SAT Scores Myths
- Taking timed practice tests is the best way to improve your score.
- Speed is more important than accuracy.
- You should go with your first instinct when not sure of an answer.
- You should guess if you can rule out one or more answers on multiple-choice questions.
- All answer choices appear equally on the test therefore, if your answer sheet doesn’t show a lot of (B) choices you should choose (B) when in doubt.
MYTH: Taking timed practice tests is the best way to improve your score
Think about a professional sport for a second. Football, track & field, marathon running, hockey, you name it. All of the athletes that compete in these sports surely play scrimmages and actual games or run races under timed conditions, but they spend more of their time conditioning, doing drills, and reviewing their performance with a critical eye.
For SAT training, taking timed practice tests is a great thing to do. It familiarizes you with what’s on the test as well as how you need to pace yourself to maximize your score. However, reviewing those tests is more important than simply taking them. After grading your practice test you should flag each missed or borderline question and decide why you didn‘t get it right. It should fall into one of three categories:
- Careless mistake or ran out of time
- Didn’t know concept
- Didn’t recognize approach to solve problem
If you have more than a couple careless mistakes per test you need to figure out why you’re making them. Saying, “stupid mistake, won’t do that next time” is not specific enough. Were you going too fast? Visit pacing plan in SAT preparation. Did you do too much work in your head? Read about getting physical in SAT math strategies. Did you make a mistake setting up an equation or in a calculation? See Estimating on that same page.
If you didn’t know the concept required for the problem, go learn it! Spark Notes has a great SAT skills section. More important than reading about the concept, you need to master it, then practice it on real SAT questions. You should own the College Board’s The Official SAT Study Guide: For the New SAT.
If you got stuck and didn’t recognize an approach to solve a problem, learn more SAT math strategies. As with reviewing math concepts, it’s most important to apply and practice what you’ve learned — don’t just read about it!
For every hour you spend taking a test, you should spend two to four hours learning, practicing then applying what came up in that test.
MYTH: Speed is more important than accuracy
This just might be the biggest SAT myth out there! Your prep for the SAT exam would be incomplete without an understanding of this tactic. Your score is determined by how many questions you answer correctly and incorrectly. Speed just might be more important than accuracy in most tests at school because they award partial credit and more points for difficult problems. So if you don’t answer those difficult questions at the end, you’re missing out on a lot of points! But the SAT is not school!
The SAT simply gives you one point for each correct answer and takes away ¼ of a point for each incorrect one. If you rush through problems at the expense of accuracy, not only do you get docked the ¼ point for getting it wrong, but you miss the whole point that you would have received if you got it right!
Your goal should be to get about 90% of the questions you answer correct. If you’re a rare, rare breed and are getting 100% of the questions you attempt correct, you can increase your score by speeding up. I would argue if someone is getting 100% of attempted SAT questions correct, they wouldn’t be reading this page! If your accuracy is less than 90% on attempted questions, slow down and get more right. Accuracy is more important than speed. Visit pacing plan in SAT preparation to help you decide what accuracy you should shoot for.
MYTH: You should go with your first instinct when not sure of an answer
Your first instincts will get you into trouble on two thirds of the test. The only place you should not at least question your hunch is the easy portion. Your first instincts will sometimes be wrong on the medium portion, and will often lead you to incorrect answers in the hard portion of each section. Not sure which ones are easy, medium or hard? Read about pacing in SAT preparation.
MYTH: You should guess if you can rule out one or more answers on multiple-choice questions
This is an oversimplification. Don’t believe me — try it out yourself. Next time you take a test, mark the questions where you guessed. Score your test with and without those guesses. If you’d like more information on why guessing isn’t always a good idea visit SAT guessing.
MYTH: All answer choices appear equally on the test. Therefore, if your answer sheet doesn’t show a lot of (B) choices you should choose (B) when in doubt.
This is total bologna (buh-LOH-nee). Don’t even go there. That’s like saying the next coin toss is more likely to be heads because the last few were tails. Try it! I’ll pay for your trip to Vegas if you can predict things like that.
Understanding these myths is a great start in your SAT exam preparation. Jot them down and read them over before you take your next practice test.
SAT Math Prep: Understanding myths about the SAT math section
|SAT Math Myths|
MYTH: You should not leave any grid-in questions blank because there’s no guessing penalty on that question type
While it’s true the SAT scoring system does not subtract points for wrong answers on grid-ins, the penalty is time lost. In addition to writing down the answer, you must bubble in each digit and decimal point. If you’ve worked through a problem and have an answer you‘re unsure of, sure, take the time to transfer it to your answer sheet. If there are just a couple minutes left and there are several questions you have not looked at, better to focus on one than take the time to fill in random guesses for all of them. Accuracy is more important than speed on multiple-choice as well as grid-in questions.
