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SAT Tips and Strategies

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Strategies for each section of the SAT I exam

  • General SAT tips and strategies

  • Sentence Completion

  • Reading Comprehension

  • Multiple Choice Writing

  • The Essay

  • Math

    In addition, you'll find links to in-depth study aids and a time-table to help you stay on track.


    THE most effective way to study for the SAT I is to take official SAT Exams, over and over.

    The Educational Testing Service (ETS) which writes the SAT Exam, and many other standardized tests, spends TWO YEARS studying and analyzing EACH question before it is included in a test.

    Two years.

    They are written in certain ways, with certain rationale and method probably not duplicated by test-prep companies.

    The unregulated test prep industry does not do that, and you have no way of checking on the success of their programs.

    There has been the suggestion that test companies can make their questions harder, so as to give the student a false sense of achievement on the exam results.

    GET THE BLUE BOOK, and use it. Take all the exams in the book, and then go online and look for more, official exams.

    When you do the exams in the Official SAT Blue Book, the book provides answers but no explanations.

    HOWEVER! A little known fact: You can go to the College Board Site and print out answers and explanations for each exam in the Blue Book. (Page 11, The Blue Book.)

    General Strategies for the SAT I Reasoning Test

  • Sign up for the SAT Question of the Day from College Board

  • Read through all the SAT tips and strategies

  • Study our other SAT pages

  • Learn the directions ahead of time

  • Learn how to fill in the grid-in questions in the "Student Response" section of the math test while you are studying for the test.

  • Filling out the answer bubbles does not have to be an artistic endeavor; use your number 2 pencil, make a couple of lines in the bubble and move on.

  • Save time by filling in several answers at a time, always being sure you have the time to finish transferring all the answers you have.

  • While studying for the test, learn to pace yourself, and keep track of how far along you should be at different times throughout the test.

  • Remember it is better to do fewer questions and get them right, than to try to do them all and miss more. It is very difficult to try to get all the problems completed, and still have a high level of accuracy.

  • Ideally, you should study 30 minutes a day, five-six days a week, for ten weeks, while preparing for the test.

  • I can't emphasize this enough: Take an SAT test, as if it were the real deal, once a week. This is the BEST prep activity you can do. Score your test, and redo the questions you missed.

  • Try to eliminate as many wrong or illogical answers as you can, so that if you are going to guess, you can narrow down the number of possibles.

  • SATs - Sentence Completions

    Sentence completion questions on the SATs test two areas of English proficiency, vocabulary and your ability to understand sentence logic.

    • Pay attention to Trigger words and underline them:
      • Because

      • Although

      • In Spite of

      • However

      • Therefore

      • For

      • Hence

      • As a result of

      • Accordingly

      • Nevertheless

      • If...then

      • So...that

      • Due to

      • So that

      • Even though

      • Despite

      • Besides

    • Read each question once and then read it again, trying to put in your own words in the blank(s) words

    • Look for Trigger Clue Words

    • When you don't know the vocabulary words, do a happy/sad test to see how the word sounds to you- negative or positive

    • Read the list of answer choices

    • Mark off words that are obviously not the correct answer

    • Look for two answer choices where the words are synonyms, and then look at their companion words. Only one will fit the question


    The celebrity was the ____________ of _________________elegance because she wore a different outfit for every occasion, and never appeared in the same outfit twice.

    • epitome, sartorial

    • paragon, tawdry

    • purveyer, gastronomic

    • zenith, grandiose

    • dichotomy, extravagant

  • While epitome and zenith mean the same thing, sartorial means finely dressed, and extravagant means spending an insane amount of money. Our celebrity may have been extravagant, but the word meaning finely dressed fits here.

  • This is one of my favorite things that they do, because if it works in the particular sentence completion question, all you have to do is figure out that one word.

  • Be sure, though, to eliminate all incorrect or unlikely answers.


