Beating the New SAT: A Look at the Format (page 5)
There is simply no getting around it: the SAT is a critical component of your college application. Get a bad score on the SAT, and, practically speaking, you completely take yourself out of the running at the most competitive schools, and you probably put yourself behind the eight ball even at schools where you expected to be competitive.
Like it or not, the SAT is used as the "great equalizer," the one standard measuring tool that almost every student takes, whether he or she goes to the top-ranked boarding school in the country or the poorest public high school with the fewest available resources. And like it or not, the data continue to confirm that performance on the SAT does, in fact, predict future performance in college better than any other factor used in the admissions process.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that the test is not that difficult—and it can be prepared for and "gamed" for maximum performance.
You Must Prepare For The SAT
The first question most students ask when confronted with the specter of the SAT is, "What is the best way to prepare for the exam?" And in response, many people will tell you that if you're a good student and you've studied hard throughout junior high and high school, you should just get a good night's sleep and treat the exam like any other exam you've taken up to this point.
Those people are dead wrong. Don't listen to them.
"You must study for the SAT. Don't believe the people who tell you that you will do well because you are naturally 'bright,'" Carolyn warns. "This is absolutely a test that you can and should prepare for, and very often, that preparation will make a big difference."
"Given that comfort and confidence are, in my opinion, the hallmarks of a successful test taker, taking practice tests and learning from them is the most effective preparation," Chase advises. "Practice tests give the test taker confidence about timing and working through difficult problem types. By the date of the test, I knew that nothing strange or unexpected was going to leap out at me. I was comfortable that I could answer the questions in the time allowed, and I had developed a methodology for solving the problems that used to stump me."
Studying and preparing for the SAT means you should either take a review course—which will force you to learn the exam, the different question types featured on the exam, and the different strategies for handling these questions, and will also force you to drill with the questions until you master them—or at a minimum, buy an SAT strategy course in book form and drill with that.
This exam is not like any other exam you've taken to this point. Sure, you've taken standardized tests before, and you may have taken the PSAT, and you may have even done really well on them. That's all well and good.
This test is different. It counts. A lot. In fact, it counts so much that if you shank it, it can ruin three years of great work in high school, and if you really ace it, it can make up for some subpar performances in high school.
"Okay, okay," you say. "I get it. The exam is important. I have to study for it. So what the hell am I supposed to do to get ready for it? And how far ahead should I start preparing for it? And what's on it, anyway?"
Glad you asked. We'll start with the format.
The Format Of The New SAT
The format of the SAT changed in March 2005, thus garnering the moniker the "New" SAT. And this new arrival is not your big brother's SAT. The analogies from the Verbal section are gone, as are the quantitative comparison questions from the Math section. In fact, the whole Verbal section has been reconfigured and renamed the Critical Reading section. Oh, and there is a whole new Writing section too.
Length and Scoring
The New SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes in length—45 minutes longer than the old exam—primarily due to the addition of the new Writing section. The scoring range (200-800) is the same, but you will now receive three scores (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing); thus a top score on the SAT is now 2400, rather than 1600. The average New SAT score is about 1500, or 500 per section. In addition to this score, you will receive a percentile rank for each section, which will tell you how you scored relative to the other students who took that administration of the exam. So, for example, if you got a 780 on the Math section and scored in the 98th percentile, that means you scored better than 98 percent of the other students on that section of the exam.
The Math Section
The Math section of the exam is 70 total minutes in length and is broken down into three sections typically comprising twenty multiple-choice questions (25 minutes); eighteen questions, including ten free-response questions (25 minutes); and sixteen multiple-choice questions (20 minutes). Topics covered in the Math section of the New SAT include number series and operations, Algebra I, Algebra II, functions, geometry, statistics, probability, and data analysis. These subject areas break down further into the following general categories of questions: fractions, even-odd relationships, factors, exponents, percentages, equations, angles, parallel lines, triangle geometry, circle geometry, geometry of other shapes and figures, number lines, coordinates, inequalities, and averages.
The Critical Reading Section
The Critical Reading section of the exam, also 70 minutes in length, tests skills through sixty-seven questions, all of which are multiple choice. Topics covered on the Critical Reading section include sentence completion and short and long reading comprehension passages. The sentence completion questions require you to "fill in the blanks" in a sentence from a list of choices provided, testing your mastery of vocabulary, usage, and context. The reading comprehension questions come in six flavors: (1) short passages of 60-120 words followed by two questions; (2) paired short passages followed by four questions asking you to compare and contrast the arguments contained therein; (3) long passages of 400-550 words followed by five to seven questions; (4) longer passages of 550-700 words followed by eight to ten questions; (5) a "mega" passage of 650-850 words followed by thirteen questions; and (6) paired long passages followed by thirteen questions asking you to compare and contrast the arguments contained therein.
