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Abbey Road’s Tips for Taking the SAT
by Student, Alexis R. , Tennessee

Here at Abbey Road Programs, we prize quality education and encourage our students to prepare for and pursue a college education. An important step in that preparation is taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which requires a lot of preparation itself. So how can you master the SAT? It may take some work, but it’s fairly easy! Here are a few tips from Abbey Road:


  • Start Early: The sooner you begin familiarizing yourself with the SAT, the better chances you’ll have of doing well on the test. You won’t have to worry about cramming or stressing about retaining information at the last moment. Sophomore year is a good time to start, either by taking an SAT prep. course offered by Abbey Road Programs, your high school, or another organization or by independently studying using an SAT preparation book. You can also take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which can give you a good idea of what to expect on the SAT and where you rank compared to other students nationally.



  • Know Your Options: Contrary to popular belief, most colleges and universities now accept SAT or ACT scores. So which one should you take? Well that depends on your strengths. The SAT tends to emphasize vocabulary, so if you love words and reading, it’s the way to go. If you tend to do better in math, you may want to look into the ACT, which places less emphasis on vocabulary. That said, be aware that ACT math is more advanced and will test all the way up to trigonometry. The ACT also has a science section – the SAT does not. There are some other key differences, but these details may give you a good idea of which test you’ll be better suited to take.



  • Know the Test: While the SAT will certainly be challenging, there is a strategy to taking it. First and foremost, know the format and details.



  • Format: The test contains 3 hours 45 minutes of timed sections, but is likely to last four to four and a half hours including administration time.



  • Sections: The SAT is about composed of three main sections (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) divided into nine subsections, plus one experimental subsection that will not count toward your overall score (200 to 800 points are possible for each section, for a total possible score of 2400). The subject matter of each subsection will not be presented in order! In other words, you may encounter a math subsection, followed by a reading subsection, followed by another reading subsection, or something different entirely. There’s no way to predict the order in which the sections fall, with the exception of the essay, which will come first. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect for each of the main sections:



  • Critical Reading: 70 minutes total. Two 25-minute subsections and one 20-minute subsection, with varying types of questions, including sentence completions that test your vocabulary and questions about short and long reading passages that test your reading comprehension.
  • Math: 70 minutes total. One 25-minute multiple choice subsection with 20 questions; another 25-minute subsection containing 8 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-in questions that require test-takers write their answers inside a grid on the answer sheet. One 20-minute multiple choice section with 16 questions.
  • Writing: 60 minutes total. One 25-minute essay subsection graded on a scale of 1-6; two multiple choice subsections (one lasting 25 minutes, the other 10) that test you on sentence error detection and improving paragraphs.
  • Experimental: 25 minutes total. One of the subjects will have a fourth, unscored subsection, but because College Board wants to get an accurate idea of how well you do on the experimental portion, you will not be able to tell which one it is. It could fall under any of the three main sections and come at any time during the test (except the essay), so try your best on all ten subsections.



  • Question Difficulty: There are three levels of difficulty for questions: easy, medium and hard. The questions in the first third of each section are easy, those in the second third are medium, and the last third are hard (Reading comprehension questions will not follow this pattern).



  • Scoring: You receive one point for each correct answer in multiple choice sections. One quarter of a point is deducted for each incorrect answer, but there is no penalty for leaving a question blank. This means you should be able to make a very educated guess if you’re having trouble on a multiple choice question. Otherwise, leave it blank. Unlike multiple choice questions, there is no penalty for incorrect answers on grid-in questions because the test-taker is not limited to a few possible choices, so if you’re crunched for time, you can make a guess without it affecting you negatively. These points (including your essay score) will be added up to make a “raw score”, which will later be converted to your individual section scores.



  • Study, But Don’t Stress: Studying doesn’t have to be a soul-draining experience. Do be diligent in your studies and test preparation, but make sure you remember to give yourself a break! You should not spend the month before the test locked in your room, pouring over test prep. books and cramming. Schedule time to study, but give yourself breaks, get outside, and have fun, too.



  • Rest, Eat, Breathe, Relax: Make sure you get plenty of sleep the few nights before the test. Don’t cram the night before the test! If you haven’t retained concepts before this point, you’re not likely to absorb them so close to the test. You may want to have a light review of vocabulary and math concepts, but frantically studying probably won’t help you. Eat a balanced breakfast the morning of the test, and make sure you use the restroom before the test begins, or you’ll have to wait for designated break times (you will have three 5-minute breaks during which time you may use the rest room and consume snacks and beverages). Make sure you relax and stay calm during the test. If something goes horribly wrong during the test, you can always cancel your scores. But remember there are only a certain number of tests offered each year, so it’s good to make each time you take the test count.



  • Pace Yourself: Every question on the test is worth the same amount (one point), so spend your time making sure you get the easy and medium questions correct and save hard questions for last. Rushing through the test to get to the hardest questions will likely drag your score down.