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Scared of the SAT? Learn howto ace the dreaded entrance exam

This March, after months of practice tests and review courses, high school juniors and seniors will inaugurate the new version of the SAT, the scholastic aptitude test. How is this year different from the previous years? The writers of this college entrance exam added an essay part to the already existing math and verbal sections. To help students prepare, Princeton Review co-founder Adam Robinson
/ Source: TODAY

This March, after months of practice tests and review courses, high school juniors and seniors will inaugurate the new version of the SAT, the scholastic aptitude test. How is this year different from the previous years? The writers of this college entrance exam added an essay part to the already existing math and verbal sections. To help students prepare, Princeton Review co-founder Adam Robinson wrote “The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT.” Read an excerpt below.

TUTORIAL 2

The SAT Is Way Different From Your School Tests

Way, way different. That’s the main point of this book.

I’m sure you know kids who don’t do so well in school, yet somehow manage to ace standardized tests like the SAT.  And you probably know other students who do really well in school, yet when it comes to the SAT these same students don’t do nearly as well — and sometimes even bomb the test completely. 

Why do so many bright students have so much trouble on the SAT?  Because taking the SAT is nothing like taking tests in school.  I mean nothing like it. 

To take one obvious example, school tests rarely last more than an hour. 

Not the SAT.  On the SAT you’ve got to stay mentally focused for over three hours.

On a school test, your teachers give more weight to the more difficult questions.  So it makes sense to spend more time on those questions than on easier ones — they’re worth more. 

Not on the SAT.  On the SAT, all questions are worth the same, so it doesn’t make sense to spend more time on hard questions.  But that’s exactly what most students do.

On school tests, your teachers generally give partial credit for partial answers.  If your answer to a long, complicated math question was mostly right, except for a “silly mistake,” your math teacher would probably give you nearly full credit.  If your answer on an English question was not the one the teacher was looking for, but you could make a good argument for it, your English teacher would give you some credit — possibly full credit for originality!

Not on the SAT.  There’s only one right answer for each question, and no partial credit for anything else.  On the SAT there’s no such thing as “just a careless mistake” since any mistake costs you full credit, and then some.

Those are just a few of the many differences between the SAT and the tests you’re used to taking.  They may seem to be minor differences, but as you’ll see in the coming chapters, these differences will have a major impact on how you’ll have to change the way you take the SAT if you want to achieve your maximum score. 

Trust me: even if you’re an excellent student —

  • if you solve SAT math questions the way you’re used to solving math questions in class
  • if you read SAT passages the way you’re used to reading novels or even your textbooks
  • if you compose an SAT essay the way you’re used to writing essays in English class

— then you’re in for a rude surprise on the SAT.

You’ll need to learn a whole new set of skills for the SAT.  Indeed, many of the academic and test-taking skills that lead to success in the classroom will work against you on the SAT.  We’ll discuss all these points and more in the coming chapters.

Throughout this book, I will be alerting you to “classroom-correct, SAT-risky” methods: those methods that work in the classroom, but are risky or downright dangerous on the SAT.

TUTORIAL 3

Forget Everything You Think You Know About the SAT: A Quiz

An amazing number of myths about the SAT have circulated over the years, sometimes spread by well-intentioned teachers.  Let me warn you, if you take the test armed with misconceptions, you won’t achieve your maximum score. 

The following quiz will give you a chance to see whether any test-taking myths are interfering with your success on the SAT.  For each of the following questions, choose the option that best indicates what you think about the SAT (or yourself).  It’s possible that none of the choices precisely reflect your thinking; still, choose only from these options given (no, you can’t write in your own answer).

This quiz is for your benefit; nobody’s grading it.  Choose the answer that is closest to your real opinion, not the one you think you’re “supposed” to choose.  There are no trick questions in this quiz, so you shouldn’t need to spend too much time on any particular question.

How Much Do You Know About Taking the SAT?

1. Since the SAT includes easy, medium, and difficult questions, on which type do you usually spend the least amount of time? 

(A)  easy questions

(B)  medium questions 

(C)  hard questions

2. On which type of SAT question do you usually spend the most amount of time? 

(A)  easy questions 

(B)  medium questions 

(C)  difficult questions

3. Since you lose points on the SAT for errors, if you’re unsure after trying to solve a question it’s usually better to leave that question blank rather than to answer it and risk losing points.

