If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years tutoring SAT prep, it’s this: nine times out of ten, the questions students miss are not missed because of a lack of knowledge of subject but rather because of a lack of test-taking strategy. I say the same thing to each of my SAT prep students at our first lesson: “The SAT is not a test of your knowledge of math, or vocabulary, or essay writing. The SAT is a test of your test-taking skills. You already have all the subject knowledge you need to score as high as you want; you just need to know HOW to go about taking the test.” Success in the SAT largely hinges on whether you finish the sections in time, how adept you are at finding shortcuts and using alternative methods to solve problems, and whether you have the stamina to complete a four-hour test without losing your concentration. When you meet with me for SAT prep, we focus on the strategic aspect of test preparation, tailored to each individual subject. Learn the strategy, and the SAT suddenly becomes less of a daunting task.
The biggest hindrance to performing well on the math sections is lack of time. If you spend too much time on any one problem, it’s likely time will run out before you’ve made it to the end of the section. When we work on math sections, we focus on completing as many questions as possible as quickly as possible. We do timed drills and discuss how to best allocate your time within a section. We talk about when it’s appropriate to use a calculator, and how to read a word problem. We talk about which pieces of knowledge you’re likely to need, and how to quickly find out which one is being asked for.
When I took the SAT’s in the 90’s, there was a type of question in the verbal sections called the analogies–perhaps some of you parents remember them. They were notorious for being where the SAT creators hid all their extra-complicated words, the ones we had to do weekly vocab tests in preparation for. The analogies are no longer a part of the SAT, however the end result is that the rest of the verbal section has been flooded with complex words. This makes it that much more likely that students lose points on questions they would have answered correctly, simply because they didn’t know what one of the words meant and got bogged down trying to figure it out. With this in mind, we discuss how to disassemble an unknown word and guess at its meaning. We learn how to prevent the long comprehension passages from becoming a dangerous time-sink. And we practice using context clues to eliminate answer choices in the sentence completions.
The writing section is a relative newcomer to the SAT lineup, and brings with it a new strategy challenge that most high-school students are still unprepared for, particularly in the timed essay portion. We discuss the core differences between writing a normal essay at home and writing a timed essay in a test situation. We hash out a basic formula for writing within a time frame. And we practice making quick decisions and formulating thoughts decisively.