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Preparing for the SAT

None of us enjoy taking exams. Unfortunately, they are a necessary part of getting through high school and often a necessary part of college admissions processes. Almost all colleges and universities require that students submit standardized test (SAT or ACT) scores with their applications. This requirement can cause a lot of anxiety, but performing well on the SAT mainly just takes some practice and preparation. Students should give themselves plenty of time to become familiar with the structure of the tests.

There are a number of courses offered by different organizations to help students prepare for the SAT. However, these courses tend to be expensive and there are no guarantees that they will improve your score. The tips and strategies offered by prep courses are based on general assumptions and won't be helpful for everyone.

Although there is no surefire trick that will guarantee your high score, there are a number of useful tips and tools to help you perform well.

Here are a few things you can do to prepare for your exam:

1) Take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT/NMSQT"). It has the same type of questions and is a good way to prepare for the SAT I.
2) Do practice tests on real SATs. There are lots of books and software programs available with sample and old SATs for practice. There's no better way to get ready than to try the real thing.
3) Review your math textbooks from the last few years. If the information you learned is fresh in your mind, you'll perform better under pressure.

Pace yourself
It is important to pace yourself, as each section has a time limit. However, it is equally important not to rush through the test, as you're more likely to make inaccurate guesses rather than thinking your way through.

To use your time effectively, flip through your section at the beginning to see what type of questions you have. (See "Know what to expect.")

Think strategically
The SAT is structured with a progression of questions from easy to medium to difficult. Each question is weighted equally, so don't spend too much time puzzling out the hard questions - make sure you focus on the easy and medium-difficulty questions and answer them first.

Many students circle the questions that they haven't answered. Then, if there is time before moving on to the next section, go back to the circled questions and give them a try.

Remember that you can move around within a section, but you are not allowed to jump back and forth between sections. You are also not allowed to return to earlier sections to change answers.

Predict the Answers
The best way to approach multiple choice questions is to cover the answer choices while you read the question. See if you can figure out what the answer should be before you look at the choices-that can save you time and keep you from second-guessing yourself.

If your answer isn't there, don't give up. On most multiple choice tests, there is one correct answer, one choice that seems like a possibility and is a bit tricky, and a couple "fluff" answers. If the correct answer doesn't come to you immediately, try to eliminate at least two choices, and guess between the remaining choices. Although there is a small penalty for wrong answers, it can still be to your advantage to guess.

Know what to expect
Learn the test directions ahead of time. If you already know what to expect on the test, you won't waste valuable time reading instructions rather than answering questions.

There are three types of verbal questions: analogies (19 questions), sentence completions (19 questions) and critical reading (40 questions); and three types of math questions: 5-choice multiple choice (35 questions), 4-choice quantitative comparisons (15 questions that emphasize the concepts of equalities, inequalities and estimation), and student-produced response (10 questions with no answer choices provided).

Analogy questions measure your:

  • knowledge of the meanings of words

  • ability to see a relationship in a pair of words

  • ability to recognize a similar or parallel relationship

  • Sentence completions measure your:

  • knowledge of the meanings of words

  • ability to understand how the different parts of a sentence logically fit together

  • Critical reading questions measure your:

  • ability to read and think carefully about a single reading passage or pair of related passages

  • Math concepts you should know:

  • Arithmetic: simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; percentages; data interpretation; odd and even numbers; prime numbers; divisibility

  • Algebra: negative numbers; substitution; simplifying algebraic expressions; solving word problems; simple factoring; linear equations; inequalities; positive integer exponents; roots of numbers; sequences

  • Geometry: area and perimeter of a polygon; area and circumference of a circle; volume of a box, cube and cylinder; Pythagorean Theorem and special properties of isosceles, equilateral and right triangles; properties of parallel and perpendicular lines; simple coordinate geometry; slope; similarity; geometric visualization

  • Other: logical reasoning; newly defined symbols that are based on commonly used symbols and operations; probability and counting

  • Be careful with the answer sheet
    Take a look at a sample answer sheet before going to the test so you know how to use it. Don't make extra marks on the sheet. The computer won't read them, and it may cost you points.

    Use your test book to do scratch work, but don't forget to transfer the answers onto the answer sheet. No points are scored for work done in the test booklet. Make sure you are careful when transferring your answers to the sheet. It won't do you any good to have all the right answers marked in the wrong place!

    You've done your prep work - now it's time to take the test!
    Get a good night's sleep the night before the exam. It is important to be well-rested and relaxed when you arrive. Eat breakfast before you leave. Having an empty stomach will only be a distraction.

    Have everything you need for test day ready the night before. Don't forget your ID, calculator and No.2 pencils. It is also a good idea to have a snack with you.

    It is also a good idea to dress in layers. Often test centers are colder or warmer on weekends than they are during the week.

    Report to your assigned test center on time. Students who arrive late will not be admitted. If you become ill or do not complete the test for any reason, tell your test supervisor or proctor-before you leave the test center-whether or not your answer sheet should be scored.

    Once you're in the exam room, stay focused. Don't look around to see if you're keeping up with other students, or look too far ahead on the test. Just concentrate on each question in front of you, taking it one at a time.

    And finally...
    Keep the test in perspective. It's important, but it is not the only admissions criteria for college.


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