Most of these “strategies” are common sense, and many
of them you already know. The funny thing about high-pressure situations,
though, is that common sense often goes out the window. If you review
anything in the minutes before taking the test, review these strategies.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should skip this section now. It’s
full of very useful hints, some of which might be new to you.
General Hint 1: Be Calm
The best way to do poorly on a test is to psych yourself
out. If your mind starts thrashing about wildly, it will have a
hard time settling on the right answers. There are a number of preventative
measures you can take, beginning weeks or even months before you
take the test. Buying this book was a good start: It’s reassuring
to see all the information you’ll need to ace the test in a compact,
manageable form. But there are a number of other things you ought
to keep in mind:
- Study in advance. If you’ve
studied at regular intervals leading up to the test rather than
cramming the night before, the information will sit more easily
in your mind.
- Be well rested. Get a good night’s sleep
on the two nights leading up to the test. If you’re frazzled or
wired, you’re going to have a harder time buckling down and concentrating
when it really counts.
- Come up for air. Don’t assume that the best
way to take an hour-long test is to spend the full hour nose to
nose with the test questions. If it feels natural for you to take
breathers, don’t be afraid to do so. Lift your head occasionally,
look about you, and take a deep breath—you may return to the test
with a clearer mind.
General Hint 2: Grid Your Answers Carefully
No kidding. People make mistakes while entering their
answers onto the grid and it can cost them big-time. This slipup
occurs most frequently if you skip a question. If you left question
43 blank and then unthinkingly put the answer to question 44 into
row 43, you could be starting a long, painful chain of wrong answers.
Don’t do it.
You can avoid this by filling in your answer sheet five
questions at a time rather than one at a time, but if you feel that’s
too complicated, just be careful to check the number of the answer
sheet against the question number each time.
General Hint 3: Pace Yourself
At the very least, aim to look at every
question on the test. You can’t afford to lose points because you
didn’t even get to a question you could have easily answered correctly.
While you can spend an average of 42 seconds on each question, you’ll
probably breeze through some in 10 seconds and dwell on others for
two minutes. Knowing how to pace yourself is a critical skill:
- Don’t dwell on any one question for
too long. If you’ve spent a couple of minutes laboring over
the question, you might just want to circle it and move on. If you feel
the answer is on the tip of your tongue, it might come more easily
if you revisit it later. Not only is it demoralizing to spend five
minutes on a single question, it also eats up precious time in which
you might have answered a number of easier questions.
- Nail the easy questions. As we said in the
previous chapter, the questions will generally get progressively
harder as you go through the test. Nonetheless, some tough ones
will be thrown in right at the start, and hopefully you’ll be finding
ones that seem like a cinch right up until the end. Remember: you
get as many points for correctly answering an easy question as a
- Skip the unfamiliar. If you encounter a question
you can’t make heads or tails of, just circle it and move on. Don’t
work too hard trying to sort out what’s going on. If you have time
at the end, you can come back to it and see if you can make an educated
guess. Your first priority should be to get all the easy questions,
and your second priority should be to get through the questions
you can solve with some work. Unfamiliar material should be at the
bottom of your list of priorities.
General Hint 4: Set a Target Score
You can make the job of pacing yourself much easier if
you go into the test knowing how many questions you have to answer
correctly to earn the score you want. What score do you want to
get? Ideally, your answer should be an 800, but be realistic: Consider
how much you know about chemistry and how well you generally do
on these types of tests. You should also do a little research—talk
to the admissions offices of the colleges you might want to attend,
look in college guidebooks, or talk to your guidance counselor.
Find out the average score of a student admitted to the schools
of your choice, and set your target score above it. Then take a
look at the chart we showed you before. You can score
- 800 if you answered 80 right and left 5
- 750 if you answered 75 right, 4 wrong, and left 6 blank
- 700 if you answered 62 right, 8 wrong, and left 15 blank
- 650 if you answered 56 right, 20 wrong, and left 9 blank
- 600 if you answered 48 right, 24 wrong, and left 13 blank
Suppose the average score on the SAT II Chemistry test
for the school you’re interested in is 650. Set your target at about
700. To get that score, you need to get 62 questions right, while
giving yourself room to get eight wrong and leave 15 blank. As long
as you have some idea of how many questions you need to answer,
bearing in mind that you’ll probably get some questions wrong, you
can pace yourself accordingly. Taking practice tests is the best
way to work on your pacing. See how many questions you can leave
blank and still get the score you want, and you’ll have a better
sense of what to aim at on the big day.
