SAT Answer Plan: How to optimize your score
The SAT is not only a game of knowledge and problem solving, but also of strategy and timing. The reason people identify themselves as "bad test-takers" is not because they aren't smart enough to answer questions correctly, but because their test-taking instincts don't match a winning formula for standardized tests.
There are some strategic choices you should make to optimize your scoring potential. Take note that some of these tactics require using methods you will not initially be comfortable using. Only by taking practice tests using these strategies will you be able to use them to their full potential on the real test.
First are some general tips for the SAT. Afterward, you will find links to other articles which discuss tactics for each section individually.
The first tip is probably the most obvious. If you wish to improve on the SAT, you must practice. Knowing the methodology for each section will allow you to save time by skipping reading directions.
- Understand the order of difficulty
Questions tend to be grouped by difficulty with easy questions appearing before harder questions. However, this does not mean that what the SAT creators consider 'easy' will necessarily match with your definition. If there's a question you don't immediately understand or you feel will take a while to solve, skip it and return to it. Easy questions are worth just as many points as harder questions, so you should maximize the number of easy questions you answer.
The 1/4 point penalty is designed to scare you away from guessing. The truth is that because each question has five possible answers, statistically, if you guessed on five consecutive answer, you would get one correct and break even (one point for the correct answer, and minus a quarter for 4 wrong ones makes 1 - 1/4 - 1/4 - 1/4 - 1/4 = 0). If you can eliminate even just one answer choice, the statistics work in your favor and you should guess.
- Also, there is no penalty for wrong answers in the math grid-in section. You should write an answer for every one of these.
- Manage your time
The time constraint is what makes the SAT hard. Remember that you do not have to answer every question to get a good score. You will get a lot more points by jumping around and focusing only on easy questions than by wasting time trying to solve difficult ones. If you find yourself spending more than a minute or two on a question, make an educated guess and move on to easier questions. You can always return to it later.
- Some test proctors will give time warnings, and some won't. Some rooms with have a clock on the wall, and some won't. Be prepared and bring your own (silent) watch to the testing center to help keep track of your time.
- There is always one and only one right answer
None of the questions on the SAT were added without great thought. ETS, the company that makes the SAT, hates it when students can argue about the validity of an answer. As a result, there are always very specific reasons as to why one answer is correct and why the other four are incorrect. If you're having difficulty finding the right answer, look instead for the wrong ones and eliminate them.
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