Test taking can be a challenging, anxiety-inducing endeavor because test takers do not often spend time planning how to approach these tests. The SAT, like any other test, has unique strategies and tips that will make the test a little less intimidating. The tips and strategies I will expose you to can be applied to many other standardized tests like the ACT, PSAT, and GRE. The SAT adopted some changes after 2015 that made the test a little less challenging and much easier to devise a strategy to succeed in the test.
Use the Process of Elimination (POE)
This is a technique that every student should become very familiar with because it is helpful and a very widely accepted test taking strategy. Tests like the SAT ask students to select the best answer choice so eliminating as many wrong choices as possible increases the chance of getting to the right answer. In most of the questions, two answer choices are easily eliminated and the student must pay close attention to the last two answer choices for words that will make it easier to identify the right answer choice. Look out for extreme words like “always”, “never”, “only” in the reading portion of the test; look out for opposites in signs like -3 and 3 or misplacement of the numerator and denominator in fractions like 2/3 and 3/2. Don’t forget that the test’s goal is to trick you into selecting the wrong answer choice. Don’t fall for the trick!
Read the questions completely
This may seem obvious but from experience preparing students for these types of tests, I find this necessary to state. Reading the test complete means looking out for important words to help guide you in the direction the test writer expects you to go. Look out for words like NOT in the question. With lots of experience and practice, you may be able to determine the direction of the question from the answer choices but it’s not worth the risk sometimes especially when you are under the time and environment pressure of the test.
Answer all the questions on the test
This would not have been an acceptable technique in the old SAT exams because of the way the test was graded. In the old SAT, the number of wrong answers is divided by 4 and the value was subtracted from the number of right choices to give you the final score for the test section. For example, if you had 20 questions on a section and answered 15 questions correctly and 5 questions inaccurately, your raw score for the section would be 15 – (5/4). From 2016, this scoring method changed and students are no longer penalized for selecting a wrong answer. If there are questions you do not know how to answer, before the time allowed for the section, make an educated guess and select an answer. Be sure to only guess if you do not have enough time to critically examine the answer choices.
Write in the Test Booklet
Make it a habit to write in the test booklet when you are taking the SAT exam. One may wonder why this is necessary and there are good reasons to do this. One important reason is to cross out the wrong choices to help arrive at the right answer choice. You should also use the spaces made available to write out Mathematical formulas and equations as you work through Math problems on the test. In the reading test, you will need to make markings on the passages like annotations to help you correctly answer several questions on the test.
Become Comfortable Working Math Problems Without a Calculator
This is one of the tips that students dislike the most because most of them learn to use calculator from about the 6th or 7th grade. In the SAT, there is a Math section that does not allow the use of a calculator. Students that are unable to work through Math problems with a calculator put themselves at a disadvantage in this section. The SAT does not recommend against the use of a calculator but insists that students should be able to work through just about all the questions on the section that permits the use of a calculator without using one. Also, remember that for some questions, using the calculator will actually waste your time on the test and increase the chances that you do not finish the section. Spend the time refining your Math knowledge so that the Math portions of the test do not make you anxious.
Choose the Order to Answer Questions
Students who adequately prepare for the SAT develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in the test. We typically prefer that students answer the easiest questions first in the Math portion and their preferred types of passages first in the Reading and Language/Grammar tests but every student is unique and that approach may not work for some students. An essential part of your preparation should include developing a strategy for how you will be answering questions on the test. In each section of the test, understand that you do not have to answer the questions sequentially because it is tempting to spend too much time on a question that poses a challenge and lose track of the time which will contribute to test anxiety and prevent you from performing well on the test. I encourage students to answer questions within about 15 to 30 seconds and if unable to arrive at the answer within this time period, make note of the question and skip to the next one and come back to it later.
Review Your Answer Scantron
This is another tip that may seem obvious but very much worth noting. After several years of preparing students for this and other similar tests, I have observed that students under pressure can make some of the silliest mistakes. One of the most common mistakes I have observed is students selecting the right answer in their question booklet and then marking the wrong answer in their scantron. Create time to review the scantron and the test booklet to avoid this type of error.
Do NOT Second-Guess Yourself
You must trust your gut when taking this test. It is generally believed that students tend to select the right answer in their first attempt of the question. Do not go back to change your answer unless you have a very good reason to – you did not read the question correctly or used the wrong formula in solving the question.
Apply these techniques when preparing for the test so that they become part of your test taking strategies and expect an improvement in your scores. If you need help applying these strategies, sign up for any of our upcoming group lessons.