By junior or senior year, almost all of us have gained some familiarity with studying for a big test in English or mathematics. While some of this hard-earned experience certainly applies to the SAT, not everything that you know about test preparation will. This three hour and forty-five minute mammoth of an exam is a unique creature — one that can easily confuse and overwhelm test-takers even before they sit down to take it.
Why? Because this unique test calls for a study process that’s unique, too. But before you begin to feel panicked or in over your head, take a look at these five common mistakes to avoid. They’ll help set you on the right path to SAT success.
1. Cramming for the exam. We’ve all done it. Whether “it” was staying up late the evening before an exam or waking up early the morning of one, we all know that scrambling to memorize as much content as possible. Take my word for it — cramming is not the right answer to the SAT. The SAT tests your knowledge of strategies and techniques, not pure information. Memorizing 10,000 vocabulary words the night before is not only next to impossible, it’s harmful. While cramming can increase test anxiety, it’s not liable to increase your overall score.
2. Practicing without a watch handy. Last-minute preparation is not the only time-related error that future test-takers can make. Take this example. You diligently complete all the sentence corrections in a specific section, then review their answers, all while paying close attention to any directions and each response explanation. All set, right? Wrong. Scoring a strong mark on the SAT means doing accurate work in a very limited frame of time. Individuals who never practice their techniques in a structured environment fail to gain experience with one of the most important SAT skills — pacing.
3. Doing a little at a time — always. While completing a problem or two is a fantastic way to kill the five minutes before Chemistry class begins, you shouldn’t make it your one and only study method. With close to 200 questions on the SAT (with a minimum of 40 each in Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing), the test is not a sprint. It’s a marathon (pardon the cliche). Answering just a handful of problems at a time obscures the true scope of the SAT in terms of content, and it prevents you from building the stamina necessary to complete an entire section with focus.
4. Studying just one subject. The best-prepared individuals know their strengths and weaknesses on the SAT. For some, it’s anything having to do with grammar. For others, it’s angles and segment lengths. Once you identify those areas where you struggle, it’s natural to want to devote all your study time to shoring them up. But try to resist that urge. If you devote yourself only to the Writing portion of the test, you rob yourself of gaining important familiarity with the directions, question types, etc. for Critical Reading and Mathematics. Give your trouble spots a little extra attention, but not all of it.
5. Failing to do a whole-exam review. The big day finally arrives. You have several sharpened #2 pencils, as well as a good night’s sleep and weeks or months of preparation behind you. The question is, do you remember the first few subjects you studied? If you haven’t been periodically reviewing all content on the SAT, perhaps by completing a full-length practice test, chances are you don’t. The SAT prep process can be drawn out over quite a bit of time, and the best way to ensure that everything you worked on is fresh is to finish your studies with one final review session. You’ll be grateful for it when your test scores come in!
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