Taking the SAT: Do’s and Dont’s

It’s standardized test season again, and that means anxiety for many juniors and seniors. The pressure to get a high score can sometimes cause you to perform more poorly on the exam than you’re capable. Here’s a list of advice for those sitting for the SAT tomorrow; these easy-to-remember tips will help you keep your cool and perform your best.

What to Do

  1. Arrive early. Finding your seat and collecting yourself before the test goes a long way. Think positive thoughts and get psyched to flex your knowledge! You need to be in the best mindset possible for all your diligent studying to pay off.
  2. Read instructions and questions carefully. Look for negative words (for example, “Choose which answer does not apply” or “Choose the false answer”). This includes listening to the proctor’s instructions; that long speech he/she reads before you begin has necessary information that you might miss if you’re worrying about the test to come.
  3. Pay attention to time allotments and how much time has passed. Try to find the right pace for you (not for your neighbor) and stay on track. Know which sections have the highest question-to-time ratio and keep at a good clip.
  4. Read all multiple choice sections as if they didn’t give you any possible answers. Looking at the question from this perspective will help you think more logically and clearly.
  5. If you see two similar answers, it’s likely that one of them is the correct one. Test takers like to “disguise” the correct choice by placing it with one that’s not quite right.


What NOT to Do

  1. Don’t let other test-takers distract you. If you let the nose-blowing, coughing, and pencil-tapping grab your attention, you lose focus and valuable time. Get in your zone and concentrate, tuning out distractions. Similarly, don’t get spooked by the pace of those around you. That guy flying through the questions will likely miss important details by speed-reading.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for patterns. Yes, it is possible to have four “C” answers in a row. Don’t let it faze you! Right answers are right answers, no matter what order they’re in.
  3. Don’t guess unless you have at least a 50/50 chance. The SAT docks ¼ of a point for each incorrect answer, a penalty is designed to keep wild guessers from getting unearned points. It’s only worth it to guess if you can eliminate two or more answers.


Reading Comprehension Tips

  1. Don’t give in to speed reading. With a lot of material or a long prompt, it’s tempting to scan through—but by doing this, you will miss important instructions or key complexities in the text. You can rarely get the main idea of a passage from simply skimming.
  2. Reread complex sentences or a paragraph that seems important. Take your time and make sure you really understand what the passage says.
  3. Ask yourself after each section: “What does this mean?” Try paraphrasing it in your own words. This will help make sure you’re understanding the main ideas and also help you formulate your introduction when you write about the passage.


Essay Question Tips

  1. Do some prewriting!!! Your teachers didn’t make you do drafts and outlines for nothin’. When you’re pressed for time, it seems like this should be the first thing to go; however, a completely improvised essay is not cohesive or organized, and test graders can spot them from a mile away. Writing an outline will keep your thoughts organized and consistent as you write.
  2. Paraphrase the question in the introduction. This will show that you understand the prompt and the passage’s main ideas and that you’re not just copying the text word for word.
  3. Use legible handwriting. Your print might suffer when you’re rushing, but it’s a much greater detriment if the grade can’t read what you wrote! Take the time to write neatly and avoid smudging or heavily crossing out words.

We hope this advice will help you on your test-taking journey. Remember, there are always opportunities to take the test again if the anxiety get the best of you. But if you remain calm, focused, and positive, you will perform to the best of your ability on the SAT and any other standardized test you face. Good luck, test takers!

(For more tips, visit Tips for Taking Standardized Tests or Standardized Test Taking Tips.)

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