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What to Do the Week Before the SAT

Ignore These Two Voices in Your Head
I want to warn you that during the test, two tiny invisible fairies will be sitting on your shoulders, whispering in your ears. You'll hear only one of the fairies, and you won't be sure which one it is until the test starts.

One of the fairies whispers gleefully, "I can't believe how easy this test is." The other fairy whispers ominously, "This is by far the hardest test I've ever taken."

There aren't really fairies whispering in your ears, of course, but I promise you that you will hear one of those two messages. Whichever voice you hear, ignore it—it's your mind playing games with you.

The test will seem much easier than your practice tests, or it will seem impossibly difficult, but either way it's just the way the test seems—it's not reality. In other words, both states of mind reflect illusions.

By the way, it's better for your eventual score that the test seem too hard than too easy. Being aware of difficulty is a sign that you are thinking about the questions and taking pains. If the test seems easy, on the other hand, it's because you're not taking pains to get the problems right. So if the test seems easier than you expected, force yourself to slow down and take pains—make the test seem more difficult.

Trust me on this point: you'll do better if the test seems hard. Only two types of people find the SAT easy: test-taking geniuses (1 in 10,000), or test-taking simpletons (alas, far more common than geniuses).

See also A True Story on page 7.

But Listen to This Voice
"Any question on the SAT that I know I can get right, I will take all necessary pains to make sure that I get it right. I will always take pains."

Always Maintain Your Grip during the Test—and if You Lose It, Regain Control
One of the things you'll probably have to deal with during the SAT are distractions. Someone sniffling or coughing or tapping a pencil are one thing, but I've heard stories of distractions ranging from pile drivers at a nearby construction site to the school's band—tubas, drums, trombones, cymbals—practicing on the field outside. Some distractions are insidious, like hearing the jingle from a commercial playing over and over in your head.

Use distractions as reminders to get back to the test in front of you. If someone in the room is distracting you, raise the hand you're not writing with to attract the proctor's attention but keep working while you wait for the proctor to get to your desk.

Keep Moving While the Clock's Ticking
Don't count on the proctor to be accurate or consistent about writing the time remaining in a section on the board. Monitor your time continually as you work through each section.

Watch out or you may enter a time warp. You start working on a difficult question that has you stumped, and before you know it, you space out. Suddenly you "come to" with a jolt and realize that you've just spent the last few minutes doing nothing!

To avoid time warps and spacing out in general, keep your pencil moving every few seconds, marking up your test booklet. Don't ever let your pencil lift more than a couple of inches off the page; keep it poised to mark up questions.

Speaking of keeping your pencil moving, don't spend forever bubbling in your answer sheet. It's not uncommon to see a student in the exam room artistically darkening a bubble for ten or fifteen seconds. If you waste even two or three seconds per question bubbling in your answer, you'll waste a minute by the end of the section—or over five minutes wasted on the entire test!

For most of the test, keep your answer sheet under your test booklet. Always, always, always write your answer in your test booklet before you transfer your answers—in groups, like once every page—over to your answer sheet.

One of Your SAT Sections Won't Count
Your SAT will have two writing sections (the essay and the proofreading questions), three reading sections, and three math sections and another one that won't count. The section that won't count could be a math section, a reading section, or a proofreading section. (You won't have two essay sections.)

The test writers use this experimental section—"equating section" is the euphemism the test writers use—to try out questions for future SATs. Having to take a section that isn't scored doesn't seem fair—and it isn't—but your only consolation is that everybody who's ever taken an SAT before you has had to do the same thing.

You'll know by the end of the test which type of section was experimental because you'll have completed an extra math, reading, or proofreading section. But how can you tell while you're taking a section whether it's experimental or not?

There's no absolutely certain way to spot the experimental section but here are some guidelines. First, the experimental section tends to be in the middle of the test. The SAT will begin with the essay section, and then you'll do the first multiple-choice section, which could be math, reading, or proofreading. The experimental section will probably not be the first multiple-choice section you take.

Second, the experimental section will probably be 25 minutes long rather than 20 minutes.

Third, if you get two math or two reading sections in a row, it's likely that one of them will be experimental (though you won't know which one).

Fourth, the experimental section tends to be harder—sometimes much harder—than the sections that do count. Also, if the questions lurch randomly from easy to hard to easy again, it's likely that section is experimental. (The questions in the regular sections will go from easy to medium to hard, except for the reading questions.)

If you spot the experimental section, do not blow it off or you'll have trouble regaining your focus for the rest of the test. Do the best you can on the experimental section so that you'll remain mentally limber for the remaining sections.

Students taking the SAT under special circumstances with extra time will not face an experimental section, nor will juniors taking the PSAT.

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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.


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