SAT (and other) Test-Taking Tips

The SAT is coming in April...

Preparation is Essential

The more you know about an upcoming test, the better prepared you will be to perform well. This means familiarizing yourself with the types of questions you will be asked (multiple choice, true/false, short answer, essay). Knowing what the test will expect from you should inform how you need to study.

You can usually get a lot of this information ahead of time. For a regular test you can speak with your teacher or take notes when reviewing for an upcoming test. For a test like the SAT, there are practice tests online, practice through Khan Academy, and in our next newsletter we will be focusing specifically on the directions for each section of the SAT.

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Multiple Choice Test Strategies

For most multiple choice tests you will have 4 or 5 possible answers to choose from (SAT will have 4 answer choices per question). The good news is that the correct answer is sitting right there in front of you! Here are a couple of suggestions to help you find that correct answer:

  • Eliminate incorrect answer choices: Usually, even if you don't know the correct answer, there are one or two answer choices that you know for sure are not correct. If you eliminate these choices, you have now increased your chances of getting a correct answer (even by guessing).
  • Read questions and answer choices thoroughly to avoid distractors: Test makers deliberately throw in misleading answer choices called "distractors". If you skim through the choices quickly, without fully comprehending the question or answers, you will be much more likely to choose an incorrect answer. Make sure you take your time to review all of the potential answer choices before selecting the one you think is correct.
  • Incorrect answer choices can often contain the words: ALWAYS, NEVER, or other absolutes. Very rarely is something always or never true. More than likely these choices are not the correct answer.
  • Answer every question: Most tests do not penalize you for wrong answers or guessing. This is true of the SAT. This means it is to your advantage to answer each question, even if it is a guess. You can increase your odds of guessing correctly even if you don't know the correct answer if you are able to eliminate answer choices you know are wrong.

Strategies for Essay or Short Answer Questions

If you have an idea of the types of information you may be asked about for essays or short answer questions, you can practice these types of responses before taking the actual test. When you're taking the test, think about these suggestions:

  • Make sure you are answering the question being asked: Write a response that directly answers the prompt and bring in only relevant information. This will help you write a more concise and appropriate response that is likely to be scored higher. If the information is not relevant to the question, do not include it.
  • Make your own inferences and expand your response: Especially for the SAT, they want to see you use critical thinking skills to analyze what is going on. This doesn't mean that you need to regurgitate facts. Based on what you know, or a reading passage you're given, what assumptions can you make and how can you best answer the question. This takes practice.
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Focus on Pacing Yourself

For many tests, It is important that you work deliberately through the entire test or section. For the SAT, these are strictly timed sections. Here are some tips:

  • Know how much time you have and what you need to get through in that time: We will be reviewing this for SAT specifically in our next newsletter with directions.
  • Move through the test and give yourself permission to go back to a particularly difficult question later: You don't want to spend a lot of time on any one question, especially for multiple choice questions. Generally speaking, you don't get more points for answering a hard question than you do for an easy question. Answering easier questions will help you move through the test more quickly and will also help your overall confidence for when you have to go back to some of the more difficult ones.
  • Take time to check in with yourself and acknowledge when you need to take a breather: Even though your test may be timed, you can still make use of Relaxation Strategies if you're finding yourself feeling overwhelmed or rushed.

Yours In SAT Preparation, The Huron Valley Schools Counselors