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Preparing For Everyone’s (Least) Favorite Exam

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By Rory Wakeford

      Let me just start out by saying, this test should not be causing you as much stress as it probably it is.

      You’ve probably been hearing about this exam for your whole life. As soon as you learned how to read, you’ve been prepping for this exam. The moment you stepped into middle school, someone started cramming ideas about college and this test into your tiny, fresh little mind. This is the exam. This is the exam that gets you into college. This is the exam that determines the rest of your life.

      Except not really. Not at all.

      Seriously. If you’re super stressed out about this test, you shouldn’t be. Yes, it’s important. Will it determine your future? Absolutely not. This is a test that is determined to gauge your ability to handle college level courses and information. This is a test that many schools have determined obsolete and aren’t even looking at anymore.

      John Katzman, founder of the Princeton Review, a company that produces review books for a plethora of the College Board’s exams, says “The SAT is a scam. It has been around for 50 years. It has never measured anything. And it continues to measure nothing. And the whole game is that everybody who does well on it, is so delighted by their good fortune that they don’t want to attack it. And they are the people in charge. Because of course, the way you get to be in charge is by having high test scores. So it’s this terrific kind of rolling scam that every so often, somebody sort of looks and says–well, you know, does it measure intelligence? No. Does it predict college grades? No. Does it tell you how much you learned in high school? No. Does it predict life happiness or life success in any measure? No. It’s measuring nothing. It is a test of very basic math and very basic reading skill. Nothing that a high school kid should be taking.”

      This test does not determine your intelligence. This test is not the pinnacle of your high school career. Regardless, you still probably want to try your best. It’s okay to want to do well on the SAT because of the stigma surrounding it.

      Often times, people tend to go overboard with preparation. There’s definitely things you can do to help improve your score, but there’s a line between prudency and obsessive behavior. Here are some tips that aren’t over the top, but will help improve your score, ranging from objects you can use to help you to personal strategies for the test.

1. SAT Prep. Although it may have been the bane of my existence from September to early November, SAT Prep class actually taught me something. The SAT is full of tricks and patterns, and Prep classes are the best way to learn and actually understand all of the things the SAT is actually testing. The most helpful part of this BHS class was the math section, so if you’re worried about your math score, this class is definitely for you.

      The SAT is timed, so completing 20 math problems in 25 minutes is hard to do for some. This class teaches you efficient ways of solving a problem in the shortest amount of time possible. When I started the class, I would barely finished the math section before the time was up. On the actual SAT, I finished the math section with 10 minutes to spare each time. (And I actually didn’t do terribly on the math section.) This gave me a lot of time to check over my work and revisit problems I wasn’t 100% confident on. The class is pricey, but I personally think it’s worth it. So, if you have the time and means, I say a class is worth your time.

2. College Board SAT Study Guide. This book is straight from the source. Made by the creators of the test to help give you clues on how the test will actually be. Out of all the SAT books you’re going to buy, this one is your best shot. It has an extensive amount of actual SAT exams. And I know it’s extensive because I had to do them for homework for the aforementioned SAT Prep class and I thought the questions would never end. It seriously offers a wide array of questions for you to practice. It especially helps you prepare for the timed circumstances the test places you in.

      Before the practice tests, the book gives detailed descriptions on the concepts you will face when you take the test. The information is comprehensive and thorough, and I recommend it highly even if you decide not to take a class. The Study Guide is the best way for you to learn the concepts and techniques you can use while taking the test.

3. SAT Question of the Day. Sign up for the SAT Question of the Day, which is on the SAT College Board website. Honestly, this feature is best for just making sure you keep up with your preparation constantly. This is something I personally didn’t keep up with; I binge answered them a couple days before the test. However, if I retake the test later this year, this is something I plan on pursuing in the manner it was intended. This is an easy way to practice every day and actually learn a few things. By answering one question each day in the months leading up to your exam, you can slowly learn the patterns and content the questions ask. The questions cover math, critical reading and writing, just like on the test.

