Preparing for the SAT

Samir Tusneem, Staff Writer

Taking the SAT is one of the most tedious and stressful tasks you will have to complete during your high school career. Being one of the key factors to college admissions, the SAT assesses students on different levels of knowledge of mathematics and the English language. When preparing for the test, you must evaluate how you study rather than just how much you study. With that being said, here are some ways that can guarantee success when taking the college admissions exam.


Understanding the Format

There are two parts of the SAT, the reading/writing section, and the math section. The reading and writing section consists of two subsections, which are reading and grammar. The reading portion consists of 52 questions with a time limit of 65 minutes. The grammar section is shorter, in which it is made up of 44 questions with a 35-minute time limit. After the reading and writing portion of the test, students will begin the mathematics half of the test. The first part of the math section consists of calculator inactive problems, in which students will have 25 minutes to answer 20 questions. The next part of this section is longer, in which students will be able to use calculators to solve 38 questions in 55 minutes. 


So what makes this exam so difficult? One of the most notable challenges regarding the SAT is keeping track of time. Oftentimes, students will find themselves spending too much time on a certain set of questions, giving significantly less time to answer the following questions. Being able to answer questions at a pace that prevents you from resorting to guessing due to not having enough time to finish is one of the best skills that you can master. For the reading section, students should spend an average of one minute and 15 seconds on each question if they want to maximize their time. For the writing and language portion, students should maintain a pace of answering one question every 46 seconds. For the calculator active and inactive portions of the mathematics part of the test, students should answer one question in one minute and 15 seconds, and one minute and 26 seconds respectively. 


Studying for the SAT

There are multiple ways to go about studying for the exam. The best way for students to study for the test is by taking practice exams offered by the College Board. These exams can be taken on Khan Academy and they help students simulate the environment of the SAT, in which they are timed for each section and immediately scored after they finish the last section of the test. Taking practice tests will not only familiarize students with the type of content that the College Board includes, but it will also help them improve their time management skills. In addition, Khan Academy shows the questions that you got incorrect after submitting the test, which allows students to evaluate the mistakes they made and the weaknesses that they may have. This, in turn, will provide students an idea of what they need to improve on and will help them avoid making the same mistakes during the actual exam. 


Another beneficial way for students to prepare for the SAT is by learning about rules and shortcuts that they can use on certain sections to help them complete questions quicker, thus giving them more time. For example, College Board often includes problems regarding mean, median, mode, and standard deviation on the calculator active portion. The data will usually be given in a random order, meaning that students will have to reorder them to find the median of the data. Instead of using up more time reordering the data, students can make use of the “stat” function of their calculator and entering the data. After, students will navigate to the 1-Var Stats subsection in the “Calc” tab in the stat menu, and a list of the standard deviation, mean, median, etc will be given based on the data entered. Being able to utilize these shortcuts will give students more time to spend on more difficult problems or checking over their work.


Test Day

Aside from practicing and memorizing concepts, it is important that students avoid depriving themselves of sleep and avoiding eating before the test. One of the most important parts of taking the test is maintaining energy and concentration while working. Considering that the exam lasts roughly five hours and can be tedious, it is necessary that students get the optimal amount of sleep of at least eight hours to avoid being tired and distracted while taking the exam. Eating healthy prior to the test is also important, as students will not have many opportunities to eat snacks during the exam. It is important that students don’t eat too much, but also not too little to avoid feeling groggy or dizzy.


As stressful as the SAT may be, there are a variety of resources that students can make use of to ensure that they do well on the exam. The exam is known to be difficult, so it is important that students avoid procrastinating when preparing for the test and make use of the time they have to study and develop strategies to help them do well.