If you find yourself effortlessly hitting your target
score when you take the practice tests, don’t just pat yourself
on the back. Set a higher target score and start gunning for that one.
The purpose of buying this book and studying for the test is to
improve your score as much as possible, so be sure to push your
General Hint 5: Know What You’re Being Asked
You can’t know the answer until you know the question.
This might sound painfully obvious, but many a point has been lost
by the careless student who seizes an answer choice hastily before
properly understanding the question. Take the following example:
cylinders labeled A, B, C,
are all at the same temperature. The volumes of the containers are 2.0
L, 4.0 L, and 6.0 L, respectively. Cylinder A contains
0.679 grams of neon gas at a pressure of 120 mmHg, cylinder B contains
2.45 grams of nitrogen gas at a pressure of 210 mmHg, and cylinder C is completely
empty at the start. If the contents of A and B were
completely transferred to C (assuming ideal conditions),
what would the pressure become in cylinder C?
This is a fairly difficult question, but perhaps more
importantly, the question is long and complicated looking. By the
time the hasty student finishes reading it, he or she might have forgotten
the beginning of the question and decided to simply add the pressures
together and choose an incorrect answer, C.
To avoid situations like this, take a moment to truly understand the
question before answering it. Read the question and then vocalize
to yourself what the question is asking and what the pertinent information
they give you is. Then go ahead and answer the question or solve
the problem before you even look at the answer choices. This will
help ensure that you aren’t seduced by any of the incorrect answer
choices listed. By the way, the correct answer to this question
General Hint 6: Know How to Guess
ETS doesn’t take off 1
/4 of a point
for each wrong answer to punish you for guessing—they do it so you
won’t get a reward for guessing blindly. Suppose that without even
glancing at any of the questions, you just randomly entered responses
in the first 20 spaces on your answer sheet. Because you have a
20% chance of guessing correctly on any given question, odds are
you would guess right for four questions and wrong for 16 questions.
Your raw score for those 20 questions would then be
(41) - (16
As you can see, you’d be no better or worse off blindly
guessing than if you’d left those 20 spaces blank.
Now suppose that in each of the first 20 questions you
are able to eliminate just one possible answer choice, so that you
guess with a 25% chance of being right. Odds are, you’d get five
questions right and 15 questions wrong, giving you a raw score of
(51) - (15
All of a sudden, you’re over a point up. It isn’t much,
but every little bit helps. Here’s a list of your priorities when
you come to each question on this test.
||Answer the question correctly.
||If you don’t know the answer, try to eliminate answer
choices and then guess.
||If you can’t eliminate any answer choices,
circle the question and move on to the next one. You might have
time to come back to it when you’ve finished the other questions.
The lesson to be learned here is that blind guessing doesn’t
help, but educated guessing does. If you can eliminate even one
of the five possible answer choices, you must guess. We’ll
discuss how to eliminate answer choices on certain special kinds
of questions in Chemistry Hint 5.
Guessing as Partial Credit
Some students feel that guessing is similar to cheating—that
guessing correctly means getting credit where none is due. But instead
of looking at guessing as an attempt to gain undeserved points,
you should see it as a form of partial credit. For example, suppose
you’re stumped on the question above that asks about total pressure
after different gases are mixed into a new container. And suppose
you’re pretty sure that the answer isn’t simply adding the pressures
given, even though you know Dalton’s law of partial pressures. You do
know many gas laws but are a little unsure as to how to answer this
question. You do know that the pressure will be less or at least
close to the other two pressures because you have some knowledge
of Boyle’s law. Don’t you deserve something for that extra knowledge?
Well, you do get something: when you look at this question, you
can throw out answer choices C and E,
which leaves you with a one-in-three chance of getting the question
right if you guess. Your extra knowledge gives you better odds of
getting this question right, exactly as extra knowledge should.