and work through it. See how you did. Find out which types of questions seemed to cause you the most problems. Then take the next test and see if your score goes up. The more tests you work through, the better idea you will have of what to expect on test day and the more efficient and accurate you’ll get at working through the test. ♦


If you are a freshman or a sophomore and you want to start getting ready for the SAT, then the best thing you can start doing right now is to significantly expand your vocabulary. The reading section of the SAT will have some difficult reading passages that will contain a great number of words with which you are probably currently unfamiliar. You must try as much as possible to achieve a college-level vocabulary. Take advantage of the fact that you still have lots of time to get ready. No need to work through the practice tests at this point. First build your vocabulary. ♦


If you have a basic working knowledge of English grammar, you will likely do well on the Writing section of the SAT. By “well” I mean around a 500-600 score range. If your desire is to get into the 700s range (remember, the Reading & Writing section together are worth a total of 800 points), however, you will need to have a more advanced and more thorough understanding of some of the finer points of English grammar. There are lots of obscure rules of grammar that are generally not covered by your middle school or high school teachers. You need to become aware of the lesser known rules. If you don’t, it’s pretty much a guarantee that your score will hit a wall around 600. ♦


The biggest mistake that students tend to make on the Reading section of the SAT is overanalyzing the answer choices. It is crucial that the student realize that the answers to theSAT reading questions are every bit as objectively correct as the answers to the SAT math questions! As counterintuitive as that may seem, it actually makes perfect sense: in order fora standardized test to be truly standardized, ALL of the correct answers have to be objectively, unalterably correct. With that in mind, when a student spends a lot of time deliberating of the answer choices, he/she is actually trying to make the case for a choice that has a 75% of being wrong. In other words, deliberating over the choices is a waste of time. ♦


The vast majority of the math questions on the SAT do not require a calculator. In fact, sometimes the calculator option is the slower option! For many students, the calculator acts more as a crutch (something to clutch on to) than anything. ♦


It is important for students to remember that every question on the SAT is equally weighted. There is not one question that is worth more than any other question. This is especially important to remember for the math section. The questions get progressively more difficult, but their values always remain the same. For those of you who really struggle with math, it makes more sense to get really good at doing a lot of the easier problems quickly. Once you’ve achieved that level, then you can move on to getting better at the more difficult questions. ♦


Preparing everyday for shorter amounts of time is far more effective then preparing once a week for longer amounts of time. Just as sports teams do not practice for many hours on one day of the week, but for fewer hours just about every day of the week, so you should spend 20-30 minutes every day rather than 5-6 hours on Saturday. ♦


On the reading passages, make brief annotations of each of the paragraphs. Just write a very quick summary of the content. This way, it’ll be easier for you to locate specific parts of the passage when answering the questions about it. ♦


On the reading section of the SAT, any answer choices that have “absolute” words (e.g. “all, “every,” “always”) are very likely NOT going to be the correct answer. Be very literal. “Most people are crazy” and “Everyone is crazy” do not mean the same thing. There are almost NO exceptions to this rule. Knowing this will help you to eliminate bad answer choices quickly and to avoid deliberating over the answer choices. ♦


Use all of the space provided on the test for you essay response. Longer essay responses have a far greater chance of receiving a high score than do shorter ones. Of course, the content should be of substance. Adding “fluff” will not help your score. ♦


The writing section passages contain both grammatical and stylistic errors. Strong grammar will help you immensely, but you also need to have a strong sense of style errors. For instance, one thing the SAT likes to do is to see if the student can recognize redundancies. (For example: “The fireman lowered the cat down from the tree.” The word “down” is redundant since the only way to lower something is to bring it downward) ♦


Never do the math only in your head. Write it all out. Even the simplest problems. It is very easy to make mistakes when you just do it in your head. Writing it out also enables you to check it for any possible errors. You can’t do that when it all remains in your head. ♦


On the reading section, a good strategy is to look at the questions before reading the passage. Many questions will ask about specific lines in the passage; some will ask about the passage as a whole. Answer the questions about specific lines first. By the time you’re done with that, you will have read the whole passage and you can then tackle the general questions. ♦


The reading section will always have one passage that is an excerpt from a particular novel.They seem to have a particular affinity for material from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These can often be very verbose, full obscure vocabulary, and very difficult to follow. One thing to do is to let the questions guide your understanding of the text. The questions they ask can actually sometimes help you to better understand the passage. Moreover, you need to get used to these sorts of passages. Try reading some material from this time period and get used to the style and the vocabulary. You might stumble into some pretty awesome literature on
the way. ♦


Do not leave any of the questions unanswered. On the old SAT, incorrect responses resulted in a score deduction whereas blank response did not. The old strategy was to leave a question blank if you had no idea what the answer was or if you were running out of time on the section. Now it makes more sense to answer all of the questions. You might get lucky and get a few of them correct. ♦


When you first start preparing for the SAT, don’t worry about how much time it takes you to work through a section. Most of you will be able to finish it in time. Some of you will struggle and perhaps leave two or three questions to guess at. If you start timing yourself right away, you’ll tend to be overly focused on the time rather than on the test. Besides, the best remedy for those with time issues is to gain confidence. First get good at answering the questions correctly. This will yield confidence and you’ll be far less tentative in your approach to the test questions. ♦