I realize I must not sound like the most trustworthy person to listen to in terms of how to avoid failing the SAT, but I hope you’ll read this anyway. : )
I guess I should give some background first. Last year I wrote a blog post detailing my marked lack of concern over my exam and my attempts to cram for the test in one week’s time, hopefully demonstrating to you readers that that is a horrible idea. This year I was far more concerned over how well I would do on my SAT, so I began to do practice tests from a Kaplan SAT book during winter break. After winter break a friend kindly lent me his Collegeboard SAT practice book, also known as “The Blue Book”, which gave me a lot more practice tests to do over the next 2/3 weeks until my exam. Last year I received a 1950 on my SAT, although I must point out that I fell asleep during the test due to circumstances I’d rather not get into. Over the summer my score on a practice test I arbitrarily took mysteriously rose 100 points to a 2050. After three weeks of intense practice and review before my second SAT, I received a 2280 on the test. So how did I do it? Here is my advice.
- Practice practice practice. Reading the strategy guides in many SAT books is certainly helpful, but the only thing I found that significantly improved my score was taking practice tests under testing conditions. (No interfering noises, timing with my phone, computer off, etc.) One of the main hurdles to pass when trying to get a better SAT score is simply getting to know what kind of answers are correct, what types of questions will be asked, etc.
- The Blue Book is god. That book comes directly from Collegeboard, the company that writes the SAT, and therefore is your #1 resource for practice tests and will likely provide the most accurate prediction of your real score. If you are only willing to get one practice book, get this one. If you are using another practice book, use up this one first.
- The one section that you want to absolutely kill is math. It is by far the easiest, most straightforward, and least subjective. By simply continuing to do practice tests my math score steadily climbed until I began making 800s on all my practice tests, which translated to an 800 on the real SAT. This is the section that is easiest to earn points on, so make sure you become comfortable with it. It also has the least forgiving curve, so even 1 wrong answer can spell a 760. Check all your answers.
- The essay is sometimes considered the hardest part of the exam. If you feel like you did poorly on it, that negative feeling can stay with you for the rest of the exam. No wonder they make you start with it. How can you possibly write a good essay in 25 minutes? Easy: you don’t. Your intro shouldn’t be more than 2 sentences, and should consist of only your thesis. Your English teacher would shoot you, but Collegeboard only wants to know how well you can argue a point. Your conclusion should be similarly short. Your body paragraphs (3) should contain historical, literary, and possibly personal examples supporting your argument. Analysis of your evidence is not necessary. Literally scribble down something that backs your point, and explain how it backs your point as straightforwardly as possible.*
- Moreover, it is possible to prepare for the essay without knowing the prompt ahead of time. I picked several historical/literary examples that I knew well to use in my essay. This is simply a matter of picking a broad topic that you can adapt to multiple prompts. My personal choices were Ender’s Game, Steve Jobs, and Frederick Douglass. I was lucky enough that the two examples I knew the best, Ender’s Game and Steve Jobs, were valid examples for my essay. Because of that, I did not have to waste time wracking my brain for things to bolster my argument. I only had to figure out which examples I could easily plug in. However, if possible, I highly recommend you pick examples that are academic. Using Twilight or Glee is something I would avoid.
- Fill the entire sheet when writing the essay. No joke. While the essay is not graded based upon length alone, filling both sheets tends to correlate with a higher score. It makes your essay look better. But don’t just start writing down irrelevant nonsense either.
- No answer in the CR section is not backed up by the text. I also find annotating the articles helps me to do well on that section. The answers also attempt to be unsubjective, although that isn’t always accomplished. But really. Textual. Backing. You have to have it or your answer is wrong.
- To be honest, writing is the hardest section for me and the only section that I could not improve my score on through practice tests. Study your grammar. I apologize for not having more advice regarding that.
- Absolutely do not under any circumstances begin to panic and let anxiety take over during the test administration. Hysteria tends to stall your ability to think. Keep calm and get through the test.
*For example, the prompt on my SAT was whether people should be suspicious of other people’s motives even if they appear trustworthy. I used Steve Jobs being kicked out of Apple as an example. I wrote down some sentences about the circumstances and how people Jobs trusted deeply ended up betraying him and removing him from his own company. My final sentence simply said something along the lines of “Steve Jobs trusted his board of directors and the men he allowed into Apple, and was betrayed as a result. Had he not been so trusting of them, he would not have lost his company.” Not entirely true, but the SAT essay isn’t graded on accuracy either; inelegant, but it gets the point across.