Yes, this is an SAT cheat sheet . . . but it’s not about cheating. This is more of a shortcut sheet, giving you the basics of the exam and some advice for improving your score. You'll find time management tips and pointers for doing well on the Reading, Writing, Math, and Essay sections of the SAT.

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Managing your time on the SAT

When you take the SAT, you need to have a time-management strategy. You don’t want to be scrambling when time is running out, but you also want to make sure that you spend the right amount of time on each question. These tips can help:

  • Don’t spend more than a minute on any one question (except the essay of course). If you’re not sure about an answer . . .
    • Take a guess.
    • Circle the question in the test booklet and fold the page corner. Then come back to the question at the end.
  • Wear a simple wrist watch so that you know when to expect the stop buzzer. This watch cannot function as anything other than a timepiece, so no smart watch, and it definitely cannot beep.

And long before you take the SAT, start reading college-level books, magazines, and newspapers so that you get used to concepts and grammar at the SAT level (and the college level). Doing so will speed up your work through SAT reading passages and even the math word problems.

Tips for taking the SAT reading test

No matter how fast or how well you read, you have to strategically approach the SAT Reading Test to get through the college-level reading and in-depth questions in the time allotted. Not to give away all the secrets, but here are just a few high-level strategies:

  • Save the first passage for last. The first passage is always Literature, which takes the most time to get through.
  • With each passage, read the introductory blurb. This gives you key context information to answer the detail questions.
  • Start with the line-number questions (where the line numbers are in the questions, not the answers). You don’t need to read the whole passage to answer these.
  • Next answer the detail questions, where you skim for keywords in the passage, but still don’t read the whole passage.
  • Now read the whole passage, which is easier to quickly understand now that you’ve visited parts of it, and answer the inference and main-idea questions.
  • Look at the questions but not the answer choices. Answer the question yourself, then cross off wrong answers.
  • For the evidence questions (where the answers are line numbers), underline or mark the lines in the passage that the answers refer to, then see which one supports the answer to the previous question.
  • For the two-part passages, read the first passage and answer its questions. Then read the second passage and answer its questions. Save for last the questions that ask about how the passages fit together.

Advice for taking the SAT writing and language multiple-choice test

The English language is complex, and its rules don’t always make a lot of sense, but fortunately for you, the SAT only asks about a limited number of topics. So if you know what the SAT is going to ask, then nothing on the Writing and Language test will surprise you. Get familiar with these topics:

  • Basic grammar mistakes, including subject-verb agreement, verb tense, sentence fragments, and pronoun case.
  • Proper use of words and homonyms, including insure versus ensure, affect versus effect, and further versus farther. Familiarize yourself with the common word choice mistakes that people make.
  • Some punctuation, with a few commas but especially colons and semicolons.
  • Logical flow of ideas, such as introducing an idea, adding detail, and bringing clarification or an example. You’ll be asked to move sentences or paragraphs around to support the narrative.
  • Proper transitions between connecting ideas, such as selecting among however, furthermore, and as a result.
  • Deciphering information given in tables or charts.

Strategies for doing well on the 2 SAT math tests

When it comes to the two SAT Math tests (one with calculator and one without), the challenge isn’t just working the math; you need to finish the questions in the time that you’re given. With just over a minute per math question, you need to have these strategies in place to get the answers right and complete the tests on time:

  • Look for the underlying trick or pattern based on the math concept. If you find yourself doing a lot of math, you missed the point of the question.
  • More than ever, if you’re stuck on a question, circle it in your test booklet, fold the corner of the booklet page, take a guess in the answer sheet, and come back to it when you can. Make sure you answer all the questions that you’re able to and then go back to the ones you’re stuck on.
  • Trust your ability to work simple math. You don’t need the calculator for everything.
  • Don’t rush. Rushing leads to mistakes in both math and calculator number-punching, which then slows you down as you search for the mistake. If you know what you’re doing, you can find the right answer in plenty of time, without rushing.

Scoring well on the SAT essay

The essay is optional on the SAT, but some colleges require it with your application. Others don’t care. So, the first thing you need to do is find out whether the school you want to go to requires the essay. If you’re not sure, or if you’re applying to a bunch of schools, then write the essay! The last thing you want is to retake the whole dang exam just to get the essay in.

The SAT gives you a lengthy passage, like a speech or a newspaper article, and your job is to explain how the author uses writing to persuade the reader, but not whether you agree or disagree. You get 50 minutes to write the essay, which is plenty of time if you don’t get stuck. So follow this advice:

  1. Read the passage and mark anything you want to expand upon:
    • Any persuasive elements and their effects on the reader.
    • Any main ideas and their big-picture impacts
    • Any figurative language (metaphors, similes, and so forth) and its added meaning
  2. Create an outline based on the parts of the passage that you’ve marked.
  3. Now start writing. Be sure to include these elements:
    • A simple introduction
    • Body paragraphs of the topics that you marked in the passage.
    • Quotes and/or paraphrased lines from the passage (referencing the passage via its numbered paragraphs)
  4. At 12 minutes to go, wrap up whatever you’re writing and create a conclusion by paraphrasing the introduction.
  5. At 7 minutes to go, proof your essay and make any needed corrections.

Be sure not to give your own opinion of the topic. If you write something that reads like an opinion, then phrase it as, “The author would probably say . . . (your thought).”

One last tip: Practice at least one essay before exam day.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Ron Woldoff is founder of National Test Prep, where he helps students succeed on the GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, and PSAT. He’s the author of numerous Dummies test prep titles, including GRE 2022 For Dummies and SAT: 1,001 Practice Questions For Dummies.

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