FAQs About The New SAT

As we've already forcefully suggested, you must not take the SAT cold. Yeah, sure, we've heard the stories of the wunderkinds who walked into the exam hung over and pulled a 2400 out of their hats. Someone wins the lottery every week, too. We're not interested in the exceptions here. We're trying to give you the very best shot you have at acing this exam, . . . and like most things, that requires dedication and preparation.

Which Administration Should I Take, and When Should I Start Studying?

So how far out should you start?

Well, the first thing you need to know is when you intend to take the exam. The SAT is offered on Saturday mornings seven times a year: in October, November, December, January, April, May, and June. On those magic Saturdays, the test is offered at various test centers nationwide—most commonly in high schools. The test is also offered on Sundays for individuals whose religious practices preclude testing on Saturday.

We strongly suggest taking the exam at the April, May, or June administration in your junior year. There are a few good reasons for this recommendation. First, most students cover all the math concepts tested on the SAT by their sophomore year, or by their junior year at the latest. The longer you wait after that, the more you'll forget and have to relearn. Second, most students cover grammar and usage during their freshman or sophomore year English classes—so the same argument holds there. Third, if you think you might be applying to one or more schools for early action or early decision, you'll need to have an SAT score on file very early in your senior year. Fourth, you want to give yourself some leeway in case something goes wrong. You could get sick unexpectedly, there could be an illness or a death in the family, or something could go wrong in the test center, requiring you to cancel your score. Do not wait until the last possible administration to take the SAT!!

Do I Really Need to Take an SAT-Prep Course? They're Expensive!!

Yes they are. They're also well worth the expense if you take them seriously.

Whether you actually need to take a prep course from one of the national test preparation centers like the Princeton Review or Kaplan depends a lot on your personal style. Are you self-motivated, or do you need the discipline of a classroom environment and a regular course schedule to keep your preparation on track? Are you disciplined enough to read an SAT-prep book thoroughly, to take sample tests under real-time conditions, and to force yourself to go back and examine the answers you got wrong and to learn the tricks that tripped you up? Or would you rather have the test administered to you, your test computer-analyzed, and a series of questions created for you based on your weaknesses?

How Should I Practice?

Whichever approach you decide to adopt, allot a certain amount of time to SAT preparation every day. Treat it like one of your courses. Learn the types of questions, the tricks, and the traps—there are only so many types of questions on the SAT, and a finite number of ways they can be asked. Don't just drill with questions—analyze your mistakes so you learn from them. Learn to pace yourself so that as you practice, you work up your speed in handling the questions. The biggest reason for disappointing SAT scores is a failure of pacing—and having to guess blindly on a number of unanswered questions at the end of a section.

As you get closer to the actual exam, take two or three practice tests in real time and at the same time the actual exam will be administered. You need to become comfortable with the idea of getting up early and answering questions at eight in the morning. Remember, you want everything about the actual test to feel old hat to you by the time the real thing comes around.

How Do I Register For the Exam?

Hop online, go to www.collegeboard.com, and follow the relevant links. There you will find a list of dates and locations for all administrations of the SAT, all the information and materials you need to register, and even a couple sample exams. Just don't read their propaganda about how the exam cannot be studied for. You know that's wrong. While you're there, sign up for a free account, which will allow you to get your scores online a couple of weeks earlier than everyone else gets theirs by mail.

How Do I Know When I'm Ready?

What you're shooting for is comfort with the exam and familiarity with its directions, its format, its question types, and all the tricks and strategies that you'll learn from your prep course or prep book. If you find yourself smiling during a sample test—recognizing and stepping around trap after trap and employing strategy after strategy to plow through the questions—you know you're there.

If you're taking sample exams under real conditions (that is to say, 3 hours and 45 minutes straight, timing the sections properly and not resting between sections or otherwise getting interrupted) and your scaled scores are in the range of where you need to be for the schools you want to attend, you're ready.

Beating the SAT is not an impossible task. All it takes is the discipline to prepare. Anyone who tells you this exam cannot be studied for, learned, gamed, and beaten is just wrong.

It's really as simple as that.

What Do I Do the Night Before the Exam?

Gather your sharpened number 2 pencils, erasers, calculator, ID, and test pass, and some easy-to-conceal energy-producing food items (Lifesavers, an energy bar, a can of RedBull, whatever) and put everything in a place where you can find it easily. Yeah, yeah . . . we know they say that bringing food into the test center is verboten. We also know that we all did it, and we don't know anyone who has ever been thrown out of an SAT administration for sneaking in some Lifesavers. Just be discrete about it. Jam the can of RedBull during the bathroom break between sections. Stash the Lifesavers unwrapped in a plastic bag in a sweatshirt pocket, and keep a steady stream of sugar going.

