How to Ace the SAT

SAT has made waves once again with its new version. Some of the main changes include fewer options, passage-based questions, and the way the test is going to be scored – reading and writing will be scored together, which makes your math scores critical. The question, however, remains the same: how do we ace the SAT?

Shake Hands with the New SAT: For starters, check out the  College Board website and practice the test questions or just go through them to get an idea about the test and the kind of questions that you will need to wrestle. With luck and preparation on your side, you may even win the round!

ACT to the Rescue: Questions from SAT’s more popular cousin, ACT, may help you prepare better for the new SAT. Go on and tackle ACT’s English, science and reading questions. It will help you polish your logic and reasoning skills. Another handy resource is the AP English test. Those who’ve been there and survived to tell the tale also recommend AP U.S. History (and a good night’s rest before D-day).

It’s All about Context: Read, read, and read some more. It is not just about vocabulary. The new SAT is about vocabulary, but within a context. So you’ll need to understand the way words work in various contexts, and how their meanings change. Reading will teach you to absorb the way text is structured and to analyze content.

Another benefit: you will learn to identify keywords and main ideas, and master quick reading strategies like scanning and skimming. While we are on the subject of language, go on and practice your grammar know-how. It never hurts to know more than you need to.

SAT Prep

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Time for the Numbers: You can count on some things to not change. SAT’s math section is one of them. Though there are a couple of tweaks, it largely remains the same. So you can practice your math prowess on SAT questions and ACT questions. Memorizing formulae and knowing how to use a calculator are also required here. Take your prep up a notch by foregoing the calculator occasionally. Ah, to live dangerously.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the tried-and-tested tips on acing the SAT, whatever format it may be.

Start Early: It is recommended that you begin preparing for your SAT at least a couple of months before you take it. This will give you sufficient time to practice and learn. It will take the pressure off you and stop you from running around in mad panic a few days before the test.

Prep Tests: Time yourself as you tackle SAT and ACT papers, and the full-length prep tests that are available online. You can also tackle each section individually. Benefits are multifold; you get a taste of the kind of questions you have to be prepared for, you’ll learn to think quickly under time constraints, and you’ll learn to plan how much time you need to spend on each question. Knowing the knowledge gaps and understanding the mistakes you are prone to make will give you a chance to brush up on those topics.

Quick tip: If you’ve got an answer wrong, don’t jump to the answer key before trying to understand where you went wrong.

One’s a Bore, Two’s Fun: Try to study together with a friend or classmate who is also preparing for the test. You may benefit from each other’s strengths. You could take turns explaining concepts to each other, which is a great way to learn. It will also change the pace of learning and it can be refreshing after studying alone.

Note it Down: Making notes is a good way to retain what you learn and listen to, and makes it easier to organize your thoughts.  You can also use digital tools to help you with this like Evernote and Google Docs. You could also try sketchnotes which are a combo of visuals and words. Here, you can also use markers of different colors to highlight facts, interpretations and stats. This will get you to interact more closely with your notes and the learning process. Flashcards are also a useful learning tool.

Let’s summarize:
  • Start preparation at least three months before the test.
  • Practice taking prep tests based on the new SAT format, full-length and section-wise.
  • Learn to manage time.
  • Read lots. Practice deconstructing what you read and try out various reading strategies.
  • Check out ACT, AP English and AP U.S. History questions and answers.
  • Know your math formulae, math basics and learn to solve problems with and without a calculator.
  • Make note taking a habit.
  • Get a study buddy and trade strengths.
  • Get a good night’s rest before the exam. Oh, and ice cream can’t hurt.

So there you go. You’ve got your work cut out for you. Bon chance!