Taking Advantage of the Test’s Regularity
One day an eleventh grader named Molly Bloom sits down
at her desk and takes a SAT II U.S. History practice test. Because
it makes this example much simpler, imagine she takes the entire
test and only gets one question wrong.
The question Molly missed dealt with the Populist movement.
Looking over the question, Molly realizes that she answered the
question wrong because she had mistakenly believed that the Populist
Party wanted to raise protective tariffs, when in fact they wanted them
lowered. She thinks about why she got the question wrong: she knew
that the Populist Party arose among farmers in the 1890s, primarily
because of falling prices for agricultural produce, and had assumed
these falling prices were the result of foreign competition. Good
logic, wrong answer. Molly realizes she didn’t have a good grasp
of what was going on in the 1890s, and she turns to her books figure
out the truth. She studies up on the Populist Party, learns what
policies they stood behind, and studies why they
stood behind those policies. All this takes her about 10 minutes,
after which she vows never to make a mistake about the Populists
Analyzing Molly Bloom
Molly wasn’t content simply to see what the correct answer
was and get on with her day; she wanted to see how and why she
got the question wrong and what she should have done, or needed
to know, in order to get it right. She spent a little time studying
the question, discovered her mistaken understanding of the Populist
movement and the issues facing 1890s America in general, and learned
the truth of the historical situation. If Molly were to take that
same test again, she definitely would not get that question wrong.
Skeptical readers may say “But she’ll never take that
test again, and she’ll never see that particular question again,
so wasn’t figuring out her mistake a waste of time?”
No! It’s definitely not a waste of time. If you take the
time to learn why you got a question wrong, and to learn what you
need to know to get it right, you’ll probably remember what you
learned the next time you’re faced with a similar question. And
chances are excellent that you will be faced with a similar question.
Molly and You
So, what if you take a practice test and get 15 questions
wrong, and your errors span a number of different eras? Do exactly
what Molly did. Take your test and study it. Identify every
question you got wrong, figure out why you got it wrong, and then
teach yourself what you should have done to get the question right.
If you can’t figure out your error, find someone who can.
A wrong answer on the SAT II U.S. History identifies a
weakness in your test taking, whether that weakness is an unfamiliarity
with a particular topic or a tendency to be careless. As you study
each wrong answer, you are actually learning how to answer questions that
will appear in similar form on the real SAT II U.S. History. You
are discovering your exact weaknesses and addressing them, and you
are learning to understand not just the knowledge behind the question,
but also the way that ETS asks questions.
True, if you got 15 questions wrong, studying your first
practice test will take some time. But if you invest that time and
study your practice test properly, you will be eliminating future
mistakes. Each successive practice test you take should have fewer
errors, meaning you’ll spend less time studying those errors. More
important, you’ll be pinpointing what you need to study for the
real SAT II U.S. History, identifying and overcoming your weaknesses,
and learning to answer an increasing variety of questions on the
specific topics covered by the test. Taking practice tests and studying
them will allow you to teach yourself how to recognize and handle
whatever the SAT II U.S. History throws at you.