Mastering the SAT: Your Comprehensive Guide to Success
Updated: Jun 26
Standardized tests can be intimidating. A lot can ride on a single test and it’s not just any test, it’s a complex, three- to four-hour exam covering multiple subjects. Clearly, few can walk into these tests with no forethought or preparation.
But how can you be ready for such a huge test? With no study guide and new questions every year, not to mention the difference between the SAT and the ACT, it’s not easy to even know where to start to get yourself ready.
Today, let's focus on the SAT. Here's everything you need to know:
What Is the SAT
If you're not familiar with the SAT, it's a standardized test used by many colleges and universities in the United States as part of their admissions process. The test measures a student's knowledge and skills in math, reading, and writing, and is designed to help colleges evaluate a student's preparedness for college-level coursework. The SAT is divided into four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with a calculator), and Math (without a calculator). Students will encounter a variety of question types on the test, including multiple-choice and grid-in questions. Their score will range from 400 to 1600, and is based on the number of questions they answered correctly in each section. Don't worry if this sounds overwhelming - we'll cover everything you need to know about the test in this blog!
When can students take the SAT
In the US, College Board typically offers seven SAT test dates a year. Typically these dates fall in mid-March, early May, early June, late August, early October, early November and early December. Students can take the SAT as early as their freshman year of high school, but most students take it during their junior year. We recommend that students take the test at least twice, once in the spring of their junior year and once in the fall of their senior year. This allows students to potentially improve their scores and gives them more opportunities to submit their best scores to colleges. Students should also consider the application deadlines of the colleges they're interested in to ensure they have enough time to take the test and receive their scores before submitting their applications.
Here are the upcoming SAT dates:
How to Prepare for the SAT
They are numerous different philosophies and approaches to studying for the SAT. At Spark Tutors, we have our own approach to SAT prep with an eye to what works best for students and what makes them the most confident in themselves and most prepared for the upcoming material. First, let's outline the steps of our approach, and then we'll talk about why we think this is the best method.
What We Do
1) The first thing we do is have our students take a full test, timed.
2) Then we ask that our students go over their test independently, and grade it.
It's important they carefully look over every question they got wrong. They need to understand why their answer is incorrect and how to answer the question correctly. At this time, students should also look at the questions they couldn't get to because they ran out of time.
3) Finally, we meet with our students, and go over all the questions they couldn't correct independently.
This is when we explain any concepts the students might be missing and introduce any tips or tricks regarding time management, back solving, or other such test-taking strategies.
And then we repeat this process. Over and over again. Our rule of thumb is that students should take eight full practice tests before taking their official exam, but some students take up to 12 or even 15 tests.
Once we have corrected two or three tests with our students, we might then pause the testing to focus on some specific concepts the student with whom we are working is lacking. In this case, we will provide worksheets for our students to practice a specific concept.
Why It Works
Why do we believe in practice-based test prep? Here are main benefits to this approach:
· Stress management: Taking these huge tests for three or more hours is very stressful. The most effective way to get students ready for it is to have them practice doing it. Have the students sit and think for three or more hours. Yes, it sucks. It's really hard. Nevertheless, it is a skill, and it does get easier, with lots of practice.
· Time management: A huge part of the SAT and ACT is time management. Knowing when and where to spend your time is another skill that comes through experience, and again, there's no better way to practice this skill than doing it over and over.
· Independent learning: Research shows that teenage students retain information better when they have figured it out by themselves. With this method, we want to make sure students have an opportunity to recognize and correct their own errors. This is when the best learning happens. Of course, we are there to support students when they can't figure it out independently, but we want to give them the space to try without us first.
· Reduced cost: This may not link as directly with test success, but it’s still an important factor. Because most of the work is done by the student independently, it is more affordable than the average "big name" test prep centers. That means you can get more with us and more of the help you really need in order to improve your scores.
Addressing the Downsides
There are some requirements for practice-based test prep and if you don’t have them, the practice-based test prep method will not work as well. Students who engage in this approach must be motivated and have experience with independent study. The downside is, not all students meet these requirements. What if you aren’t very motivated, or don’t have much experience with independent study?
The good news is we can help!
We can teach students how to focus and study independently. We can walk them through the process of what that means and give them tools to support their new work habits and get them going. We can even proctor tests if needed.
Big tests are a part of life. Sometimes they are scary and it’s easier not to look at them than to face a test and realize exactly how unprepared you are. It takes courage to do and then courage to work to become prepared. We know how hard this can be for some students, maybe especially those who are least prepared. Nevertheless, we have
worked with many students at all levels and seen improvement and success are possible for everyone as long as they have the courage to try.
Take a deep breath, give Spark Tutors a call, and start moving forward. We are waiting to work with you!
We hope this article has inspired you to take that next step toward your dreams and goals. Be brave! After all, part of the process of learning is learning how to test. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!