The SAT Blues: What I Wish I Had Known

Ever wish you could look into a crystal ball and see what's going to trip you up on the SAT? We've got the next best thing: advice from a test prep pro who's been in your shoes.

Laments of recent test-takers fill the halls of your school. Wailing, crying, and lambasting, students wander from classroom to classroom, wondering why they didn’t take advantage of test prep opportunities when they had a chance.

Avoid the SAT blues! Take the time to learn what you’ll need beforehand so you won’t end up like these depressed, sad souls, destined to retake the SAT for a second or even third time.

Let’s look at just some of the things that students wish they had known before taking the SAT.

“The calculator didn’t solve all my problems!”

Many students fall into the trap of thinking that the math will be pretty easy since they’ll have a calculator. Committed to this idea, these students waste loads of time trying to answer questions by jamming numbers into their calculators. Nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to SAT Math.

Having a calculator with you on test day is great, but you need to use it sparingly. You are better off doing most of your calculations in your head or on paper. You really need to reason through problems, work them as far as you can, and then turn to the calculator for the last calculation. The calculator is only a tool and one that won’t really make things easier for you. It won’t make up for weak math skills.

“Why didn’t I prepare examples for my essay?”

The essay begins and ends in a flash. The time disappears so quickly, students sometimes only get to actually writing when time is about to expire. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can walk in with a chunk of examples on your favorite topics to save you time to write as much as you can for the SAT Writing section.

Before the test, you should brainstorm topics that you are an “expert” on. Basically, think about what you like and what you are drawn to, follow your interests, and find examples to use. You may not know what the topic will be for the essay, but that’s okay. With prepared examples, you will naturally find ways to work them into your essay.

For example, I love technology. Before the test, I’d make a list of some important people in technology and why they are important: Steve Jobs: creative, persistent, and design-centric. Elon Musk: pioneer, risk-taker, multifaceted. Larry Page and Sergey Brin: revolutionaries, moralistic, trendsetters. These examples, although connected to technology, are now malleable because of the different character traits that each person displays. I now have many ways to fit them into a topic.

So what interests you? Don’t forget to write it down.

“I should’ve spent more time preparing!”

In high school, students often become conditioned to a nefarious idea: cramming! Nothing could be worse when it comes to the SAT. This is no test to cram for. You simply can’t do it because there is too much to learn in terms of question types, common wrong answers, and strategies. Ultimately, this is a test of skill and knowledge strictly related to the SAT, and if you don’t spend time preparing, you’ll feel the pain on test day.

I was that student. The first time I took the SAT, I didn’t open a prep book until a few days before my test. And when I did, I didn’t put a lot of effort into it. I assumed that since I did well in school, turned in my homework on time, and could do well on tests at school, the SAT would be a snap. I was terribly wrong. I ended up signing up for a retake almost immediately after the test because I knew it didn’t go as planned.

Spend months preparing for the SAT. A little studying each day is enough to make a substantial difference. Map out a plan so that you can cover everything in your prep materials. And make sure you take a practice test too. The earlier you start, the less likely you are to be walloped on test day.

The takeaway

The SAT blues are pervasive but easy to avoid. Plenty of resources and tools exist to help you prepare for the test. Don’t let ignorance and naivety sink your first attempt of the SAT.

You don’t have to be one of those students wailing in the halls of high school. It just takes some smarts and prep. I’ve only listed a few things you can do, so it’s up to you to find the rest!

For more SAT resources and advice, check out Magoosh SAT vocabulary flashcards and the Magoosh SAT Blog!

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About Kevin Rocci

Kevin Rocci is a support tutor and the resident SAT expert at Magoosh, an online resource for GRE, GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL prep. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.


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