MYTH: You shouldn’t memorize math formulas as they’re provided on the test
You should memorize the given formulas while preparing for the SAT math section for three reasons:
MYTH: The New SAT covers complicated math concepts
While some Algebra II topics are covered on the SAT, the majority of the material is learned by freshman year. Of course they don’t hand it to you like your 8th grade teacher did, but the concepts are basic. Your job is to cut through their language to find the basic concepts. Knowing the math basics and SAT math strategies will help you do this.
MYTH: A calculator is required for the hard SAT math problems
“Hard” SAT problems simply mean a lot of people missed them on past tests. If a problem required a calculator to solve it, I would bet most students would get it right! Students are amazing with calculators these days! No SAT question requires a calculator. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring and use one. It just means if you’re doing a lot of calculator crunching, you’re probably missing some shortcuts.
Understanding these math myths is a great start in your SAT math preparation. Jot them down and read them over before you take your next practice test.
Should I Guess on the SAT?
|The majority of test takers have heard there’s a “guessing penalty” on the SAT. This is a partial truth. While the computer grading system has no way of knowing which answers were guesses, it does subtract a fraction of a point for wrong answers.|
Many major test prep companies encourage guessing on SAT questions if one or more answers can be ruled out. See table below for a sample of this oversimplified logic. Their logic states that statistically, in the long run scores will increase with “educated guessing” because the points received for correct guesses are greater than the fractions lost for those missed. This logic is flawed for most guessers for three reasons:
Potential benefit for SAT guessing on 100 questions
NOTE — for the above table to have any significance, the following three conditions must be met:
1. Correct answer is never ruled out
MORAL OF THE STORY
If you’d like to increase your SAT score through guessing, do yourself a favor. Learn how to recognize SAT traps and where they frequently occur, as well as common mistakes made in ruling out answers. Then guess randomly from the remaining choices. I suggest choosing the same letter all the time, such as (A) or if that was ruled out, then (B) or if that was ruled out, then (C), etc.
Some people benefit from guessing in the verbal section but not the math, while others gain points from guessing in the easy portion but not the medium or difficult ones. Many test takers consistently lower their score altogether from guessing!
Don’t take my word for it! Next time you take a practice test, put a mark by questions where you guessed. Score your test with and without those guesses. You tell me, should you guess on the SAT?
What is a good SAT score?
|For years past, many dynamics have played a part in the admission process…essays, interviews, community involvement (i,e., extra curricular activities), recommendations written by teachers or community leaders, your high school GPA, and your SAT scores. More and more colleges in the last decade or two are questioning the validity of SAT scores. Do good SAT scores really predict success in college? Do bad SAT scores predict failure?|
There are three sections on the SAT: Writing, Math and Critical Reading worth a possible 800 points each. An average SAT score is around 1540 out of 2400 points. Students with an average SAT score have many options, but a score above 2100 would place you in the 90th percentile (meaning you scored better than 90% of the test takers) and might cause the “name brand” schools to take a closer look at your admission application.
Listed below are some colleges that require SAT scores and “rough, unofficial estimates” of the SAT scores for those admitted at each school.
As previously mentioned, there are many colleges that are “SAT optional.” In fact, some of the administrators at these SAT-optional schools claim that the test is “not a good predictor of success in college.” They also argue that the SAT “exaggerates the difference between wealthy students whose families can afford expensive SAT prep courses and poorer students who see the exam for the first time on test day.” If this is true, then the SAT isn’t serving the purpose for which it was designed, which is to give equal opportunity to all students.
Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest (a research center that is opposed to standardized tests) says, “SAT-optional, it seems, is no longer a euphemism for ‘second-rate.’ Many of the most selective campuses in the country are concluding that they can make better admissions decisions without the SAT.” Students who don’t necessarily score well on standardized tests would be relieved to know that their admission to certain colleges could be based on other strengths, such as personal interviews and serving in their community.
Many colleges and universities have gone the way of SAT optional in their admissions process. The schools listed below are ones who consider the SAT scores only if the minimum GPA or class rank requirements are not met.
Remember, just because a school is SAT optional does not mean it is easier to be admitted there. It simply means they rely more heavily on the other factors for your admission (essays, interviews, extra curricular activities, recommendations & GPA).
So, what is a good SAT score? We can conclude that a good SAT score is different for each student and college. Many schools often accept students with average SAT scores while others rarely do. We can also conclude that, depending on which colleges are candidates, SAT scores may not even be necessary for admission!
If you ARE looking into schools that require SAT scores, be sure to maximize your score by preparing for the test. A good SAT score for you is probably 100-200 points higher than your score the first time you take the test.
