Thursday, April 16, 2009

SAT Test Taking Strategies Part 4

*SAT Test Day Tips

Some of these things may seem a bit silly but we bet you will find at least a few of them helpful and we never fail to hear from at least a few test takers who gravely harm themselves by overlooking at least one of these.

Get adequate rest the night before the exam.

Think of the SAT test as your big game/match. You would get adequate rest before this, right? Well, the SAT should be at least as important as your big game or match as unfair as that may seem.

Directions to the test center.

Unless you are positive where the test center is, do a test drive a day or two beforehand. Make a good note of where to park and how long it takes you to get there. You want to be as relaxed as possible on the test day and worries about where the test is being given will not help you relax and give your best performance.

Bring your admission ticket and a photo ID.

If you have not received your admission ticket within a week of the SAT, or should you lose your ticket call the College Board immediately at (609) 771 - 7600.

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the test center.

You don't need the stress of rushing at the last minute or worrying that you will be late. Again, driving to the test center a day or two beforehand will tell you how long the drive takes.

Dress in layers.

It's just not good camping advice, but it's good SAT advice too. (And therefore worth remembering after the exam is a distant memory!) The test centers are notorious for being too warm or too cold.

Bring a watch and a calculator.

It's not worth the investment to buy a fancy calculator just for this test as you won't use it much anyway.

Bring whatever calculator you are comfortable using to the exam. In terms of a watch, just make sure it doesn't beep as proctors hate these types of watches and seem to enjoy confiscating them for the duration of the test.

Do NOT eat or drink too much immediately before or during the exam.

You want to be focused during the exam and you don't need bladder pains distracting you. 'Nuff said!

Out of these tips, we find that most test takers err by:
-Not knowing how to get to the test center,
-Not giving themselves enough time to get to the test center, and
-Eating and/or drinking too much immediately before or during the exam.

These mistakes are completely avoidable. Don't let any of them stand between you and the college or university of your dreams.

*SAT Time Management

Keep track of the time (Duh!?!)
-You'd be surprised at the number of people who panic on test day because they never trained themselves to watch the time. Use clocks or timers as you work on practice questions, so you'll learn to pace yourself and intuitively sense when 10 or 20 minutes have gone by. Remember to bring a non-beeping watch with you to the SAT exam (don't count on being able to see a clock clearly). Before beginning work on each section, write down the time the test will end. You can refer to that note periodically during the exam to gauge your performance.

Allocate your SAT test time wisely
-Don't spend test time reading instructions. The instructions for different kinds of SAT questions are quite standard. Familiarize yourself with them before test day so that you can go into the exam room already understanding how the SAT is structured and what types of questions you'll be asked. Remember, the SAT is intentionally designed to make you feel time pressure. You can alleviate that pressure by minimizing the amount of time you need to spend on reading instructions. That time is better spent answering questions.

Pace yourself
-You will give your best performance if you pace yourself. Don't rush through every question just to finish a section - but don't take so long on just a few questions that you leave the rest unanswered, either. Taking practice tests will help you develop a sense of a pace works for you, and that lies between those two extremes.
-Know when to skip a question
Every question on the SAT is worth the same number of points. There's no bonus for figuring out a hard question. That means it is NOT in your best interest to spend an inordinate amount of time with the more difficult questions.
-The most difficult questions are placed at the end of the test sections. Don't feel bad if you can't answer them. These questions are designed to be answered correctly only 10% of the time. If you come to a question on which you have NO idea of how to eliminate even one answer choice, do not spend more than 20 seconds on it before moving to the next problem.
-Keep in mind, though, that sometimes an easy problem looks difficult at first glance. Oftentimes, if you relax a moment, your mental "fog" will lift and you will find yourself able to answer the question very confidently.
-Keep track of your omitted questions
Put a question mark or other notation next to each question you skip. That way, if you have time at the end of the section, you will be able to easily identify and take another try at your omitted questions.
-Do NOT spend an equal amount of time on each question except in the critical reading section, SAT questions are arranged in ascending order of difficulty. That means that the easiest questions are asked first and the more difficult questions are asked later. You should allocate the amount of time you spend on each question accordingly. You will, hopefully, be able to knock off the first, easy questions quickly, so that you can spend more time on the best way for you to use your time in each section. For example, you might find that even if you spend 7 minutes on each of the last five problem solving multiple choice questions, you do no better on them than you would by guessing at the answers. In that case, you would know that you should not spend an inordinate amount of time on test day trying to work out the math in questions at that level of difficulty.
-Should you have some time left over at the end of a section...
Don't stop working until the proctor says to. Rather, go back and re-examine the questions you skipped. Answer any that you think you know the answer to, or can make a good guess at. We also suggest you double-check your answers to the very first questions. It's precisely because these questions are generally very easy that people tend to make dumb mistakes on them. Make sure you haven't been tripped up by subtle wording or a misplaced decimal point.