  • On to more SAT tips and strategies:

    SATs - Reading Comprehension

    • Don't fully read the passage unless you are truly a "Speed Reader" with excellent retention.

    • Read the italicized remarks at the top of the passage

    • Read the first few sentences of the first paragraph.

    • Skim over the remainder of the passage, reading the first sentence of each paragraph, and the last.

    • Read the last two sentences of the passage.

    • Read each question thoroughly, underline important, qualifying words.

    • Avoid extreme answers such as: always, never and eliminate any answers that would be offensive to any group of people.

    • Eliminate wrong answers

    • Be able to identify the five kinds of answers provided on the test:

      • Extra Information

      • Off-topic answers

      • Contradicts the author

      • Not relevant to the passage

      • The right answer
    • Answer the "citation" and "word meaning" questions first.

      • If the citation is for "lines 16 to 23, read from about line 12 to line 27.

      • For "word meaning" questions, be sure to read the designated section, frequently the answer will be the second meaning of the word.
    • Answer the General Passage questions after you have answered all the citation and word use questions.

    • For two passage questions:

      a. Do all of Passage I questions, ending with the General Passage Questions, then do all the Passage II questions in the same order as the Passage I questions.

      b. Last, do the questions that refer to BOTH passages.



    SATs - Multiple Choice Writing

    This portion of the test is a bit harder to prepare for. It is a "knowledge-based" test, rather than a test of logic and strategy as you find in the math and Critical Reading portions.

    For those of you preparing for the ACT, this portion of the SAT I is very similar to the corresponding section of the ACT. Hence, we could call it ACTs, SATs-tips and strategies

    It was formerly one of the SATs II Exams, which was incorporated last year into the SAT I test.

    This exam tests your ability to identify sentence errors, and to correct sentence errors and paragraph errors.

    Below is a list of common errors to watch for:

    • Subject- verb agreement

    • Tense agreement of verbs with the other verbs in the sentence

    • Pronoun agreement with the noun it replaces

    • Correct use of adverbs: they modify verbs. For instance, "good" is not an adverb, and saying "You did good." is incorrect.

    • Remember that just because a sentence seems awkward, does not mean it is grammatically incorrect.

    SAT tips and strategies for what some call the toughest part of the test:


    SAT I Essay

    The written essay was new to the SATs in March of 2005. There are some schools that still are not sure what use they will make of the essays.

    • The essay is graded holistically; the readers look at the overall piece of writing.

    • Respond to the prompt, don't stray from the topic, and write an organized essay with an introduction, (hopefully) three example paragraphs and a conclusion.

    • If short of time, write two body paragraphs, but be sure to write BOTH an Introduction and a Conclusion.

    • You can make up your examples. However, these are better sources for examples to analyze (in order of my preferences):

      *Historical events or figures

      *General humanities examples

      *Current events, alone or in the context of the two listed above

      *Literary references, being sure you can tie the reference to the example

      *Personal Experience - If you use personal experiences, be sure you analyze them properly. Remember, "Show not Tell."

    • Write legibly. Let me mention that again: write legibly.

    • Will they mark you down for misspelled words? Not if you have only a few errors here and there.

    • Remember, longer is better on the essay. The readers will accept some misspelled words, a few cross-outs, but if you study the graded essays in the CollegeBoard essay samples, longer is better: Five paragraphs, three examples, and introduction and a conclusion that takes your examples back to your thesis sentence.

    >

    Don't forget SAT tips and strategies when practicing for the essay:


    SATs - Math

    SAT-tips and strategies for the math sections of the exam (there are three math sections).

    Don't think of it as a math test, think of it as a test of logic and strategy.

    Questions like these don't appear in your math book, they are uniques to the SATs.

    The harder they are, BTW, the more you can be sure there is a trick in there somewhere.

    In the math section, the questions appear in three levels of difficulty, in order. At about question 8-10, the questions move easy to moderately difficult, and at about number 15, the questions become hard.

