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Beating the New SAT: FAQs and Ten Things To Know

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on May 1, 2014

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.

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