Basic Rules of SAT II Test-Taking
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 following list.
Avoid Carelessness
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.


Volume of a right circular cone with radius r and height h:

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 height h:

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, Not Work
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.
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