Dos and Don'ts of SAT Prep, From a Student Who Scored a 1560

With standardized testing season in full swing, I’m sure you’re being bombarded with testing advice. I remember feeling pulled in a million directions by conflicting advice while preparing for my first SAT. From family to older friends to online sources, it seemed like there were too many ways to approach this test. Even more confusing was choosing the right one. 

Now a sophomore at Northwestern, I think I’ve ironed out what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t. Funnily enough, some of the popular test taking strategies worked horrendously for me; tips from online don’t necessarily translate to the perfect test-taking strategy. If you’re having trouble deciding what works best, here are some of my test-taking recommendations. 

DON’T: Do every single practice problem available to you. 

DO: Target your practice to areas of improvement. 

While it’s true that practice makes perfect, not all practice is created equal. When I first started studying for the SAT, I thought I needed to cram in every practice problem I could get my hands on. Not only is this overwhelming, it’s also ineffective. 

What worked for me was taking one full practice test to first identify my areas of improvement. After taking this test, I knew I could knock out the non-calculator math section with ease, but I struggled on the literary narrative passage of the reading section. So, I targeted my practice for this section of the exam, making sure I took extra time to do problems and identify my mistakes. 

Instead of wasting time and energy on the sections you know you’ll excel on, reallocate time to sections you may be struggling with. 

DON’T: Spend hours memorizing facts and formulas. 

DO: Spend time fine-tuning the skills the exam is assessing. 

Unlike many tests in high-school, the SAT isn’t asking you to memorize and regurgitate. Rather, the test aims to assess critical thinking and problem solving. Though certain sections like math or writing require knowledge of specific topics and formulas, these questions comprise a small portion of the test. If you’re consistently forgetting a formula or grammar-rule, commit some time to remembering it, but keep in mind that a bulk of the test involves problem solving and applying those concepts. 

Your time might be better spent analyzing the types of questions you tend to get wrong. What skills are these questions trying to address? What can you do to practice these skills? 

DON’T: Cram the night before. 

DO: Space out your most intense studying throughout the week and rest the night before. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I spent some late nights at my kitchen table with flashcards in a last ditch effort to cram before a test, but this never flew for the SAT. Three hours long, this test is one of stamina and you should rest accordingly. Realistically, a few hours of studying the night before the exam won’t make a difference, but the extra rest will. 

With the next SAT testing date a couple of months away, I hope this guide was helpful in clarifying the popular advice that doesn’t quite work. There’s a lot of test-taking advice floating around as testing season approaches- find what works for you and run with it! Happy studying. 

By: Preeta Kamat, Student Writer


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