    • Make up numbers and plug them into the variables to solve the problem. ( I never use the numbers -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, when plugging in, unless the question defines a range such as -2< X < 2, because numbers have odd and confusing properties.)

    • Plug in the answers.

    • Use your common sense and try to estimate the answer before you start the problem.

    • Notice that 99.9% of the time, answers are arranged from largest to smallest. Check this carefully, especially with negative numbers as your answer choices.

    • Study the answers in your test problems-they may be one half the correct answer, twice the correct answer, and perhaps the answer you would get by only doing two steps of a three step problem.

    • Medium to hard questions frequently have three steps to them.

    • Practice doing the problems for several weeks ahead of time.

    • Remember this is not a math test, it is a test of logic and strategy.

    • Take time to set up the problem and analyze it.

    • Be sure to read the entire question, underline key words.

    • Leave problems you can't do, or don't understand. Go on and work on the ones you can get right.

    • Learn math vocabulary words such as "mean" "median" and "mode."

    • Pace yourself, and notice where you are in the test: Generally speaking, the first one-third of the test contains easy questions, the middle third questions are of medium difficulty, and the last questions are "hard."

    • Medium to hard questions frequently have three steps to them.

    • Remind yourself, that except for the Student Response Questions, the correct answer is one of the five in the list in front of you. It is right there, and all you have to do is find it!

    Continue on with SAT tips and strategies:


    The Day Before the Test

  • Collect the stuff you'll need to take with you

    • Exam ticket

    • Picture ID

    • Snacks

    • Bottled water

    • Watch (synchronize it with clock in test room)

    • Jacket or sweater

    • Tissues

    • Three to four #2 lead pencils with erasers

    • Extra batteries for your calculator: take four new batteries.

    • Only study if you are concerned about a particular concept or if you wish to review SAT tips and strategies

    • Confirm the location and starting time

    • Get a good night's sleep

    • Mentally prepare yourself to tune out bad Proctors.

  • The Day of the Test

  • Plan to arrive early

  • Eat Breakfast

  • Do about ten warm-up questions to get your brain going. It doesn't matter what questions you do, it's just to help you relax, and get you in the mood

  • LEAVE CELL PHONE AT HOME

  • Take a watch, keep track of time; do not rely on Proctor.

  • Don't discuss the test questions with anyone during breaks, some people cheat by going back in the previously competed sections to change answers

  • If something goes terribly wrong, you have 72 hours to cancel your test. Don't do this on a whim, but projectile vomiting, for instance, would be a valid reason

  • Be prepared for a bad proctor. Here are some examples of less-than-ideal proctoring:

    • Starts late

    • Gives test directions during actual test-taking time

    • Talks during test

    • Uses cell during test

    • Uses clock in back of the room so you have to keep turning around

    • Doesn't tell you that clock in back is three minutes faster than clock in front

    • Read a newspaper, corrects papers, read a book. The Proctor is supposed to be constantly looking at the test takers.

    • Announces that he/she has to leave early, so your break time will be shortened
  • Bad Proctors stories abound. Drop us a line, because it annoys me enough that I collect the proctor horror stories I receive (no names) and send them to the College Board.

  • Breathe while taking the test

  • Don't forget to practice your SAT tips and strategies

  • Good luck!


    Study for the SAT I

    This links you to a plan for a six week program of preparing for the SATs I Exam.

    It tells you how to keep moving, but does not discuss specifics in preparing for each section of the test.

    While you prepare, keep in mind the SAT tips and strategies.


    Speaking of SAT tips and strategies:

    Did you know that you can get the College Board's Official SAT Question of the Day delivered right to your email inbox -- free?

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    Practice SAT tips and strategies: SAT Question of the Day


    Table of Contents for all our SAT pages

    Sign up for the test. Early, to take the test near your home.

    SATs, ACT, SAT Subject Matter

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