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    Thread: Ask me about the SAT

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      Ask me about the SAT

      It's around that time of year, eh, seniors?

      During high school I worked part time as an SAT tutor and I know the test inside out. I have scored perfect 800s in math and writing, and 730 in critical reading (not quite inside-out enough, I suppose). I'd be happy to answer any questions about studying, scoring, or whatever else.

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      I'll just belt out questions, seeing as nobody else had picked this up.

      - Are the books really effective and/or necessary for studying?
      - How long should I study each day?
      - What are the best habits for doing well?
      - How is the test scored?
      - Is the SAT really any different from the ACT?
      - Which areas should I study harder for? (Need to do well in the Math section, but it'd be nice to know if more effort is needed for other parts)

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      Quote Originally Posted by DreamscapeGoat View Post
      I'll just belt out questions, seeing as nobody else had picked this up.

      - Are the books really effective and/or necessary for studying?
      The short answer is yes, you need to get the Official SAT Study Guide ("the blue book"). That is the only book that's truly necessary, though some students may benefit from going through other books, too.

      Long answer: to raise your score what you absolutely need are not books per se, but official practice tests. There is one free one online:

      Free SAT Practice Test - Prepare for the SAT

      But then to get more you should get the official study guide:

      The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition: The College Board: 9780874478525: Amazon.com: Books

      Which contains 10 official practice tests, which is plenty for most students. It's important to only use official practice tests created by the maker of the actual SAT because you want your practice tests to be as close to the real thing as possible.

      Aside from getting practice tests, books can also help if you need to brush up on your knowledge of certain math concepts and such. For example, if you don't know the Pythagorean Theorem, you are going to need to learn it, and you should at least go through the math section of the blue book and see what other concepts you need to brush up on.

      The good news is: the range of actual knowledge tested on the SAT is pretty small. So filling in your knowledge gaps shouldn't take too long. After you do that, you get to the real battle: learning to adapt your knowledge to the test and get a feel for the test's nuances. In that stage, what you need to do is take official practice tests, get questions wrong, find out why you got them wrong and how to get them right, and then in the future you will see similar questions and you will answer them correctly. That's the crux of it. If, doing practice tests, you ever hit a brick wall and don't seem to be improving, you might consider getting some other books to address your problems. But I find that this usually isn't necessary and that nine times out of ten your time is better spent doing more practice tests.

      - How long should I study each day?
      That depends on your baseline score, the score you're aiming for, and how much time you have. Statistically speaking, most students have a baseline score of somewhere between 1500 and 1550 and most students I've helped are happy with something better than an 1800. In that case, fifty hours total tends to be more than enough and I have seen some students go from the 1500s to over 2000 with 50 hours of study. They usually look horrified when I mention the 50 hour number but then we draw up a schedule and it comes out to something like one hour on Saturday and one hour on Sunday and you take the test in about six months. Of course you need to always monitor progress and some students do end up needing more time.

      - What are the best habits for doing well?
      First, relax. Many, many students "freak out" during the test and can't think. Practicing beforehand helps to build confidence so that they can avoid this. Also, you should take the test for the first time during your junior year so that "if I totally bomb it I still have a ton of time to improve". That seems to help with stress, too. Sleep well, eat well, and so on. When the test is getting close, you should take one or two practice tests under strict testing conditions. This means you set aside four hours one day to take an entire test, you use a stopwatch and don't let yourself go over time, you take breaks that are only as long as they are on the actual test, and you take the sections in order.

      On the actual test:
      • Keep your eye on the clock (many, if not most students don't complete most sections)
      • On the math and writing sections, answer the easy questions that you can answer right away first and skip the hard ones. Go back to the hard ones when you get to the end. (on the reading section, questions should be done in order because blocks of questions all relate to one reading passage)
      • Be mindful of keeping your bubblesheet and the test question number in sync. If you're answering question 14, make sure you're bubbling a circle in the row for question 14. Often a student will bubble their answer for question 14 in the row for question 15, then their answer for question 15 in the row for question 16, and so on. At best this wastes a lot of time when you notice the mistake, at worse you don't notice it and it demolishes your score.
      • If you don't know the answer but you can eliminate at least one of the possible answers, then guess on the remaining answers. If you can't eliminate any possible answers, then you can leave it blank or you can guess, your choice. Statistically, you should end up with the same final score either way (more on that below)


      - How is the test scored?
      The first section is an essay section where you get a short prompt and you have to write an essay in response. Your answer is graded by two graders, each of whom assigns a score of 1-6 inclusive. These scores are added together so your final essay score is 2 - 12. It is actually possible to get a zero, but only if you write nothing or nearly nothing. If the two graders' scores are more than one point different (for example, a 3 and a 5), then the essay is instead graded by an expert grader who has the final say.

