Of the two popular college admissions tests (ACT and SAT), the SAT is probably the most widely used and authoritative. For better or for worse, how well you do on this test will greatly affect your chances of getting into the college of your choice.
To make matters worse, there is some debate about whether or not you can even improve your SAT scores by preparing. The creators of the SAT would have you believe that there is no way to "game" the SAT, that your score is determined by your inherent intelligence and academic training, something you can't change in a short amount of time.
However, there is evidence to the contrary. It seems that by taking practice tests, receiving coaching, and learning how to take the the test, you can certainly improve your score. Don't expect miracles, but by being comfortable with the format of the test, and understanding some basic problem solving techniques for the various types of questions, you should be able to give yourself that extra edge.
Preparing for the SAT can be done in many ways, but I like to break it down into stages of familiarization, problem solving, and test taking skills. Each of these stages will involve working through practice tests and problems, but having a different focus at each stage.
Let's talk about familiarization. To do well on the test, you need to be comfortable with its format. Get a practice test (an up to date test from the Internet, library, or bookstore), read the instructions, and work through the test, untimed, no pressure at all. Don't score the test unless you want to. The idea here is to become familiar with each of the different sections of the test, as well as the types of problems you will encounter. If you know what the instructions for each section are, you can save time on test day by just diving straight into the body of the test.
Also, when you're taking this test, make note of the different categories of problems there are, and which ones you're struggling with. This will help prepare you for the next step.
Moving on to problem solving. This is probably one of the hardest areas to improve in, but if you put in some work, you may see some improvements. The key here is to start taking timed practice tests, and very carefully noting which problems you're struggling on. Once you have identified these problems, try to break them up into general groups (i.e., statistics based math problems, vocabulary problems, etc.). Analyze what you're doing wrong, and attempt to rectify any gaps in your understanding by studying. Remember any patterns or methods that work for the types of problems you're addressing.
This step is all about working smarter, not harder. You can't attempt to fix every area of weakness, so spend your time working on the areas that you stand the most to gain. For example, boosting your vocabulary significantly in a short amount of time is near impossible, but learning about correct subject/verb/object relationships may not be so difficult. If you focus on correcting your simplest to fix weak areas, you will get much more bang for your SAT prep buck.
Test taking. Here is the stage where you need to buckle down and take timed tests. One problem that many people have with the SAT is running out of time on a section. This typically occurs because its very easy to spend too much time on a hard problem. Remember, you're better off answering more questions that you understand than burning all your time to correctly answer one hard option. It may feel bad leaving that question blank, but try to get into the mindset when you're practicing that it will improve your score by allowing you to get more done.
In the same vein, it sometimes help to take a "layered" approach to test taking. First, go through the section, answering all the easy questions as quickly as possible. Then, start working through the harder ones, but move on quickly if you feel yourself getting too bogged down. Finally, once you have as much as you can done, spend the rest of your time (if you have any) working through the tricky ones. This will ensure that you finish as much of the test as possible.
Another thing to get worked out is how you work out guesses. The SAT actually penalizes you a fraction of a point for wrong answers, so there actually is a downside to just guessing. The good news is that, if you can eliminate one or two answers, you'll probably come out ahead in the long run. If you have absolutely no idea, just leave it blank, since you don't loose any points for doing so.
As you can see, prepping for the SAT is not an easy task. It will take a lot of hard work, but it all may be worth it if it gets you into that special college you've been aiming for. Good luck on test day!
David Wilson is the man behind College Hunter Blog, a site devoted to helping students find the college of their dreams. Please visit the site to find out more great info on online degree programs, scholarships, application tips, test prep, and much, much more.