Preparing to Take Your SAT Exam?
|If you own one of the popular two to three-inch thick SAT study guides, you’ve probably cracked it but feel a little intimidated at the sheer size of the book. Most students make the mistake of reading through it cover to cover, and spending countless hours wasting their time taking practice test, after test, after test.I’m here to tell you that method is a complete waste of time! Sure, it’s better than doing nothing at all, but there is a far better way. Through practicing the right method, getting prepared for the SAT exam will seem like a piece of cake. In fact, if you apply the simple techniques I’ll recommend, you’ll walk into your exam feeling like the smartest student in the room.|
Study half as much material, and get better results.
Whether you have taken the exam and want to increase your score, or will be taking the test for the first time, there are several steps you can take to drastically increase your odds of getting a higher score. In fact, after learning my secrets, I’d be willing to bet you’ll be able to do it in half the time you were planning on!
SAT preparation through developing a pacing plan
|If you haven’t already taken an SAT practice test, take one before reading this section. Use the score from your practice test or from an official SAT as a baseline. Add 50 points to this score in each section — this is your target score. This target score should be realistic and attainable.|
Although no individual is truly average as we all have our stregths and weaknesses, you can learn from a student that has an average approach to the SAT. The “Average Joe” is your typical SAT test taker — let’s call him AJ. He has average grades and scores average on the SAT (about 500 in each section). He goes with his first instincts and answers that seem right. This works well for him on easy questions, so-so on medium questions and hurts him on hard questions. His pacing plan is to go as fast as possible so he answers every question on the test. He thinks speed is more important than accuracy. The truth is that AJ can improve his score without even learning any new skills or strategies! If only he would just slow down . . .
ORDER OF DIFFICULTY
The primary concept the average test taker must understand in his/her SAT exam preparation is order of difficulty. The first third of a question group contains easy questions, the last third contains “hard” questions and in the middle you’ll find medium questions. Believe it or not, what determines a question’s level of difficulty has nothing to do with how complicated a solution is or how long it might take to solve. This distinction is based on how many students got it right on past tests. In other words, the harder ones are “trickier.” If they weren’t tricky, more people would have got them right and you’d find them in the easy or medium portion! SO, how can you use this information to your advantage? Good question. Three ways:
Unless you are scoring greater than 700 in each section, you shouldn’t attempt every question on the SAT! Accuracy is more important than speed. Use the pacing chart below to help you figure out how many questions on the SAT you should skip/omit/IGNORE! This will free up precious time to improve your accuracy on doable problems, which will increase your score. Once you meet your target score through pacing, work on some basic skills and learn some SAT math strategies. If you have more time to practice, add another 50 points per section to get a new target score, take another look at the pacing chart and do it again!
Math Pacing Chart
Basic yet essential SAT math strategies
|In addition to learning and applying the strategies outlined below, I recommend you learn the most common traps and SAT myths. You should also develop a pacing plan and learn if SAT guessing will raise or lower your score. Your score will also improve if you memorize some formulas, vocabulary and key directions. After you’ve learned, and more importantly, mastered these basic strategies on real SAT questions, learn the advanced SAT math strategies.|
WHAT TO DO WHEN STUCK — GET PHYSICAL
Whether you’re using any of the strategies below or the ones found in Advanced SAT math strategies, you need to know where to begin when you’re stuck. There’s a saying in whitewater kayaking, “When in doubt, move your paddle.” This helps someone struck with fear and not sure which way to go.
Heading in any direction is better than not moving at all, even if it’s the wrong direction! Simply recognizing you’re moving in the wrong direction is enough to tell you to change course! Physical movement keeps the brain involved and doesn’t allow you to “freeze up.”
The SAT question writers have an amazing ability to write questions that lead you to think, “I have no idea what to do here.” The saying that applies to the SAT is, “When in doubt, move your pencil.” If you’re stumped on a geometry problem with a diagram, create a crude protractor or ruler and start measuring! Sketch your own diagram if it doesn’t have one! If a problem is “wordy” or confusing, display the information differently. Make a table or a chart. Draw a tree diagram or a simple picture.
If you’re stuck on a problem with variables, make up numbers or plug in answer choices; and more importantly — write them down and work them through (get physical)! Do anything that gets your pencil moving! If your pencil is moving, your brain is engaged. If your brain is engaged, you are one step closer to a solution; even if that solution is, “I’ll come back to this problem later if I have time.”
The most important fact you need to experiment with is it takes little to no more time to write stuff down than it does to do it in your head. The points you gain by avoiding errors and sparking ideas when stumped, by far, outweigh the time it takes to move your pencil. If you review your practice test and find yourself saying “I should have got that right,” or “That was a stupid mistake,” you need to write more stuff down.
WHEN TO USE THESE STRATEGIES
Process of Elimination (POE)
Most students are familiar with this process of ruling out answers on multiple-choice tests. In theory, this is a great way to maximize your chances of getting a question correct. The “catch” is the test writers include questions with correct answers that are tempting to rule out. Especially in the hard portion! So before utilizing POE, visit the SAT guessing and SAT traps pages. You will seldom arrive at a correct answer by simply ruling out incorrect ones. POE is most helpful when used with other strategies.