      On the other sections, the questions are all multiple choice except for some math questions which require an exact answer. On the multiple choice questions, getting a question right earns you 1 point and getting a question wrong subtracts .25 points from your score. On the exact answer questions, a correct score earns 1 point and an incorrect score 0 points so it never hurts to guess on them.

      There is a reason why getting a question wrong subtracts .25 points from your score. On multiple choice questions, you get 5 possible answers to choose from, so if you guess completely on a question you have a 20% chance of getting it right. So if you guess completely on 5 questions you will probably get 1 right and 4 wrong. This comes out to 1 point for the correct answer and -.25 points for each of the 4 wrong answers, so you end up with 1 - .25 - .25 - .25 - .25 = 0 points. So guessing completely should not change your score, statistically speaking. If you're feeling lucky you can guess, if you're not you can leave it blank.

      However, if you can eliminate one possible answer, your chance of guessing correctly goes up to 1 in 4 or 25%. Then, if you guess on 4 questions, each of which you could eliminate one answer for, you will probably get 1 right and 3 wrong. Then your score comes out to 1 - .25 - .25 - .25 = .25 points, which is more than you would have gotten if you had just left them all blank (0 points).

      Anyway, your score is added up for each section, and you get 1 point for correct answers, -.25 for incorrect answers, and 0 for omitted answers. Then each of the three reading sections are added together, and then each of the three writing sections, and each of the three math sections. This gives you your respective raw scores in math, writing, and critical reading. If any of these scores are not integers, they are rounded to the nearest integer, so a 40.25 becomes a 40, but a 40.5 or a 40.75 becomes a 41.

      The raw scores are then scaled based on how difficult the College Board judges the test portion to be relative to that portion in other testing sessions. For example, if you get a raw score of 60 on a difficult critical reading portion, you might get a 750 scaled score. But if you get a raw score of 60 on an easy critical reading portion, you might get a 720. Between reading, writing, and math, the test can be a mix-and-match of difficulties. The test you take might have a hard math portion, a medium writing portion, and an easy critical reading portion.

      It's worth nothing that since the ease of the test is taken into account in scoring, you should get the same scaled score on an easy section as you would on a hard section.

      Also, it's commonly rumored that the test is harder to score well on in certain months because all of the smart kids take it in those months. This is not true, the scaling of scores is meant to ensure that this doesn't happen. Your score is not based on how you did relative to other people in your testing session.

      The scaling of writing scores deserves special mention because of the essay. Last I knew the College Board does not publish exactly how the essay factors in, but I've seen it said that it's about 1/3 of your writing score. I don't know where that number comes from and in my experience that sounds high. Usually, if you get every multiple choice question right and a 9/12 on the essay, you will get an 800.

      - Is the SAT really any different from the ACT?
      I can't answer this from experience but the consensus seems to be that yes, it really is quite different. The ACT is said to be more knowledge based while the SAT is more reasoning based. If you're very smart but you don't pay much attention in school, the SAT may be a better choice. But if you're great in school and you retain skills that you've learned very well, the ACT may be a better choice. It doesn't hurt to take both, many students do much better on one than the other.

      - Which areas should I study harder for? (Need to do well in the Math section, but it'd be nice to know if more effort is needed for other parts)
      Short answer: it depends.

      It depends mostly on the colleges you're aiming for and your major. If you want to go into engineering then you should put extra effort into math until your math score is very high. If you're going to a liberal arts school to study English, you'll probably want to work more on reading and writing (many schools don't put much weight on your writing score, though, and some ignore it outright, so if you have a particular college in mind you should find out how much they value writing).

      But you shouldn't neglect the other sections to get your score high in one. If you get an 800 on math and 350 in reading you're still going to have a tough time getting into a decent engineering school. To get a good idea of what scores get people into specific colleges, you can check out the College Board website. For example, random example, Georgia Tech: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/c...-of-technology if you go down to "Applying", click that, then click the "SAT & ACT Scores" tab, you will see the following score ranges:

      SAT Critical Reading: 600 - 700
      SAT Math: 660 - 760
      SAT Writing: 610 - 700

      The first number in each range is the score that 25% of the freshman class scored worse than, the second number is the score that 25% of the freshman class scored better than. 50% of the freshman class fell in between. The general rule is, if your score is better than the first number, it's not hurting you, and if it's worse than the second number, it's not really helping you either. If you are in between the two numbers then you are about average for that school and that's fine as long as the rest of your application (recommendations, GPA, essay) are average or better, too. If you score above the second number, great! That gives you a boost.

      It's also worth nothing that math tends to be the easiest section to improve, writing the second easiest, and reading the hardest by a good margin. So if you have a 500 in math and a 500 in reading and you want to get to 700 in both, you will have to spend a lot more time on reading, probably.

      Thanks for the good questions hope that helped
      Last edited by Whatsnext; 01-10-2014 at 05:27 AM.
      DreamscapeGoat and Zoth like this.

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