Friday, April 10, 2009

SAT Test Taking Strategies Part 3

*SAT Test Structure

Passage-based reading questions will compose 71% of the total questions you will see on the critical reading SAT. One 30 minute section will contain a passage with up to 13 questions and the other 30 minute section will contain a passage followed by up to 15 more questions. The 15 minute section will consist of a passage and up to 13 questions.

Unlike the other SAT questions, the critical reading questions are not arranged in order of difficulty. This is actually fortunate as they are arranged in chronological order.

Read the introductory italicized sentence
This sentence will describe the passage and is the only thing you will read that is not directly related to a test question...

Read the questions - not the rest of the passage
The questions will direct you to the part of the passage that contains the information you need to correctly answer the question. What more could you want than the actual answer itself?!
Note: Should the question not give you a line number, it should be relatively easy to scan the passage for the key word or phrase, ex. Aristotle.

Remember time is of the essence
You will waste too much time if you read the entire passage and then begin the questions. Remember this is a timed test and you are not being graded on your reading form. (Yes, we know this is an ironic way to approach the critical reading section. But trust us that this is a very powerful technique!)

Read a line above and a line below those specified in the question
This will insure that you catch the entire context of the reading relating to the question.
Expect to see incorrect answers that seek to exploit those test takers who do not read these additional lines.

Answer the questions in the order they are asked except...
Because the questions are arranged in chronological order instead of order of difficulty, answering them in order allows you to move right along. However, if you come across a question which relates to the "general summary/general tone" of the passage before the end of the series of questions, you are well advised to skip it until you have answered the other questions. By the time you do answer these questions, you should have a good idea how to answer the question.

If you find yourself still unable to answer the question, read the first sentence of each paragraph. You should not invest the time to read the entire passage for this one question unless it is necessary and you have time left over at the end of the section.

-Dual passages
One of the 3 passages you will encounter will be a "dual passage". Quite simply, this section will be 2 short passages that offer different perspectives on the same topic. You should answer all the questions on the first passage first and then answer all the questions about the second passage. The last questions you should answer should be those that refer to both passages.

Monday, April 6, 2009

SAT Test Taking Strategies Part 2

SAT Essay

*SAT Essay Test Structure

The essay is the first thing you will face when you sit down to take the SAT.

You will be given 25 minutes to write your essay by hand, onto an answer sheet form. Your essay must respond to the 'prompt' provided in the test booklet. A prompt is a short, one- or two-sentence long statement that presents two opposing stands on a topic and asks you to respond. You MUST write your essay in response to the given prompt. 'Off-topic' essays will receive zero points. (So no, you can't ace this part of the SAT by memorizing a great essay and writing it out on test day - sorry!)

The SAT essay is different from other parts of the test in that it is graded by actual human beings. Every essay is graded by two scorers, each of whom rates the essay on a scale from 1 (fundamentally lacking) to 6 (outstanding). Their scores are added together to give a final score of up to 12 points. In cases where individual scores differ enormously in the grades they give, a supervisor will read the essay and determine a final score. The 0-12 score counts for 1/3 of your score on the Writing section and 1/9 of your total SAT score.

Scorers work quickly. A scorer may be asked to grade over 200 essays in an eight hour shift. That means they spend less than two and a half minutes on each essay on average.

Scorers are asked to rate:
1) the writer's ability to develop and express a point of view in response to the prompt;
2) the writer's ability to use examples, logic, and reasoning to support their point of view; and
3) the writer's competency in standard written English.

