5 Things You’re Doing Wrong on the SAT
The creators of the SAT are geniuses! Not only are they skilled at writing SAT questions, they’re skilled at writing tricky SAT questions with tricky SAT answers. Students get frustrated when they’re unable to sort through two or three similar-sounding answers, and that’s the test-makers’ dream. Think about it: if there was one obviously right answer per question with ridiculous wrong answers, everyone would ace the test! There would be no measurable results. To navigate the SAT test, students need to know how it’s put together, how to approach each kind of question, and some DOs and DON’Ts for mastering the test. Here are 5 traps you may be falling in.
1) Not Managing Your Time on Each SAT Section
The test loads the easy and medium questions towards the beginning and the harder questions at the end of each section (with the exception of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, which generally present their questions in passage order rather than by difficulty). Don’t speed through the easy questions in an attempt to free up more time for the hard ones. You may end up making simple mistakes on the easy questions that will cost you a better score.
Remember – the SAT writers are pros at creating wrong answers that look right. They’ve already predicted the silly mistakes you could make and have left answer choices representing those silly mistakes. For example, an algebra question might have you solve an easy equation for X. You find X and circle the answer. WRONG! The question actually asked you for the value of 4X. Take enough time to make sure you’re answering the given question. Each question is worth the same amount. Be careful and don’t rush.
Don’t get stuck on one question. It’s not worth it! If you find yourself pouring over a question for 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes, you need to let it go and move on. If process of elimination doesn’t work because you don’t understand what the question is asking and none of the answers seem to make sense, circle the question and move on. If you have time to come back to it later, then you can spend more time on it. It could be that some other question made it click in your brain and now you understand it. Or maybe seeing it with fresh eyes allows you to eliminate some wrong answers. In any case, getting stuck on one question that you run the likely risk of not even getting right robs you of the points you could be scoring on questions you do know the answers to.
“Hero students” fight for every single question and won’t move on until they’ve conquered each one. Unfortunately these heroes get stuck answering #8 and skip the last few on the section, when in the same amount of time they could have easily answered #12, #13, and #14. Don’t be a hero! Skip and move on. Find some SAT practice questions and use free SAT practice tests to hone your skills.
2) Treating the Test Booklet Like a Sacred Text
Mark it up! Draw diagrams, underline words in the questions and passages, cross out wrong answers using process of elimination, circle questions you don’t know the answer to so you can come back to them later, take notes on questions to jog your memory, write out math formulas that you may need. It’s your test booklet – use it to your advantage.
3) Having a Weird Morning
Students often ask about secret pre-test rituals to best optimize the brain for testing. First and foremost, plan to have your normal morning. If you usually drink coffee, drink coffee. If you usually get up at 6:00, get up at 6:00. If you normally put on your left sock first, put on your left sock first.
While there aren’t any secrets regarding morning rituals, here are some safe, healthy suggestions:
The SAT test is 3 hours and 50 minutes long with writing, which doesn’t include morning travel time and the short breaks in between sections. You may feel queasy and nervous on test morning (see #4) but this is no time to skip breakfast. You wouldn’t run a half-marathon on an empty stomach, would you? The brain needs nutrients to do its work and believe me, it’s going to be getting a good workout on the SAT. Brain foods: whole grains, fruits (especially blueberries) and nuts.
Clear your head. You may feel pressure to remember every single note you took, every single strategy you learned, and every single formula you learned. Trust your preparation and allow those clouds to drift away for a while. Your brain is incredible! Let it do its work and recall important details as it needs them. During test morning, let your brain rest for the marathon ahead.
4) Stressing Out
Experts in brain activity conclude that stress makes it harder for your brain to function normally. Under stress, the brain may “freeze up,” and you may find yourself unable to think straight. That’s because stress causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
If you find yourself tensing up with your shoulders pulled up to your ears while you’re hunched over your booklet, try to relax. Sit up straight. Take some deep breaths periodically throughout the test. If you think about it, there’s no point in stressing now. If you haven’t prepped yourself adequately, nothing can change that! And if you have, trust your SAT preparation and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
By prepping for your SAT (and even reading this article) you’re setting yourself up for success on test day. Confidence can make a world of difference on a test; focus on your strengths and don’t let negatives creep in.
- Focus on a strength: Knowing when to guess and when to omit.
- Focus on a strength: Managing time and not being a “hero” getting stuck on questions. Fast-forward to what you know!
- Focus on a strength: Using the test booklet as a resource.
- Focus on a strength: Having a calm, normal morning optimized for brain power.
- Focus on a strength: Staying cool, calm, and collected during your test.