The Ten SAT Commandments
The Ten SAT Commandments
Our ten SAT commandments may seem obvious, but breaking any of them can undermine an otherwise perfect preparation and testing strategy. The Commandments are about the basics, the simple fundamental SAT laws that you need to get right before you learn all the test-preparation and strategy stuff that fills up the rest of this book. Here they are:
  1. Thou shalt go to the correct test center.
  2. Thou shalt bring lots of no. 2 pencils.
  3. Thou shalt check your calculator batteries.
  4. Thou shalt be careful filling in your answers.
  5. Thou shalt know the instructions for each section.
  6. Thou shalt use your test booklet as scratch paper.
  7. Thou shalt answer easy questions first.
  8. Thou shalt avoid carelessness.
  9. Thou shalt bring bread and water.
  10. Thou shalt relax!
1. Thou shalt go to the correct test center.
When you register for the SAT, you’ll register to take the test at a particular test center. Make sure you go to the correct center on test day. If you go to the wrong one, you’ll be put on a standby list, just like at the airport. If any free seats remain, you’ll be able to take the test. But if not, you won’t. (Yes, people really do make this kind of error: Ben, co-author of this fine book, actually managed to go to the wrong test center for his SAT. There were two test centers in his hometown, and he went to the wrong one. He got lucky and got a standby seat.)
2. Thou shalt bring lots of no. 2 pencils.
Zero pencils is not enough. One pencil is not enough. Two pencils is not enough because pencils break easily, and you don’t want to waste time sharpening. Three pencils, minimum, is enough. But why stop there? Bring five. Bring ten! You could always share them with your desperate, broken-penciled friends.
3. Thou shalt check your calculator batteries.
True, the chances are low that your calculator will give out on you during the test. But do you really want to take that chance? Think of the embarrassment. Think of your brutally lower math scores. Think of Justin’s cousin Jeff, whose calculator died mid-SAT, forcing him to abandon his score sheet and to retake the test on the day of his sister’s college graduation. This particular type of SAT tragedy can be avoided. Get a new calculator, or get new batteries.
4. Thou shalt be careful filling in your answers.
The SAT scoring computer is an unintelligent, merciless machine. It has no soul. If you answered a question correctly, but somehow made a mistake in marking your answer grid, the computer will mark that question wrong. If you manage to skip question 5, but put the answer to question 6 in row 5, and the answer to question 7 in row 6, and so on, thereby throwing off your answers for an entire section . . . well, that’s why humans invented the word catastrophe.
It’s amazing how often this happens under the time pressures of the SAT. But there’s a foolproof method to ensure it doesn’t happen to you: Talk to yourself. As you fill in the answer sheet, say to yourself: “number 23, B; number 24, E; number 25, A.” But do it quietly. You don’t want to give your answers to the entire room.
5. Thou shalt know the instructions for each section.
The SAT is a timed test, and every second counts. Why waste time reading the instructions when you can know them inside out before the test? Just know what they say and what you have to do for each type of question on the test. Then you can skip right over them on the real test.
6. Thou shalt use your test booklet as scratch paper.
For some reason, certain students seem to think they have to keep their test booklets clean and pretty. You don’t. When you finish taking the SAT, your test booklet is thrown away, recycled, and used to make egg cartons. So write all over that thing. Cross out answer choices. Mark questions you want to skip and come back to. Underline important statements. Draw sketches. Write equations. Thinking through problems, especially math problems, is easier when you have something to look at.
But, because the SAT is a timed test, and since your work doesn’t matter, there’s no reason to do more work than necessary to solve a problem. Speed matters on the SAT, so don’t try to impress the test with excellent work. Do only what you have to do to ensure that you get the right answer.
7. Thou shalt answer easy questions first.
You’re allowed to skip around within any timed section on the test. So if you’re in the first Critical Reading section of the test, you could skip between Sentence Completions, short Reading Comps, and long Reading Comps. And since all questions, easy or hard, are worth the same number of points regardless of difficulty, it makes sense to answer the questions you find easier first and save the more time-consuming, difficult questions for later. This way you’ll be sure to accumulate as many points as possible. You’ll also make sure that you’ve at least glanced at every question on the test and aren’t giving away points.
While taking seven minutes to solve a particularly nasty Sentence Completion may feel like a moral victory, it’s quite possible that you could have used that same time to answer three other short Reading Comp questions. Do not be scared to skip a question that’s giving you a lot of trouble—just remember to mark it so you can come back to it if you have time at the end.
8. Thou shalt avoid carelessness.
There are actually two kinds of carelessness: The Fast and the Faithless. Both can cost you precious points on the SAT. Here’s a bit more detail about each.
The Fast
The first type of carelessness comes from moving too fast. In speeding through the test, you make yourself vulnerable to misinterpreting the question, overlooking one of the answer choices, or simply making a mathematical or logical mistake. The SAT is filled with traps that prey on the speedy.
The Faithless
The second type of carelessness results from lack of confidence. Lots of students are so nervous about the SAT that they lose faith in themselves as soon as they encounter a tough question. They just assume they won’t be able to get the correct answer. Never assume you won’t be able to answer a question without looking at it and giving it a moment’s thought.
9. Thou shalt bring bread and water.
The old SAT was a long, exhausting test, and the new SAT is even longer and probably more exhausting. You’ll feel like a prisoner, stripped of your freedom for almost half a day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring something along to eat and drink. You definitely can’t be swigging back Gatorade during the test itself, but you will have a few breaks in between sections so you can do stuff like go to the bathroom, eat an apple, and chug down some high-octane SAT protein powder or whatever concoction you create to give yourself energy. Just be sure to bring some fuel to power you throughout the test.
10. Thou shalt relax!
The SAT is almost always portrayed as a harrowing, life-ruining stressfest. Countless magazine articles depict helpless teenagers holding their heads in panic, sweat pouring down their foreheads as they take the test. That does not have to be you. That shouldn’t be you.
One of the best things you can do to chill out before the test is take the night before it off completely. That might sound crazy, but if you’ve spent weeks or even months in advance preparing for the test, you don’t have to cram or panic. You’ve done all that you can do to ready yourself for the SAT and nothing you do the night before will likely make any difference. So take it easy. Go see a movie or get together with friends. Clearing your head before the test will put you in a strong position to take it on with confidence early the next morning.
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