The SAT is the most widely used college admission test in the country, and studying for it can seem daunting for many high school students. Fortunately, the SAT tests skills and subjects that are taught every day in high schools across the nation. By familiarizing yourself with the structure of the test and preparing for each section well in advance, you can make the most of your study time and perform at your best on test day.
Know the Format
The best way to begin studying for the SAT is to learn exactly how the test is organized and what material will be covered. The SAT is divided into writing, critical reading and mathematics sections. The writing component includes a short essay, which is always the first portion of the test, as well as multiple-choice questions testing your knowledge of grammar and usage. On the critical-reading portion, you can expect sentence completions and reading-comprehension questions, so time management is essential because the sentence completions generally take less time to answer than the passage-based questions. The math problems cover arithmetic operations, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability. The entire test takes three hours and 45 minutes divided into 10 discrete sections; knowing what you are in for during that time period is an important part of your preparation.
Enhance Your Vocabulary
The sentence completions in the critical reading section directly test your vocabulary knowledge. You need to identify and understand the meaning of key words in the sentence to determine the correct answer that best fits the meaning of the sentence as a whole. Never assume anything beyond the information that is given in the sentence itself. For example, if the sentence reads, "John is an intelligent, _ student," the only possibility for the word in the blank is a synonym for intelligent. Even the word "studious" would be too much of a stretch, because you don't have enough information to draw that conclusion.
A strong vocabulary will also help you to understand the meaning of the reading-comprehension passages. You may be asked questions about the author's tone, the main idea of the passage or the meaning of a word in a line of a passage. The more comprehensive your vocabulary, the easier it will be for you to rule out incorrect answers. On the SAT, you are not looking for the best answer. One answer is correct, and the other four are wrong. So the process of elimination is a very important aspect of getting the question right.
A number of study guides, websites and apps exist that can help you improve your vocabulary. Read as much as possible outside of the classroom. Complete the official practice critical reading questions on the College Board website, making note of any words you don’t recognize. Some students find making flashcards to be the most effective way to learn new words, while others write sentences to help memorize unfamiliar vocabulary.
Begin studying for the mathematics section by brushing up on topics that you may not have encountered in school in the last year or more. When a problem includes a geometry figure, carefully analyze the rendering and write in angle measurements, if applicable, because that information is essential to solving the problem. When the problem states, "figure not drawn to scale," be aware that the drawing is not accurate visually and you may want to sketch it based on information provided in the problem.
Read just as carefully in the math section as you do in the critical reading section; one or two words in the problem are the difference between a correct and an incorrect answer. Underlining key words in every question will help you answer the specific question you are asked even if it was not the question you expected.
A positive aspect of the SAT math sections is that you don’t have to memorize many formulas since the most commonly used formulas are given at the beginning of each math section. Work through the practice problems on the College Board website to become familiar with the types of questions you will encounter and be conscious of showing and checking your work for every question.
Get the Writing Right
Completing an essay in 25 minutes can be quite challenging, so practice writing several timed essays using questions from the College Board website to help you become comfortable with the format. Topics may cover broad areas such as technology, change, identity, progress and leadership. Keep the essay simple but support your point of view with one or two well-reasoned examples. You can use your own experiences and observations to back up your argument as well as examples from history, science, literature, art and other areas of interest. Review your grammar notes from English class to prepare for the multiple-choice questions and focus on verb tense, pronoun/antecedent agreement and parallelism when looking for errors. In the improving sentences sections, as a general rule, pick the answer that expresses the point in the simplest and clearest possible way.
Based in New York City, Kristine Jannuzzi covers arts and culture, food, wine and education. Her articles have been published in “Listen: Life with Classical Music” magazine, “NYU Alumni Magazine” and online. Jannuzzi holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and music theory/history from New York University.