The SATs are a make or break exam for high school students. Check out the 10 best ways to prepare for the big test.
Like it or not, the SATs are a critical opportunity for students to prove themselves to college admissions committees across the country.
If you want to be at the top of your game, you need to develop an effective strategy to prepare. We spoke with some of the top experts in college admissions to find out more about the best ways to prepare for the SATs.
1. Start Reading
If you have a lot of time to prepare, the first step is get reading. Richard Bernstein, Executive Director of Huntington Learning Center (Cherry Hill, NJ and Turnersville, NJ), says this is crucial. “If you have a year to prepare, read, read, and read some more.”
2. Create a Balanced Study Regimen
Build a study pattern that will get you ready for the test. Students can effectively study in group, one-on-one sessions, or by themselves. No matter what you do however, make sure you don’t overload and always keep a reasonable study/life balance.
Setting goals is only useful if they are realistic. The best way to be productive during crunch time is to “schedule play activities first into your calendar, then your work.” Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, says in a NerdScholar study piece. “It makes sure there is a payoff for being productive.”
A student who elects to devote an inordinate amount of time to studying for the SAT may run the risk of overloading and not retaining information. Colin Gruenwald, Director of SAT and ACT Programs at Kaplan Test Prep, recommends studying smart over the course of several months.
“Don't cram. Remember that preparing for the SAT is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes several months of comprehensive, serious study to do well on the exam, not just a couple of weeks or even days of intense studying. Familiarity builds confidence. But cramming will just stress you out.”
3. Take Practice Tests and Seek Pro Help
As part of your study process, take practice exams. Familiarity with SAT format and content is essential to mastering the actual examination. Taking the practice exams may be one of the best ways to get ready. Just ask seasoned tutor and Education Director of PrepMatters, Aaron Golumbfskie. “Practice testing is important to build the stamina and mental toughness required to be successful over the long haul.”
Seek professional help and tutoring from top tier services such as Kaplan Test Prep, Huntington Learning Center, or Prep Matters. These services are dedicated to helping you succeed and have a track record of building stronger scores. Richard Bernstein from Huntington Learning Center says that sometimes students get ideas about the SATs that simply aren’t true, such as the belief that the test is easier on certain dates. “Listen to a qualified tutoring center for advice. Your friends may be well meaning, smart, and nice. The odds are, however, that they are not SAT experts, regardless of their scores.”
Some services specialize in online 1-on-1 tutoring. InstaEDU makes it easy for you to find the perfect tutor, with tutors available on key SAT topics (as well as anything from Mandarin to Trignonometry). Google Helpouts, a new type of virtual learning center, lets you connect with different specialists through Google Hangouts video. They have huge network of tutors in areas such as SAT Math and English.
If you're interested in trying it, use this exclusive promo code for $25 towards your first Helpout: PREP4SAT
4. Study Vocab with Real World Media
Alison Johnston Rue, CEO of expert tutor website, InstaEDU, has practical advice for students looking to build their vocab. “You may have read that writing tough words on index cards and then quizzing yourself is a good approach. While that may work, it's also pretty boring.”
Alison suggests getting your hands dirty and diving into real world magazines like the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, or The Economist, and reading one article a day. “If/when you come across a word you don't know, create an index card with the word and its definition. At the end of each article, write up the main point of the article, and an argument for and against the author's point. Taking this approach is fun, interesting, and helps you prepare for both the vocab and reading comprehension components of the test at the same time.”
5. Don’t Show Your Work
Education Director of PrepMatters, Aaron Golumbfskie, says that years and years of training in math class can actually work against students. “’No credit unless you show your work.’ How many times have students heard this one in math class? By and large, schools across the country operate in the same fashion and want the same things from students. The test-writers understand and, in many cases, take advantage of the habits that students learn in school.”
“All that matters is bubbling in the correct bubble. So the best way to do an SAT math problem is the easiest way, not necessarily the way a math teacher would want it done. Many problems on the SAT are much easier to solve by simply testing the answer choices or picking numbers and doing some basic arithmetic rather than doing algebra.”
6. Critical Reading – The Devils in the Details
When it comes to critical reading, everything boils down to finding what you need in the text. Several experts agreed that this is critical. As Colin Gruenwald of Kaplan Test prep says, “Have you ever gotten directions from someone who gives way too much detail?...You want to weed through the unnecessary details to get to the important stuff.”
Aaron Golumbfskie of Prep Matters says the reading section is more “Where’s Waldo?” than “Great Gatsby.” “Much like Waldo was always hiding in those pictures, though sometimes hard to find, the answers to all of the SAT critical reading questions are in those passages. No creativity or reading between the lines required!”
7. Get Proper Diet, Exercise and Rest on Test Week
Leading up to the SAT examination, you need to pay attention to what you eat and drink. Strive to maintain a balanced, healthy diet to ensure that you're in optimal health prior to the exam. In addition, engage in regular exercise that includes both cardio and strength training components. Exercise boosts your energy levels and stamina, both important to SAT success. Finally, make certain that you obtain an appropriate amount of sleep leading up the exam. On average, this typically is between seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Aaron Golumbfskie of PrepMatters warns to be ready for the gauntlet that is the SAT test day. “Two of the most common mistakes students make are treating the SAT like a test in school and not adequately preparing for the SAT as a full-day event rather than simply another test.”
8. It’s Gametime – Do Test Day Right
Be certain you head into test day well-rested. Eat a full breakfast that includes healthy portions of both carbohydrates and proteins to ensure proper and sustained energy over the course of the examination.
Be on full alert and read questions carefully on the test. Aaron Golumbfskie of PrepMatters says failing to have a sense paranoia “may eat you alive.” “The test writers fashion questions in such a way that it’s really, really easy to answer wrong,” Aaron asserts.
9. Don’t Get Stuck on a Difficult Question
Is one question bothering you? Don’t let it. Colin Gruenwald from Kaplan Test Prep warns against taking too much time on any single question. “Don't let a difficult question on the SAT waste your valuable time. Remember that every question, regardless of the difficulty level, is worth the same amount of points. So, relax, breathe, and don't fall prey to the time-eaters.”
10. Attn: Freshmen and Sophomores – Get Ready for 2016
If you are a freshman or sophomore, be ready for the big upcoming changes set to launch in 2016. The folks at Kaplan Test Prep say this could include a different scoring scale, optional writing section, and computer-based format.
What other SAT prep tips would you give to students? Let us know in the comments below or on our social channels.
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