The SAT, a test that strikes fear and panic into high schoolers and their parents each year. Although the high stakes test is a dreaded rite of passage for the already stressed and overwhelmed high schooler, it does serve a purpose. There can be vast differences in standards, grading criteria, and requirements from one teacher to the next, let alone from district to district or even from state to state. Colleges need a way to measure performance and comprehension that is standardized and streamlined. Although the intended purpose sounds reasonable, there are many issues that exist with the test. Many students suffer from test anxiety and the test has morphed into being as much about test taking skills as it is about content knowledge. The test is not only important for admissions decisions, but also financial aid offerings from schools. So here are three crucial components to any SAT study and preparation plan to help reduce the anxiety and overwhelm that surrounds this important metric.
1. Goal Setting
The first component is goal setting. Students need to examine their previous scores and determine their target score, and how they are going to achieve this goal. Begin by developing a solid college list which includes 2-3 schools in each category of reach, target, and safety. Safety schools can be test optional or you should have a current score that is very close to or meets the school’s 50th percentile average. Students can rest assured their scores are competitive which can alleviate some of the pressure and concern behind preparing. Target and reach schools will often have average test scores that are higher than a student’s current scores, and it is important to shoot for the average score of the 75th percentile. Once students know their target score, they need to determine how to achieve this goal by evaluating areas of improvement and blocking out an appropriate amount of study time to where they feel consistently confident in answering those question types. This will differ for each student, but creating a calendar where time is blocked out for each day, week and month is crucial.
The second component is practice. As with any skill, practice is key to being successful. Test taking is an important skill, not just for the SAT but for any test that is required as students seek certification, licenses and acceptance in their future endeavors. Effective practice means taking full length practice tests at set intervals throughout their study plan in an environment that mimics the actual test day. Tests should be taken at the same time as the official one as well as matching the exact pacing and time constraints including breaks at set intervals. This will ensure there are no surprises on test day. The results of the practice tests also provide crucial information on areas to work through as well as time management and pacing.
The final component is awareness. The SAT is developed so that getting a perfect score is nearly impossible. Only a handful of students get a perfect score each year. Being aware of the fact that you will come across questions you do not know how to solve is vital to maintaining your focus throughout the test. Many students will come to a question they do not know how to solve and instead of identifying it right away and moving on, they will spend valuable time struggling with that single question. This is not only detrimental to time management and pacing, but can interfere with a student’s confidence on subsequent questions. Doubt begins to creep in and their focus starts to wane. The effects of not having a plan when encountering a question they are unsure of can be devastating. Identifying the question as one to skip and come back to only if time permits will mean no interruption to the rest of the test. This can translate to huge point increases for students.