The Scholastic Aptitude Test commonly referred to as the SAT- has been used as a college admissions criterion for over 60 years. There are many other factors that determine acceptance at a particular college or university, but a decent SAT score is always an advantage. Students are allotted three hours and 20 minutes to complete three sections of the SAT- Writing, Critical Reading and Mathematics. As a verbal SAT tutor, I feel qualified to address test-taking tips for the former two sections.
A strong vocabulary is especially useful for the sentence completion portion of the Critical Reading section. Students are asked to choose which word or pair of words make the most sense in filling in the given blanks. More practical than studying huge vocabulary lists is reviewing a list of prefixes and word roots, which give the Latin or Greek derivatives. By understanding that the prefix “phil” means “love,” the student may deduce that an ailurophile is someone who loves cats. Realizing that “agora” is from the Greek for marketplace might reveal that agoraphobia is the fear of open spaces.
The first part of the Writing section, and of the SAT, gives students 25 minutes in which to compose an essay based on a quotation or literary passage. The idea is to state whether the student agrees or disagrees with the point of view presented, and give supporting examples. In preparation for the essay, students should brainstorm examples from history, literature and current events that fit a wide variety of possible themes (A Plus). Classic literature supplies a plethora of themes and concepts which can be tailored to fit a wide range of possible questions. Other good examples are the Revolutionary and Civil wars. One especially helpful source is The Book of Great Books by W. John Campbell, published by Barnes & Noble Books.
About two-thirds of the Critical Reading section focuses on short and long literary passages. To prepare for this, students should practice reading and evaluating magazine and newspaper articles, and come up with a list of basic questions to ask themselves each time they read something. What is the topic? What is the author’s opinion? What words describe the author’s writing style? What are the strong and weak points of the article?
Blind guessing is not advisable for the SAT. The multiple choice questions present five different answer choices, from A to E. Process of elimination is very effective if at least two of the wrong answers can be crossed out. But students should be award that answering a question incorrectly hurts their score more than simply it. SAT scoring awards one point for a correct answer, and subtracts a quarter point for a wrong answer. Too many students feel like they must answer every question. I tell my students “Read all of the answer choices, but if you have absolutely no idea, skip the question.”
Students who finish a section early may recheck their answers, but are not permitted to go back to previously-completed sections and change anything. First guesses, however, are usually correct, and it is better to spend a little extra time on each question and choose the best answer. Writing in the test booklet is permissible, and especially on difficult questions, crossing out obviously wrong answers makes sense.
The SAT unnerves a lot of students, but its importance is often exaggerated. A low score does necessarily preclude a student’s being accepted to the school of his choice, nor does a high score guarantee acceptance. By following these aforementioned tips, students will increase their chances of raising their scores.