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What to Do the Week Before the SAT

A True Story
When I first began tutoring students for the SAT, a group of them decided to take the March test. (At the time, the May test was by far the more common.) Anyway, I still remember getting the first call from one of the girls immediately after the test was over. She was in tears. She knew she had done "horribly, horribly."

At the time, the SAT had twenty-five antonym questions that were pure vocabulary items—pretty much either you knew the words, or you didn't (though you could use process of elimination techniques like the ones I showed you for the sentence completions). This was also the time the SAT curve was about 100 points harder than it is today. (Back then, only a dozen students in the entire country got a perfect score; today hundreds do.)

Anyway, as I was saying, she just knew she had bombed. I asked her whether she had used all the techniques she had learned. She said yes. I asked her whether she'd taken pains. She said yes. I asked her whether she recalled any specific math mistakes she'd made. She said yes, unfortunately, one or two.

After listening to her responses, I told her that she'd done much better than she feared, and in fact I thought she had done extraordinarily well. She said, "But what about my math mistakes?" I told her that the fact she remembered having made the mistakes after the test was in fact a good sign, not a bad one. Remembering specific mistakes is a sign of being hyper-aware during the test. I told her that the mistakes she recalled were probably the only mistakes she made. She calmed down a bit and then she hung up.

Not a minute later I got another call, this time from a boy, who was also deeply shaken by the experience. He, too, was sure he had bombed. "I didn't recognize half the words on the test." Again I asked him whether he'd used the techniques, and whether he'd taken pains. Yes, he replied. So I told him not to worry.

But that afternoon I received calls from almost all the students who'd taken that test, and every single one said basically the same thing: "I'm sure I bombed." At the same time, they all reported having used the techniques without fail, and having taken pains on all the questions.

Long story short, when scores were mailed out a month later (this was pre-Internet days, so you had to wait for an actual envelope for your scores), the average improvement of the students was nearly 200 points! And the girl who'd been in tears? Her verbal score shot from a 560 to a perfect 800 (back then you had to answer every single question correctly to achieve an 800, versus today when you can get a couple wrong), and her score in math (not her strongest subject) went up 140 points. Her total improvement was an astounding 400 points, and remember: she was convinced she should cancel her scores.

True story.

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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