(A)  true  (B)  false

4. When in doubt on an SAT question, go with your first hunch.

(A)  true  (B)  false

5. Most SAT questions have trick answers.

(A)  true  (B)  false

6. Most students should try to answer every question on the SAT to achieve their highest possible score.

(A)  true  (B)  false

7.  It’s a good idea to finish each section a few minutes early so you’ll have enough time to look over your work.

(A)  true  (B)  false

8. When analyzing a question, you generally try to work out as much as you can in your head rather than waste precious time writing things down — especially on the easy questions. 

(A)  true  (B)  false

9. If you’re not sure whether you can solve an SAT math problem, you shouldn’t necessarily skip the question immediately because maybe you can figure it out with a little time.

(A)  true  (B)  false

10. What is the last thing you should do before selecting the answer to an SAT math question?

(A) check your solution

(B) reread the question

(C) rework the problem

(D) check your calculations

11. If you’re not sure what an SAT vocabulary word means, you should try to figure it out.

(A)  true  (B)  false

12. How do you pace yourself on an SAT reading passage and the questions that follow it?

(A) slowly on the passage, quickly on the questions

(B) quickly on the passage, slowly on the questions

(C) slowly on the passage, slowly on the questions

(D) quickly on the passage, quickly on the questions

13. On the SAT essay, quality is more important than quantity.

(A) true  (B)  false

14. On the SAT grammar questions, relying on your “ear” is generally advisable.

(A)  true  (B)  false

15. Compared with your scores on classroom tests, how do you do on standardized tests like the SAT?

(A)  You do better on the standardized test because you know it counts.

(B)  You do about the same.

(C)  You tend to freak out.

In the following basic and advanced tutorials, I’ll tell you what your answers mean in detail.  If you’re dying to know the answers to specific questions, you’ll find the answers to this quiz at the end of this article.

TUTORIAL 7

To Change Your Score, You’ll Have to Change the Way You Take the Test

Duh!  I know that point seems incredibly obvious, but according to many SAT “experts,” the best way to improve your math score is to take lots of advanced math classes and the best way to improve your reading score is to read a lot of good books and the best way to improve your writing score is to write a lot.  Gee, thanks for the hot tip!

Don’t get me wrong.  I encourage you to do these things — they’ll improve your mind — but they’re not going to change your SAT scores very much.

Here’s why.  First, remember your second tutorial: the SAT requires a very different skill set and mind-set than those required to do well in your regular classroom activities.

What’s more, apart from some admittedly college-level vocabulary, and reviewing some grammar and math you’ve already covered in school, there aren’t a whole lot of facts or formulas you need to know for the SAT. So the only way to raise your SAT score is to change the way you take it.  And if you want to change your SAT score a lot, you have to change the way you take the test — a lot. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take that long to get the hang of powerful new math, reading, and writing strategies for the SAT.  Don’t worry, I’ll show you how.

TUTORIAL 8

Change Is Sometimes Scary

There’s nothing natural about taking the SAT.  Many of the problem-solving techniques you’ll be learning here won’t feel natural at first, either.  Indeed, it’s natural to resist change, any kind of change.

So changing the way you take the SAT won’t always be easy — especially if you’re a good student.  After all, you’ve had a lot of success doing things your way.  And then I come along and tell you that if you want to achieve your maximum possible SAT score, you’re going to have to change test-taking habits that have served you well in school for years. 

Here are some of the major things you’re probably going to have to change for the SAT:

  • how much time you spend on easy, medium, and difficult questions
  • how many questions you leave blank, how quickly you decide which ones to leave blank, and why you leave them blank
  • the way you check your work for errors
  • the way you read the passages, and how much time you spend on the reading questions
  • the way you solve math problems
  • what you do when you’re not sure what a particular word means
  • how you guess
  • the way you plan and write essays

These aren’t difficult things to do, and I’ll explain everything step by step.  I just wanted to warn you that you may experience some resistance to these changes.  Again: if you selected choice (A) on question 15 in the third tutorial — if you already see yourself as a good test-taker — you may resist adopting new techniques more than students who don’t think they test well.  But it’s my job to get you to change the way you take the SAT, so you just have to be open to these changes.

Answers

How Much Do You Know About Taking the SAT?

The answers to questions 1 and 15 are C, the rest are all B.

Remember that this quiz was designed to shake up your thinking.  The answer to not one of these questions was obvious, and certainly nothing I would have expected you to know at this point.  By the time you finish the tutorials, you’ll be saying duh to most of these answers.

That was the last of your introductory tutorials.  Now we’re ready to tackle the SAT itself.

Excerpted from "The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT,” by Adam Robinson. Copyright ©2005. Used by permission of New American Library. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without the expressed written permission of the publisher.