Test-Taking Strategies
Emergency Study Plans
What If I Have Only a Month to Prepare?
Don’t panic. First ask yourself whether you have to take the test right now. If this is your last chance to take the SAT before your application deadlines, you’ll have to bear down. Here’s a good mantra for you: it is what it is. Deal with it—you actually have less time for the luxury of anxiety.
First take a full-length test in testlike conditions to generate a baseline score. Then spend more time honing your strengths than trying to boost your weaknesses. Concentrate on thinking strategically about your study plan. Here’s an extended example of what we mean:
You take a full-length test and get a 620 on Math, a 480 on Critical Reading, and a 550 on Writing. Be strategic about investing your time on the most high-yield areas. Basically, you’re flying a Bombing Run on your study time. Study how you did in Math. You’re scoring well. Is there a discrete concept or set of concepts you’re missing out on, for example, functions? If so, master that. You’ll raise your score with little effort.
Do the same kind of thinking for the other two sections. What’s the least time-consuming, simplest item type in Critical Reading? Sentence Completions. Focus on those first, followed by Short Reading Passages, then Long Reading Passages. With so little time left to prepare, you are better off acing Sentence Completions first, then turning to Reading Passages if you have time.
For Writing, don’t even worry about Improving Paragraphs. It’s the highest investment item type. Concentrate on the sentence-level items: Identifying Sentence Errors and Improving Sentences. As far as the Essay goes, concentrate on organizing and planning for a few minutes before writing. That will almost certainly raise your score.
You also want to focus on the basic test-taking strategies. Learn how to fly Bombing Runs and use the wrong-answer penalty to your advantage. Remember, you don’t necessarily need to know the correct answer to answer it.
Finally, take a full-length test the week before test day.
What If I Have Only a Week to Prepare?
Do you really have to take the test? If the answer isn’t “Yes, absolutely! This is my last chance!” then put it off.
However, if you’re stuck, basically follow an accelerated version of the plan outlined above, but spend even more time on honing strategies, especially Bombing Runs, to maximize the knowledge you already have. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck by mastering test-taking strategies at this point than by spending a day learning all about triangles.
So take a practice full-length test to get a baseline score, analyze it, and spend your week tackling the test-taking strategies in this book. Take another full-length test two days before test day.
Even though you’re cramming, we don’t suggest you do much the day before. Anxiety will probably be running high—whatever concepts you shove into your head 24 hours before the test most likely won’t do you much good.
No time for panic. Buckle down, maintain your sleep and exercise, and maximize your score in the brief time you have.
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