Have a favorite meal for dinner, review general strategies one more time, and then relax. Get a good night's sleep, be sure to set an alarm clock and a backup, and be sure to wake up early enough on the morning of the test so that you won't feel rushed.

Have a good breakfast, get to the test site a little bit early, and stay loose. If you've followed our advice, you will be one of the best-prepared people in the room and poised to have a winning day

I Bombed It, I Know It—Should I Cancel My Score?

Okay, listen closely.

No one feels really great about the SAT when he or she leaves. Taking the test is an exhausting experience, and no matter how well prepared you are, you can't help but feel a little nervous about it, given the importance of the exam. The real thing isn't going to feel like a practice test. So don't panic.

Having said that, there are a few good reasons to cancel your score.

If you know you misbubbled on a section and as a result probably got a large number of questions wrong, that's a good reason to cancel.

If you got sick in the exam room and missed time during the exam, that's a good reason to cancel.

If you were sick going into the exam, had a brutal night's sleep before the exam, were hung over coming into the exam, or otherwise know you were way off your game, that might be a good reason to cancel.

If any of these scenarios applies to you, you can either fill out a Test Cancellation Form before you leave the testing room or notify ETS within three business days (by Wednesday) after the administration.

If you just feel nervous about your performance, though, that's not good enough. I left the test center feeling concerned about my performance on the SAT and ended up doing very well. My experience seems to be common. Trust yourself. Unless you can point to a specific reason why you know your performance wasn't up to snuff, leave it alone.

When Will I Receive My Score?

It will take approximately six weeks to get the results. Your scores will be automatically sent to you and up to four colleges you identified on your registration form. You have to send score reports to every college you apply to anyway, so you might as well take advantage of this free service. You can request score reports for additional colleges on the Internet by going to www.collegeboard.com and following the relevant links. At press time, these reports cost $6.50 each. At the busiest times of the year, it can take up to a month for the College Board to mail out these reports after you request them, so be sure to plan ahead—particularly if you are applying early action or early decision and have a deadline looming.

Yes, if you screw up, you can pay your way out. Call the College Board at (800) 728-7267 with credit card in hand, pay them the $23.00 penalty plus $6.50 per report, and they'll mail out reports to anyone you want within two business days.

I Performed Below My Expectations—Should I Take the Test Again?

It depends on what you're talking about.

If you were expecting a 2100 and ended up with a 2080, no, you should not take the exam again—unless of course, you commit to another program of study that gives you reason to feel that you'll raise your score by 50 points or more. If, in contrast, you were expecting something around a 2100 based on your sample tests and you ended up with a 1950, now maybe you have reason to revisit the exam.

First, call two or three of your top-choice schools and find out what they do with multiple SAT scores. Will they just look at the highest one, or will they average your scores? If they average the scores, you'd have to do substantially better the second time around in order for an averaged score to make a meaningful impact on your application.

If you do decide to take the exam again, don't just reload and fire away at the next possible administration (unless, of course, you have no other options). If the administration you took is one of the ones where answers and reasons are provided, ask for that feedback and study where you went wrong. Learn from those mistakes and figure out how to recognize and correct them. Then go back, drill with those kinds of questions, take more sample tests, and then take another shot.

Review: The Ten Things To Remember About The SAT

  1. In the fall of your junior year, go to the College Board's Web site (www.collegeboard.com), research the schedule of spring SATs, and figure out which one you are going to take.
  2. Begin preparing for the exam four to six months before your chosen date.
  3. Register for an SAT-prep course or use a prep book, but in either case, study actively; learn the question types and strategies for each of them; and track, catalogue, study, and learn from your mistakes.
  4. About a week before the exam, start getting up early and doing banks of SAT questions to get yourself in the habit.
  5. On the day before the exam, stop studying and try to relax. There is nothing you can do to "cram" for the SAT, and if you've been studying diligently all along, there is nothing that you should need to do on the last day.
  6. On the night before the exam, gather together your number 2 pencils, eraser, calculator, ID, test pass, and secret stash of energy food, and put it all together in one place so that you can simply grab it on your way out in the morning.
  7. Have a good dinner and get a good night's sleep.
  8. Have a good breakfast and arrive at the test center early. If you have the option to choose a seat, choose one in the back corner of the room away from the windows.
  9. Force yourself to stay on schedule. The biggest mistake students make on the SAT is spending too much time on a stumper and then running out of time.
  10. Don't cancel your score unless you got sick during the exam, know you misbubbled, or know for certain that you had to guess on an inordinate number of questions due to timing problems.

 Additional Resources

Kaplan SAT Review Course (offered in cities worldwide)

The Princeton Review SAT Course (offered in cities worldwide)

Gruber, Gary R. Gruber's Complete Preparation for the New SAT. New York: HarperResource (annually)

KAPLAN, SAT Premier Program, Kaplan, Inc. (annually)

Princeton Review. Cracking the New SAT. New York: Random House (annually)