SAT Prep 2023 For Dummies with Online Practice
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Yes, this is an SAT cheat sheet . . . but it’s not about cheating. It’s more of a shortcut sheet, giving you the basics of the exam and some advice for improving your score. You'll also find time management tips and pointers for doing well on the reading, writing, math, and essay sections of the SAT.

Managing your time on the SAT

You need a time-management strategy when you take your SAT. 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 a minute goes by on the question:
    • Bubble in a guess answer.
    • Circle the question in the test booklet and fold the page corner.
    • Revisit the question when you’ve reached the end of that test.
  • Practice with a simple wristwatch so you can learn to track your time. This watch cannot function as anything other than a timepiece, so no smart watch, and it definitely can’t beep. Go online or to a store for the cheapest watch you can find. Then, when each test begins:
    • In your test booklet, write down the start time when you start that test. If you’re starting the Reading Test at 8:30, you’d write down 8:30 at the top.
    • Each test shows its duration in minutes right at the top, so after writing down the start time, write down the stop time of that test. For example, the Reading Test is 65 minutes, so after writing down the start time (say 8:30), write down the stop time (which would be 9:35). Now you can track how much time you have.
    • Track your pace through that test. For example, if you started the Reading Test at 8:30, and the test is 65 minutes long, you should be about halfway through at about 9:00. Practice this so you know where you should speed up and where your pace is just fine.
  • 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). This will speed up your work through SAT reading passages and even the math word problems.

Taking control of the 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. Here are a few 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 few introductory lines, which give you key context information to answer the detail questions — but don’t read the passage yet.
  • First, answer 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.
  • Finally, 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.
  • For each question (except the evidence questions, where the answers are line numbers), cover 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 focus on those answers.
  • For the two-part passages, read the first passage and answer its questions. Then read the second passage and answer its questions. Finally, answer the questions that ask about how the passages fit together.

Cutting through the SAT writing and language multiple-choice test

The English language is complex, and its rules aren’t always consistent, but fortunately 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 multiple-choice test will surprise you. Brush up on these topics:

  • Basic grammar, including subject-verb agreement, verb tense, sentence fragments, and pronoun case.
  • Proper use of words and homophones, such as insure versus ensure, affect versus effect, and further versus farther. Study 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.
  • Understanding information in tables and charts.

Strategies for the 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; it’s finishing 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.
  •  If you’re stuck on a question, circle it in your test booklet, fold the corner of the booklet page, bubble in a guess on 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, which leads to mistakes in both math and calculator number-punching. Instead, learn what you’re doing, because if you know how to handle a question, you can find the right answer in plenty of time, without rushing.
  • If you make a mistake (for example, your answer doesn’t match an answer choice), don’t search for the mistake in your math work. Instead, start the math work over again. Yes, you’re throwing away valuable work that you did, but that work has a mistake, and it takes less time to start again than to check every step. Besides, the work goes faster the second time.

Writing a killer 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’re graded on how well you understand the author’s point, how well you describe the author’s persuasive elements, and how effectively you can convey an idea, including using correct grammar.

You get 50 minutes to write the essay, which is plenty of time if you don’t get stuck. You have your wristwatch, right? Write down the start and stop times of your essay, and follow these steps:

  1. Read the passage and underline anything you want to expand upon:
    1. Any persuasive elements and their effects on the reader
    2. Any main ideas and their big-picture impacts
    3. Any figurative language (metaphors, similes, and so forth) and its added meaning
  2. Create a rough outline based on the parts of the passage that you’ve underlined:
    1. Sketch the outline in the test booklet, not on your answer sheet.
    2. Pick the best parts. You don’t have to use everything, and you can adjust your outline as you go.
  3. Start writing:
    1. Start with a simple introduction.
    2. Write a body paragraph for each topic that you marked in the passage, for three to five body paragraphs total.
    3. Use quotes and/or paraphrased lines from the passage, and reference the paragraph that the lines came from (the paragraphs are numbered).
  4. At 12 minutes to go, start to conclude your essay:
    1. Wrap up the body paragraph you’re working on.
    2. Write your conclusion by paraphrasing the introduction, but expand upon it a little, because now you know the essay better.
  5. At 7 minutes to go, proof your essay:
    1. Read through your essay for grammar, flow, and clarity.
    2. Add transitions (for example; furthermore) as needed.
    3. Add any needed clarification.
    4. 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).”
    5. If you need to add a phrase (say for clarification), and there’s no room, place an asterisk (*) where you want the phrase and another asterisk at the bottom of the page, and write the phrase there. Or, if there’s room, you can add a caret (^) and place the word above the caret.
    6. Everything you write has to be within the box on the answer sheet, so don’t place any additions outside that box.
    7. You don’t have time to rewrite anything, so instead focus on cleanup.

Think you can do this? Absolutely you can, but no one can do this on a first attempt, especially after a four-hour marathon SAT when the stakes are high. Practice at least one essay before exam day.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Ron Woldoff founded National Test Prep to help students reach their goals on college entrance exams. He created the programs and curricula for these tests from scratch, and he has taught his own test prep programs at various Arizona high schools, colleges, and universities.

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