The Writing Section
The new Writing section of the exam, which is 60 minutes in length, features forty-nine multiple-choice questions and one essay broken down into three sections. The first section, which runs 25 minutes in length, requires you to construct an essay and measures your ability to define, support, and effectively communicate a position. According to the New SAT's own scoring guide, the best of these essays (the ones that achieve the highest score) will (1) "effectively and insightfully develop a point of view on the issue and demonstrate outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position"; (2) "be well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas"; (3) "exhibit skillful use of language, using a varied, accurate and apt vocabulary"; (4) "demonstrate meaningful variety in sentence structure"; and (5) be "free of most errors in grammar, usage and mechanics."
The second section, which runs 25 minutes in length, will require you to identify grammatical errors and improve grammatical structure in sentences and passages by selecting the appropriate correction from a multiple-choice list provided. The third section, which runs 10 minutes in length, will again ask you to improve grammatical sentence structure.
The essay is assigned a subscore between 2 and 12; the multiple-choice questions are assigned a score between 20 and 80; and the entire section is scaled to the familiar 200-800 range.
The Experimental Section
As before, there is also an experimental section on the exam, which can be in any of the three sections (Writing, Critical Reading, or Math). The experimental section is designed to road-test questions before they are actually used on future exam administrations, and as such, does not count toward your score. Although you will be able to determine, based on the appearance of an extra set of questions, which section (Writing, Critical Reading, or Math) contained your experimental questions, there is no good way to determine which of the two sets of questions in that section was the experimental set—nor should you try to do so. Simply do the best you can on every section of the exam and let the chips fall where they may.
Format Overview and Example
The SAT has many different formats, even in the same test room during the same administration (where the sections contain the same questions but are ordered differently in different test booklets to discourage cheating), so the order of sections can vary from person to person. The only thing you can reliably count on is that the New SAT will always comprise ten sections, the 25-minute essay section will always be the first section on the exam, and the 10-minute multiple-choice writing section will always be last. Other than that, the sections can come in any order, and the experimental section can be slipped in anywhere on the exam.
To help you better understand how the exam is organized, here is a sample format from a recent administration of the New SAT:
||Number of Questions|
|1. Writing (essay)||25 minutes||One essay topic|
|2. Math||25 minutes||
|3. Critical Reading||25 minutes||
|4. Math||25 minutes||20 total
20 multiple choice
|5. Writing||25 minutes||35 total
11 sentence improvement
18 grammar/usage errors
6 passage revision
|6. Math||25 minutes||18 total
8 multiple choice
10 student produced
|7. Critical Reading||25 minutes||24 total
4 based on paired short passages
6 based on long passage
5 based on long passage
9 based on longer passage
|8. Math||20 minutes||16 total
16 multiple choice
|9. Critical Reading||20 minutes||19 total
6 sentence completion
13 based on paired long passages
|10. Writing||10 minutes||14 total
14 sentence improvement
Given what you know about the basic format of the New SAT, you can deduce that one of the twenty-question multiple-choice math sections (either section 2 or section 4) was the experimental section on this exam, but of course, you have no way of knowing which one it was.
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)
Campus Confidential Mentors and Uber-Mentors:
Campus Confidential contains the collective advice of a a diverse group of people who have traveled the road to college. Some are recent college graduates who can counsel you on the college experience as it is today. Other are a few years removed from their college days and can provide a longer view of the decisions you will need to make before, during, and after college. Here is a little bit about the mentors and uber-mentors in these articles.
Dan Bissell – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College cum laude, 1993. Major: Geology
M. D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Adler Scholar, 2002
Tom Teh Chiu – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Brooklyn, New York
B. A. Yale University, 1993. Major: double major in Chemistry and Music
M. M. Juilliard School, 1995
M Juilliard School, 2001
Jim Bright – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
B. A. Duke University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: History
Amanda Cramer – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Paso Robles, California
B.A. Cornell University Phi Beta Kappa, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Graduate study in food science – Enology, University of California at Davis 1997-2000
Zoe Robbins – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B.A. (1) Wellesley College magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1997. Major: Economics
B.A. (2) University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Major: Nursing
Carolyn Koegler – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
Hopkinton, New Hampshire
B. A. Tufts University, cum laude, 1993. Double major: History and Spanish
Erik Norton – Campus Confidential Uber-Mentor
B. A. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993. Major: Mathematics
Lyndsee Dickson – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.A. New York University, cum laude, 2004. Major: East Asian studies
Kevin Donovan – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Boston College, honors in the major, 1993. Major: English, Minor: Creative Writing
Tiffany Chan – Campus Confidential Mentor
Concord, New Hampshire
B.S. New York University, 2005. Major: Communication Science
Erica Eubanks – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Tennessee State University, National Deans List, 2003. Major: Criminal Justice
Dave Irwin – Campus Confidential Mentor
B.A. Middlebury College departmental honors, 2004. Major: American Civilization, Minor: Education
Chase Johnson – Campus Confidential Mentor
B. A. Duke University, with Phi Alpha Theta distinction in history, 2005. Major: History
Aaron Paskalis – Campus Confidential Mentor
West Point Military Academy, then transferred to UMass Amherst
B. A. University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2005. Major: Legal studies
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