Similar to POE, estimating might get you to a correct answer by using it alone, but that’s rare. The more common benefit of estimating is in catching careless mistakes. If you get in the habit of rounding numbers or estimating before you do actual calculations, it can point out if you made a mistake in your setup or calculation.
Measure Lengths and Angles
Figures on the SAT are drawn to scale UNLESS a problem states “Note: Figure not drawn to scale.” This is key to remember! While you are not allowed to bring an official ruler or protractor, you can use your scratch paper as such. The corner of a piece of paper is a great guide for 90 degrees. Draw a line through the middle and you have two 45 degree angles for reference. Divide it in thirds and you’ve got a good gauge for 30 and 60 degree angles. As for a ruler, make tick marks on one edge of a piece of paper in proportion to the given lengths. Easy to do but hard to remember to do it! Seem too elementary school-ish? Who cares! It works on a lot of problems.
So what can you do if a figure states it’s not drawn to scale? Draw one! Draw a couple figures. Draw extreme cases. Don’t be exact though; speed is key for the figures you draw. Accuracy is key for measuring the figures they provide, as long as they don‘t state it‘s not drawn to scale.
Once you’re good at using the corner of scratch paper as a guide for angles, try drawing the angles directly on their figure to save time. Often times, estimating lengths and angles is close enough.
Create a Visual
SAT problems rarely provide information or ask questions in a straightforward fashion. When I tutor students one-on-one, I never simply solve a problem for them to observe. I suggest ways to get their pencils moving, then they solve problems on their own. One of the most useful ways to cut through the confusion the test writers provide is to display the information your own way. Forming this habit serves three purposes:
This can be done through a table, chart, ratio box, average pie, tree diagram, Venn diagram, picture, list of numbers, graph, sketch, a map, etc.
Keep in mind the above math strategies for the SAT may seem basic. The challenge is in forming the habit of using them regularly!
For more strategies visit Advanced SAT math strategies
You CAN increase your SAT score!
The SAT is a very predictable test. With the right tools, it can be studied for, and you can drastically increase your test results! If you haven’t already taken the SAT, take a practice test under timed conditions. You can find a practice test in the College Board booklet provided by your school. You can also purchase The Official SAT Study Guide: For the New SAT written by the makers of the test, which includes eight full-length practice tests. Better yet, take their online SAT practice test. It provides detailed feedback on the problems you miss.
Once you’ve taken the test, you’re already familiar with the format. Being familiar, though, is not enough. You need to know the test. For example, in the critical reading section, is it OK to base an answer on what is implied in the passage instead of what is stated? Or in the math section, if a figure does not state whether it’s drawn to scale or not, can you assume it is? Many students light up when they learn the SAT gives them math formulas. In reality, most students would be better off if the formulas were not provided. You’re wasting precious time if you need to flip back to those — memorize them! By the way, the answers to both questions above are “yes.”
After you’ve mastered the basic skills, learned new SAT strategies and come up with a pacing plan, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Don’t fall into the trap of simply taking timed test after test. That would be like playing four-hour baseball games over and over when you need to improve your hitting. Go to the batting cages! Practice what you need to improve.
It’s great to take timed tests as part of your study plan, but get more specific in your practice if you really want to score higher on the SAT. Focus on the problem types you get wrong in your practice tests. Only once you’ve learned and practiced new skills, as well as strategies, should you invest more time in taking another timed practice test.
SAT exam info
|REGISTRATION & FEES|
In order to take the test, you must pre-register. College Board, the group who administers the test, has both online registration (www.collegeboard.com) and registration by mail. It is important that you register on time, otherwise, there is a steep late fee. The fee for taking the SAT Reasoning Test is $41.40. The SAT Subject Test has a registration fee of $18.00. For each additional Subject Test, add $8.00 except the Language Test with Listening that is an additional $19.00.
The 2007/2008 SAT Exam Schedule
Note: The registration dates are for U.S. regular registrations, international schedules may vary. If you are mailing your registration information, it must be postmarked by the deadline date or subject to late fees. The Subject Tests are not available on the March 10, 2007 date. Sunday test dates are available if, for religious reasons, you are unable to test on Saturdays.
WHAT THE EXAM COVERS
The following information for the SAT exam went into effect in the spring of 2005 and is divided into three categories:
The test starts promptly at 8:00 A.M. I recommend you arrive by 7:30 A.M. You will need to bring your photo identification and your SAT administration ticket. You will also need two No. 2 pencils (make sure they have good erasers). You cannot use mechanical pencils and no pens are allowed. Bring your calculator and make sure it has fresh batteries. It is a long day, so it is recommended that you bring a snack.
Be sure to check with the College Board if you need additional info for the SAT exam.