If there’s one test that fuels the anxiety of millions of students around the United States, it’s the SAT. Students and parents alike invest tons of money, time, and energy into preparing for the test that will decide their fates, and many people prepare the wrong way. Contrary to popular belief (and all that bad advice you’ve gotten) the SAT is all about strategy. Taking the SAT is like going to war (just go with it), and if you’re going to war, then you need an effective plan. Take a look at these smart SAT strategies to help you prepare for battle and ready yourself for the big test.
1. Gather Some Intel
Whether you’re taking a subject test or the full-blown SAT, you need to know what kinds of questions you’re going to run into. Go to your local bookstore or library and pick up a couple of books with complete tests that you can practice with every few weeks. If you search online, you can find actual tests from previous years that you can practice on. Before you even THINK about registering for the SAT, take a practice test and see how you do. With any luck, you’ll do pretty badly, and that’s the perfect place to start your training!
2. Get The Lay Of The Land
I cannot stress this enough: The SAT is all about strategy. You’ve got to know when to jump, when to slide, when to duck, and when to run for your life! Study the test format. The SAT is written with the easiest questions at the beginning and gets progressively harder as you go. Study the wording of each question. SAT writers love to use seven words to express what you could probably say with three. Get used to the language and the way certain questions are asked. The quicker you can read and anticipate what you’re being asked to do, the quicker you can answer and move on!
3. Words Win Wars
You know you’re in deep trouble when you’re taking the reading portion of the test, and you run into a word you don’t know.
Like “nadir”. Or “halcyon”.
You can try to guess the meaning through context clues, but if you can’t, you’re sunk. Get some flash cards and learn the definitions of just five SAT words per day. 5 per day turns into 35 per week! Also, take the time to read anything you can: books, articles, journal entries, essays, and try to figure out the author’s main point as quickly as you can. If you’re unprepared, the reading section is going to be a pain! Arm yourselves!
To make sure you know all the right words, you can get SAT prep help in both math and reading.
4. Meet Calculator, Your New Best Friend
In this battle, you’re allowed to bring only one weapon (besides your brain), and it’s your trusty scientific calculator. Your mastery of your calculator can potentially slow you down or give you a much needed speed boost! Take some quality time to learn every function, every shortcut, and every formula you need for the test. It will also clear room in your brain for other information you’ll need to memorize. Make sure you know which situations call for which formulas, but make your calculator do the heavy lifting.
5. Train Yourself
Now that you know the test inside out, learned a lot of big words, and bonded with your calculator, it’s time to begin your training. Set aside about 1 to 2 hours every other week to sit down and take a practice test from beginning to end. If you like, you can simulate actual test conditions to allow yourself to adjust. Take a test early in the morning, bring some snacks with you, close yourself off in a cold room, whatever you have to do! Pay special attention to the way you manage your time. Time is such an influential factor in the SAT experience—many students feel rushed at times and completely abandon their strategy in order to finish as many questions as possible. Make your time work for you!
6. Assemble A Survival Kit
On the day of the test, you shouldn’t be wondering where all your stuff is. Take a few minutes to gather everything you need. In your kit, you should include:
- A bottle of water
- Your calculator
- A couple of extra pencils
- An eraser
- Some (a lot of) snacks
- A watch (yeah, the ones with the hands that you wear on your wrist)
Put ’em all in your favorite bag and store them close by so you can just grab it and leave. Simple.
Energy is your greatest resource when taking the SAT. It’s not time, intelligence, or anything else. When you’re sitting in that classroom, you’ve got to have a clear mind and sharp focus. What does this mean for you? For a start, eat a good breakfast! Get plenty of sleep the night before the test! Do all the healthy things you’re supposed to! You need to be in tip-top condition, so take care of yourself! Don’t leave anything to chance!
Preparing for the SAT is about dividing your attention between learning the material and developing your test taking strategy. Even though mastery of these two aspects will leave you in the best shape to perform well on the big test, you’re not out of the woods yet! In Part 2, we’ll show you how to handle yourself during the test!