Scorers are supposed to understand that SAT essays are first drafts, written under pressure. They are not supposed to deduct points for a few simple misspellings or grammatical slips, or for lack of style or subject knowledge.

Intimidated? Don't be. Anyone who can do well on other parts of the SAT can do well on the essay. It just takes some preparation.

*How to prepare for the SAT Essay

Read. Reading will help you internalize the structure and 'sound' of written English. It will also provide you with material to use as supporting evidence in your SAT essay. Newspaper editorials and op-eds are good choices because they usually state a problem and take a position on it, in the space of about 500 words (which is probably a bit longer than most SAT essays will be).

Write. Get in the habit of expressing yourself on paper. If you don't keep a journal, start one. Better yet, keep an essay journal. Each week or so sit down and write a page or two about your reaction to something you read or saw. Train yourself to be comfortable with writing an essay-type passage in about 20 minutes.

One of the biggest problems test takers face is complete and utter apathy on the question presented by the essay prompt. This is perfectly understandable, as prompts often deal with abstract conflicts that are hard to get worked up about. But keep in mind that you're being graded on your ability to state an argument and to support it. You have to take some kind of stand. Train yourself to do that. If it helps, put your argument in the mouth of a fictional third person: "Some people would say x. They would cite reasons a, b, and c." Another option is to re-state the prompt question in a way that makes it easier to respond to. (Be careful not to go too far with this, though - remember off-topic essays get a zero.)

Learn essay templates by heart. Another problem test takers face is wasting time on trying to figure out how to connect one paragraph to another. You can minimize this problem by learning essay templates - structures that you can plug almost any material into. The classic five paragraph essay (topic sentence followed by three supporting paragraphs followed by a conclusion) is one example. Another example is the "on the one hand - one the other hand" type of comparison. An English writing textbook will give you other ideas.

Brush up your grammar and spelling. Look at the writing you do in your journal and for school assignments. Identify and correct any mistakes you tend to make. Minor slips in grammar or spelling aren't likely to hurt your SAT essay score. However, a pattern of mistakes might suggest that you just aren't competent in standard written English.

Clean up your handwriting. Scorers aren't supposed to mark papers down for bad penmanship, but if they honestly can't make out what you've written, you may get a lower score than you deserve. Remember that you'll be asked to write - frantically - for 25 minutes. Make sure you can do that without being crippled by arm or hand cramps.

*What to do on test day

Read the entire prompt. Don't be in such a rush to start your essay that you risk misunderstanding the question you're asked to respond to.

Use scrap paper. Scrap paper is your friend. Use it to brainstorm ideas and to sketch out an outline for your essay.

Start your essay with an introductory paragraph. It should 1) repeat the question asked by the prompt and 2) clearly state your position on that question.

Continue your essay with supporting arguments. Try to give two or three reasons for why you have taken the position you did on the prompt question. If you can only come up with one reason, give a detailed explanation of why it supports your stand, and say why it is important enough to make the case on its own.

End your essay with a conclusion. The conclusion can simply restate the stand you have taken, or it can make a broader point.

Try to leave time for proofreading. Try to finish your essay early enough that you have time to read it over quickly and correct any obvious mistakes in spelling, word usage, or grammar.

*How long does a SAT essay need to be?

Write long" is the most frequently cited advice we've seen about the SAT essay. It seems based on an informal study that found a strong correlation between long essays and high scores.

We encourage you to take that advice with a grain of salt. For one thing, the study used a very small sample of essays that were scored during the first administration of the revised SAT. It's hard to draw general conclusions from that experience. For another thing, what the study called a "short" essay meant one of as little as 100 words. The problem with those essays was more likely a lack of content or an undeveloped argument than their length.

Our advice is to focus on content instead of word counts. Use as many words as you need to express your thoughts. If you practice writing essays, you'll develop a good sense of how much you can write in the allotted 25 minutes, and of how much space you need to lay out an argument.

If you absolutely cannot come up with a coherent response to the prompt, writing long may cut your losses.
At least you'll show more of your command of written English. However, we think a complete, concise essay is always going to score higher than a rambling, long one.