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A Student's Perspective on Test Prep

The SAT is often a stressful experience, summed up in one simple score, but students have many resources they can use to help prepare and improve their score.

Maya Moritz

August 26, 2013

A Student's Perspective on Test Prep
The SAT is often a stressful experience, summed up in one simple score, but students have many resources they can use to help prepare and improve their score. In school, students often discuss the nerves the SAT or ACT causes, with symptoms like anxiety. One friend even described to me that she had a nightmare in which she failed the SAT, and didn't get into college. While you cannot “fail” the SAT and, it is possible to be admitted into college without high scores, the SAT’s are still daunting. Long, long ago, in the beginning of last school year, I took my PSAT and was satisfied with my score. I had friends who scored lower and friends who scored higher, but I knew that the sophomore year PSAT was a good measure to find out your basic score or, at the very least, how you perform with little to no formal preparation.

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It is a “dry run,” and will clue you in into how much time you will need to invest into studying and preparing. Additionally, you are not able to receive any awards for the sophomore PSAT, so if your score is low it means that you might need to study more than some of your peers. When you take the SAT’s, you have the option to them the weekend after the AP exams and the weekend before the SAT2’s, as I did. The testing clumps together and then, if you’re like me, you’re just glad it’s over. At that point, all one can do is await the score.

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On the official SAT, the score is more important, but the test can be retaken. Before the first SAT and between subsequent SAT tests, much can be done to improve a score. The easiest thing to do is to use the practice questions available on the College Board web site. The questions are labeled with difficulty rankings, which allow you to evaluate your relative ability. The questions are also in SAT format and cover all topics. For more specific questions and to practice with long and short passages, the College Board website offers many practice questions in all sorts of skills, which lets you identify problem areas.

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This resource is free and very helpful and I tell every student I know about it. For the self-motivated student, there are countless SAT books. Books are great for those with hectic schedules, who need to weasel in time for studying between track and band practice. Similarly, online programs permit a student to study whenever time allows and to chart their progress. Personally, I used an online program and, while the program was well-formatted and user-friendly, technical problems arose and made it difficult to commit to further usage.
To be honest, I have never opened an SAT book, as the ones I have been given or seen (there are many) are intimidating. Students who prefer more individualized attention or who need some help dedicating themselves may prefer a tutor. Tutors are expensive, while online programs are somewhat cheaper and books very affordable. Tutors, however, respond to the student’s needs and keep the student on schedule. Tutors also offer insights into the exam that only those that specialize in test preparation will know. While my tutoring experience is fairly new, I feel it has been the most effective measure. A tutor is able to find your weak skills and improve them, while books are less likely to help with fault identification. If you use a program with tutors, one must be weary. Often, many more hours than are necessary will be offered. While you should never skimp on preparation, paying beyond your means or for more hours than the student needs is costly and frivolous. Another option, for a student needing less individual attention, is an SAT class. While I have never participated in classes, SAT classes exist and help many students with their scores. Other methods, such as flashcards and games, are helpful as well. For vocabulary, flashcards are available for purchase or can be homemade. It’s helpful to memorize the most popular SAT words used and, in that respect, books are very useful. Reading often and reading varied literature is an enjoyable way to improve one’s vocabulary. Other skills must also be practiced, as the SAT often uses questions with similar skills and formats. In terms of time, many students run short on certain sections. For me, the first math section is never completed, perhaps because it’s at eight in the morning on a Saturday!Finding what compromises your time may allow you to best refocus and anticipate problems. The ACT is also popular among students. While the SAT tests skills, the ACT tests general knowledge. I plan on taking the ACT as well. Students will not know which test will yield a higher score, so it is often a positive choice to take both. For the SAT or the ACT, it is your score and your score alone that matters. Each improved point is a victory and for every kid boasting his 2400, there is a student struggling for an 800. On test day, be prepared and remember to only leave a multiple-choice question blank when you cannot eliminate three answers. For grid-ins, never leave a question blank and guess, if you need to. Any skill that allows you to relax–from watching an inspirational movie to deep breathing to visualization–will help. If you blank, it is perfectly reasonable to cancel the score or to take a moment and breathe. The test is yours and every student will have opportunities to improve their scores and retake the test as many times as necessary.

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