- understanding complex articles (scientific studies, literature excerpts)
- algebra, geometry, graphing, and probability
- writing skills if you’re completing the writing component
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4 Test Prep Goals to Help You Ace the SAT
You know that the SAT is important for college admissions. At this point, you may be starting to think about it and wondering how to do well. It is important to set goals for your SAT study and prep. Start working towards them early in your high school career, and you’ll be well on your way to conquering the test.
Goal 1: Identify Your Skills Early On
Many schools offer the PSAT in 10th grade. Taking it early can give you an idea of where you are and which areas need improvement.
Your PSAT score report will highlight specific areas and weaknesses to hone. (Check out What Does My PSAT Score Mean? for help with interpreting your score and report.) However, keep in mind that your PSAT score doesn’t serve as a hard-and-fast indication of how you will do on the SAT—it’s called practice for a reason. You’ll gain more knowledge and practice before the real deal.
You may also have the opportunity to take the PSAT in fall of your junior year. If you can’t, or if you just want more practice, complete a diagnostic test (a full practice test). You can do this through the College Board website. Zero in on skills that need work and practice, even if they’re not the ones you’d expect. For instance, if you consider verbal a stronger area for you but do better in math, pay attention to verbal—although your scores may change with different iterations.
Goal 2: Practice, Practice, Practice
You should complete at least two full practice tests: one when you start preparing and another when you’re wrapping up your study plan. Make sure you’re using different tests, so you’re not just memorizing specific answers. Also, try to simulate a real testing environment: time it, use a pen and paper, and score it at the end.
You may also want to consider forming a study group to make preparing more fun. (Just make sure you’re actually preparing!) You might quiz each other on important concepts, take practice tests together, and score each other’s tests.
This can be especially helpful if you’re at similar levels or are stronger in opposite areas. That way, you can also share strategies for conquering a subject in which you’re strong and she’s weak and vice versa.
Goal 3: Get Familiar With Testing Instructions
Familiarize yourself with the test sequence ahead of time, so you know what to expect. You should also read through the prompts that appear on all versions of the test, so you don’t waste time reading them on the day of the SAT.
Goal 4: Develop Strategies for Specific Test Components
Create your own strategies to help you realize your test goals. Your goals for practicing and mastering content should reflect the components of the test itself.
Components of all tests include:
Understanding Complex Articles
Texts with challenging concepts and ideas are a cornerstone of the SAT. Create methods for synthesizing the information quickly to answer the questions successfully.
So how do you prepare? Some people practice by reading aloud passages (at home, of course). If you hear the information out loud, it may make more sense to you. It really depends on what kind of learner you are; auditory learners learn best this way.
Also focus on underlining. You won’t be able to use your highlighter on the test, but underlining key points and phrases—and practicing doing so—will help you get used to identifying the main point.
Learning algebra, geometry, graphing, and probability
By your junior year, you’ve probably learned at least the basics of all this material. But how do you remember everything you need to know for test day?
One idea is to have a “formula of the day” to help you tackle the math problems; try to memorize formulas, so you won’t have to waste time flipping back and forth in your booklet.
You might also create flash card with equations to keep track and make sure you understand them all.
Honing writing skills
The writing section involves writing a standard, five-paragraph essay evaluating a passage of writing. You won’t see the prompt or passage beforehand, but you can still prepare.
For example, when my brother was in high school, my parents instituted a vocabulary word of the night, where we would each present a word and try to stump the others. (He was more of a math guy, and this was supposed to help him with the SAT vocab words.)
While words that don’t show up in regular writing and conversation aren’t as common in the current SAT iteration, you still need to have a strong vocabulary. This will come in handy for the writing component.
You might also do a brain dump to generate anecdotes and examples that could apply to a range of prompts for your essay.
Another strategy you can apply to multiple sections is using an app. There are many apps that can help you with SAT practice, such as Khan Academy, Daily Practice from College Board, and The Official SAT Question of the Day. Apps can make practice a lot more fun. Plus, they’re free!
Preparation is key for doing well on the SAT. So make sure you practice, practice, practice!
Also, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, so you can focus on honing weaker areas. Develop strategies that suit your individual needs. Be creative! The more engaging the activities are, the more likely you are to do them.
And remember, if you feel you need help, don’t be afraid to seek out resources like an SAT tutor. He or she can help you practice, identify weak areas, and help you develop strategies specifically for taking the SAT. They can also provide prep materials and other tips.
For more tips, check out:
Looking for some more help for acing the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help you achieve top scores on your test. We’ll pair you with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.