4. Don’t Cram. Now, I’ll start telling you things you can do for yourself to improve your score. If you know your test is in February, it might be helpful for you to start studying in December or at the beginning of January. Obviously, this studying would not be rigorous, but just intended to implant the ideas of the test in your head. Cramming the week before your test will not produce desired results because you’re not actually internalizing the information. For this test, you have to have a systemic understanding, not a shallow one. Make sure your studying is thorough, and the longer you prepare, the less stressed you’ll be when the test approaches.

5. Study vocab. The SAT has a funny way of quizzing you on your vocabulary even when it’s not quizzing you on your vocabulary. You could be reading a passage and it’ll ask you when the narrator feels “despondent” or “blithe.” So, not only is the question asking you about content from the passage, but it’s also testing your knowledge on the word “despondent” or “blithe.”

      Also, they have multiple questions solely based off of your comprehension of vocabulary and your ability to interpret a sentence and add the most fitting vocabulary word. Sometimes, these questions are obvious. Other times, the question will have 5 choices that all sound like words from a foreign language. One of the best things you can do is practice vocab. Get flash cards, get a vocab app, look up vocab lists online. Vocabulary is extremely important on this exam, and studying vocabulary is the best way to improve your critical reading score.

6. Understand your limits. The exam is three hours and forty five minutes; for the test taker, it feels like an eternity. Sections 1-4 (approximately), you’re on top of your game. You can handle it. Everything makes sense and you’re breezing through the questions. You’re about an hour and a couple minutes in and you can handle it. Sections 5-8, you’re waiting for death to come. Section 9-10 you just don’t care because freedom is so close you can almost taste it. My point is, this test takes a lot out of you. Sometimes no matter how hard you study, after three hours, you start to lose focus and some things slip your mind. That’s okay. That’s why this test is three hours– because they’re testing your ability to handle such an overload of information.

      Don’t get frustrated while taking the exam, you’re only going to hurt yourself and your score. The best thing you can do is to relax. You get breaks in between a couple sections, so use that time to relax. If you can’t answer a couple questions, don’t worry about it. It’s very, very hard for you to walk into the testing room and know every single answer to every question. You’re going to guess on a lot of questions and you’re going to have no clue on others. If you really have no clue, just omit the question. If you blindly guess and get it wrong, then you lose a quarter of a point. If you omit the question, you don’t lose anything (but you don’t gain anything either). You have to understand that you’re not going to know the answer to every question, and that’s totally okay. Don’t let one question freak you out and throw you off of your game for the rest of the section.

7. Get some sleep. Hand in hand with the cramming thing, don’t stay up until three in the morning studying. The test is at eight am. Five hours of sleep is not enough sleep for this beast of an exam. You are going to need every second of sleep you can get. Go to bed as soon as you possibly can. Anything you do after 10pm is not going to help you and you might as well be spending that time resting. This is coming from someone who has stayed up until four in the morning doing homework. Nothing good happens that late… or early. This test is mentally and physically exhausting. I got a decent amount of sleep and I went home after the test and napped for 4 hours. You get very fatigued around section 6. You’re going to need that sleep.

8. Test taking essentials. This is not about pencils or calculators (which you should definitely bring, but that’s not the point). This is about what you’re gonna need to stay sane.

      You get a short break in between each section. In this precious time, you have a chance to unwind. Personally, I would bring as much food as you can. Bring options. Sometimes you pack something you wind up not being in the mood for it. You’re really going to need that food. Cherish it. Also, wear comfortable clothes. You’re not going to try to impress anybody. Wear sweatpants and bring layers. If it’s cold, you really don’t want to be focusing on how cold it is. Make sure you’re comfortable.

9. Don’t doubt yourself. By the time your test rolls up, you’ll be ready. If you’re reading this, you’re obviously interested in performing well on the test. You’re gonna be okay. And if you’re not happy with how you do, you can take the test again.

      This test does not define you. Try your best and be proud of the things you accomplish.


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Preparing For Everyone’s (Least) Favorite Exam