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What to Do the Week Before the SAT

Never, Ever Give Up on the SAT
You already know not to listen to the fairy that whispers in your ear, "This test is impossibly hard." But sometimes you truly believe that you've bombed on a section.

Don't give up. In the first place, the section in question may have been the experimental section. But even if the section you had a lot of trouble with wasn't experimental, it's possible that you didn't do nearly as badly as you fear.

But even if you truly did have trouble with a section, do your best on the rest of the test. Use the remaining sections to practice your test-taking techniques. Get the maximum practice value out of this test so that you'll be that much better prepared when—if—you retake the test.

See also A True Story on page 7.

Keep Working on Each Section until the Proctor Says Stop
In baseball the umpires make the calls; their word is final. Proctors are like SAT umpires—especially about timing.

I mentioned earlier that you can't count on your proctor's being accurate or consistent about writing times on the board. In fact you shouldn't count on your proctor's being accurate about telling everyone when to stop, either. I've heard of proctors stopping students several minutes early, or forgetting to tell students to stop altogether!

Use absolutely every second available to work on questions, and do not stop on any section until the proctor says stop.

After the proctor finishes reading the instructions and before the test starts, he or she will ask the class whether anyone has a question. Raise your hand and ask whether it's okay that you use a digital timer. The proctor will say of course—which you knew—but your point in asking the question is actually to put the proctor on notice that someone in the room you will be timing the section down to the second. In a sense, you become a second umpire!

Don't Overreach—a Great SAT Score Happens Accidentally on the Way to a Good Score
You may be tempted during the exam to cut corners, to stop taking pains, to rush to finish thinking that doing so is the only way you'll get your maximum possible score.

Don't.

The way to get a great score is to take all pains necessary to lock in a good score—for all but the last two or three minutes of each section. Then, and only then, when you've already guaranteed yourself a good score, you can take chances and reach for the great score.

Too many students—even the strongest test takers—make the mistake of reaching for a great score from the very start. Unfortunately, reaching for a great score at the beginning of the test forces them to take too many risks too early in each section. The usual result is not pretty: not only do they not get the great score they were hoping for, but they also blow the good score they could have gotten.

Consider Steve, who's shooting for a super-high SAT math score. He's always gotten As in math, and now, as a junior, he's acing precalculus. Steve figures that SAT math problems are way easier than the advanced algebra and trigonometry questions he's been doing in his math class, so he ought to be able to get a near perfect score on the SAT.

So he rushes in the beginning of the first math section. Steve doesn't take all the pains he should to ensure that he gets the easy and medium questions right, but then hey, he's a great math student—he doesn't need to take pains.

Steve's breezing through the first section just fine when all of a sudden he gets stuck on a medium question. Now, instead of tearing himself away from the question as soon as he senses trouble, he wrestles with the question. Steve figures he has to get that question right if he wants to get the high score he's shooting for. And before he knows it, Steve's spent several minutes on the question and he still hasn't solved it. He finally does but now he's in panic mode, and he races through the rest of the section. Indeed, Steve remains in high panic mode for the rest of the test—with predictable consequences for his math, reading, and writing scores.

If Steve had been merely willing to get a good score, he would have had no trouble jettisoning the problem that confused him and moving on. Then, if he had time left at the end of the section, he could have returned to the question and tackled it again.

Ironically, the way to achieve a great score is being willing to accept a good score. Students who aren't willing to accept good scores often do even worse than that.

Imagine that you're a rock climber and about to scale the tallest, steepest cliff you've ever attempted. The way to get to the top of the cliff is to forget about getting to the top. Instead, focus on finding a firm hold for your right hand. Then, when you find a hold for your right hand, you test it a bit to make sure it's firm. When you know that your right hand is secure, you turn your attention to your left hand and to finding a firm hold for it. And when you do find a hold for your left hand, and you test the hold for firmness, just to be sure, you then turn your attention to your right foot, and finding a firm hold for it. And when you find a firm hold for your right foot, you're now ready to pull yourself up and find a hold for your left foot. Then you repeat the cycle again, and again, and again, until you reach the top of the cliff.

Doing well on the SAT requires the same kind of focus. If you do the little things right, the big things will take care of themselves.

Take pains.

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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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