Basic Rules of SAT II Test-Taking
There are some rules of strategy that apply to all SAT
II tests. These rules are so obvious that we hesitate to even call
them “strategies.” Some of these rules will seem more like common
sense to you than anything else. We don’t disagree. But it is amazing
how a timed test can warp and mangle common sense. So we offer the
There are two types of carelessness, both of which will
cost you points. The first type results from sheer overconfidence.
If you speed through the test without a second glance, you make
yourself vulnerable to misinterpreting questions, overlooking answer
choices, and making computational mistakes. As you take the test,
make a conscious effort to approach it calmly and methodically,
no matter how comfortable you are with the material. There’s nothing
worse than realizing you lost points due to sloppy mistakes.
Then there’s lack of confidence—a defeatist attitude is
your worst enemy when taking the SAT IIs, because if you automatically
assume you won’t be able to answer many of the questions, you’ll
give up at the first sign of difficulty and sabatoge your score.
Even if you don’t feel confident about the material, stay on track
and use our techniques for test-taking, and you might find you know
more (and get a better score) then you thought you would.
Be Careful Gridding In Your Answers
The computer that scores SAT II tests is unmerciful. If
you answered a question correctly, but somehow made a mistake in
marking your answer grid, the computer will mark that question as
wrong. If you skipped question 5, but put the answer to question
6 in row 5, and the answer to question 7 in row 6, etc., thereby
throwing off your answers for an entire section . . . it gets ugly.
Some test-prep books advise that you fill in your answer
sheet five questions at a time rather than one at a time. Some suggest
that you do one question and then fill in the corresponding bubble.
We think you should fill out the answer sheet whatever way feels
most natural to you; just make sure you’re careful while doing it.
In our opinion, the best way to ensure that you’re being careful
is to talk silently to yourself. As you figure out an answer in
the test booklet and transfer it over to the answer sheet, say to
yourself: “Number 23, B. Number 24, E. Number 25, A.”
Know What’s in the Reference Area
At the beginning of SAT II Math IC, there is a reference
area that provides you with basic geometric formulas and information.
THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS FOR YOUR
REFERENCE IN ANSWERING SOME OF THE QUESTIONS IN THIS TEST.
Volume of a right circular cone with radius r and
Lateral area of a right circular cone with circumference
of the base c and slant height l:
Volume of a sphere with radius r:
Surface area of a sphere with radius r:
Volume of a pyramid with base area B and
You should know all these formulas without needing the
reference area; don’t neglect to memorize and understand the formulas
because you have the reference area as a crutch. Instead, see the
reference area as a hint to you about what formulas are likely to
be needed on the test. If you know those formulas without having
to flip back to the reference area, you’ll save time, which puts
you one step ahead.
Write All Over Your Test Booklet . . .
Draw diagrams or write out equations to help you think.
Mark up graphs or charts as necessary. Cross out answers that can’t
be right. Basically, the test booklet is yours to write all over,
and writing can often help clarify things, allowing you to work
more quickly with fewer mistakes.
. . . But Remember that the SAT Rewards Answers,
That said, we must qualify our advice. Doing
math scratchwork can definitely help you avoid careless errors,
but doing pristine work, or more work than necessary, can be more
time-consuming than it’s worth. You must find a balance between
speed and accuracy. You need to be able to follow and understand
your work, but other people don’t. Nobody will look at or reward
your work, so don’t write it out as if you’re being judged.