Are you planning to take the SAT in the future? Here are some tips to help you prepare:
1. Visit the College Board Website
- This website offers some free online resources including free practice tests, sample test questions, emailed question of the day, and tips for preparing for test day. In addition, this is where you go to register for the SAT and get your scores once you have taken the SAT.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the Format of the SAT Test
- Here is some general information to get you started: The SAT is 180 minutes without the two included breaks. Students receive a 10-minute break between the Reading and Writing and Language Test. They also receive a 5-minute break between the “no calculator” and “with calculator” sections of the Math Test. If you choose to take the optional SAT essay, then you also get a 2-minute break after the Math Test and before the essay begins. The SAT always goes in this order: 65-minute Reading Test with 52 questions, 35-minute Writing and Language Test with 44 questions, 25-minute no calculator Math Test with 20 questions, 55-minute calculator permitted math test with 38 questions, and 50-minute optional essay section.
- The Reading Test: This section contains five passages with 52 multiple choice questions. On the Reading Test, students will read passages and interpret charts and graphs to answer questions. There is one passage on U.S. or World Literature, two passages on history or social science, and two passages on science. There is usually one paired passage where you are given two shorter related passages side-by-side. The Reading test contains “command of evidence” questions where the student is asked to find evidence in the passage to support their answer and “words in context” questions that focus on the meanings and usage of commonly used words or phrases. Students are also asked to analyze what they have read to examine hypotheses, interpret data, and consider possible implications.
- The Writing and Language Test: The Writing and Language Test requires that students proofread to find and determine how to fix errors in a piece of writing. Students answer 44 multiple choice questions that are passage-based. There are five types of questions: command of evidence, words in context, analysis, expression of ideas, and standard English conventions. Command of evidence questions ask you to sharpen the way that passages develop and support information and ideas. Words in context questions ask you to choose the best word based on its context. Analysis questions ask you to make edits and improvements to a passage about history, science, or social studies. Expression of ideas questions ask you to improve the organization of the passage. Standard English conventions questions test knowledge of grammar skills, sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.
- The Math Test: The Math Test contains a 25-minute no calculator allowed section and a 55-minute calculator permitted section. There are multiple choice questions and also grid-in questions where you will have to determine the answer and write it in. The Math Test has questions on the following areas: heart of algebra, problem solving and data analysis, passport to advanced math, and additional topics in math (geometry and trigonometry).
- There is an optional 50-minute essay.
3. Know How the Test is Scored
- Knowing how the SAT is scored will help you to develop an effective test-taking strategy. Total scores on the SAT range between 400-1600. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Language tests are scored together for one score between 200-800 and the two math sections are scored together for one math score between 200-800. The optional essay can receive a score ranging from 2-8. There is no longer a “guessing penalty”, and now students only earn points for the questions that they answer correctly. For this reason, students should not leave questions blank. Students can use Score Choice to select which test scores to send to colleges.
4. Learn the Ground Rules
- There are certain things that are never allowed on SAT test day. You should be familiar with these basic rules before you take your test.
- You are not allowed to jump back and forth between sections.
- You cannot return to earlier sections to change your answers.
- You cannot exceed the allotted time on any section unless you have been approved for special accommodations.
- You are required to bring certain items with you for test day, and there are very specific rules about items that you can not bring. See the Test Day Checklist for these requirements as well as a list of approved calculators.
- You can choose the order in which you complete your questions within a section.
- You can flip through the section you are currently working on to see what types of questions are coming up and formulate a strategy.
- Learning general SAT test-taking strategies and tactics for each particular section can greatly improve a student’s score. In addition, many students find it very beneficial to learn some strategies for time management since timed tests are not frequently given in schools and many students are not accustomed to this type of pressure.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice!
- Students should make SAT practice a regular part of their day. There are at least four years of math concepts to be reviewed (since the SAT also covers calculation concepts taught in middle school); reading strategies to learn and practice, and grammar concepts to review. In addition, most students will benefit from taking practice tests and reviewing the results with someone who can explain their mistakes to them.
Julie Baldassano,a Montgomery County teen who received a perfect score on the SAT, encourages students not to become discouraged, saying that she wasn’t getting anywhere near a perfect score when she began practicing. Describing how she worked toward her perfect score, she says, “the more you do, the better it’ll go and the easier it will get.” Students should keep in mind that on the SAT, just like any task that you set out to do, hard work pays off. More practice will help you to become faster and more familiar with the test. If you carefully analyze the mistakes that you are making and seek out help to learn material you are struggling with, it is possible to make great strides towards the goal of improving your SAT score.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC