The Strategies
The Strategies
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 difficult one.
  • 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 blank
  • 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 limits.
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:
6. Three 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?
(A) 0.25 atm
(B) 180 mmHg
(C) 330 mmHg
(D) 675 mmHg
(E) 1980 mmHg
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 is B.
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 1/4) = 0
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 1/4) = 1.25
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.
First priority: Answer the question correctly.
Second priority: If you don’t know the answer, try to eliminate answer choices and then guess.
Third priority: 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.
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