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Kaplan SAT IIWriting 2004-2005
By Kaplan Publishing
KaplanCopyright © 2004 Kaplan Publishing
All right reserved.
Chapter One: About the SAT II: Subject Tests
You're serious about going to the college of your choice. You wouldn't have opened this book otherwise. You've made a wise decision, because this book can help you to achieve your college admissions goal. It'll show you how to score your best on the SAT II: Writing Test. But before you begin to prepare for the Writing Test, you need some general information about the SAT IIs and how this book will help you prep. That's what this chapter is about.
Common Questions about the SAT IIs
Before you dive into the specifics of the content of the SAT II: Writing Test, check out the following FAQs (frequently asked questions) about SAT II Subject Tests in general. The information here is accurate at the time of publication but it's a good idea to check the test information on the College Board Web site at collegeboard.com.
What are the SAT IIs?
Known until recently as the College Board Achievement Tests, the SAT IIs focus on specific disciplines in five general subject areas: English, History, Mathematics, Sciences, and Languages. Each Subject test lasts one hour and consists almost entirely of multiple-choice questions, except for the Writing Test, which has a 20-minute essay section and a 40-minute multiple-choice section.
How Do the SAT IIs Differ from the SAT I?
SAT I is largely a test of verbal and math skills. True, you need to know some vocabulary and some formulas for SAT I; but it's designed to measure how well you read and think rather than what you know. SAT IIs are very different. They're designed to measure what you know about specific disciplines. Sure, critical reading and thinking skills play a part on these tests; but their main purpose is to determine exactly what you know about writing, math, history, chemistry, and so on.
The Writing Test's designed to determine how familiar you are with the rules of standard written English. Don't worry, you don't ever have to explain the rules. But you must apply them: to your own writing (in the essay section) and to others' writing (in the multiple-choice section).
How Do Colleges Use the SAT IIs?
Many people will tell you that the SATs (I and II alike) measure only your ability to perform on standardized exams -- that they measure neither your reading and thinking skills nor your level of knowledge. Maybe they're right. But these people don't work for colleges. Those schools that require SATs feel that they are an important indicator of your ability to succeed in college. Specifically, they use your scores in one or both of two ways:
To help them make admissions decisions
To help them make placement decisions
Like the SAT I, the SAT II: Subject Tests provide schools with a standard measure of academic performance, which they use to compare you to applicants from different high schools and different educational backgrounds. This information helps them to decide whether you're ready to handle their curriculum.
SAT II scores may also be used to decide what course of study is appropriate for you once you've been admitted. A low score on the Writing Test, for example, may mean that you have to take a remedial English course. Conversely, a high score on the Math Level IIC Test may mean that you'll be exempted from an introductory math course.
What SAT IIs Should I Take?
The simple answer is: Take the ones that you'll do well on. High scores, after all, can only help your chances for admission. Unfortunately, many colleges demand that you take particular tests, usually the Writing Test and/or one of the Math Tests. Some schools will give you some choice in the matter, especially if they want you to take a total of three Subject Tests. So before you register to take any tests, check with colleges to find out exactly which tests they require. Don't rely on high school guidance counselors or admissions handbooks for this information. They might not give you accurate details.
When Can I Take the SAT IIs?
Most of the SAT II: Subject Tests are administered six times a year: in October, November, December, January, May, and June. A few of the Subject Tests are offered less frequently. Due to admissions deadlines, many colleges insist that you take SAT IIs no later than December or January of your senior year in high school. You may even have to take them sooner if you're interested in applying for "early admission" to a school. Those schools that use scores only for placement decisions may allow you to take the Subject Tests as late as May or June of your senior year. You should check with colleges to find out which test dates are most appropriate for you.
You can take up to three Subject Tests on the same day. If you register for the Writing Test, it must be taken first on test day.
How Do I Register for the SAT IIs?
The College Board administers the SAT II: Subject Tests, so you must sign up with them. The easiest way to register is to obtain copies of the SAT Registration Bulletin and Taking the SAT II: Subject Tests. These publications contain all of the necessary information, including current test dates and fees. They can be obtained at any high school guidance office or directly from the College Board. You can re-register by telephone if you have previously registered for an SAT I or SAT II test.
How Are the SAT IIs Scored?
Like the SAT I, SAT II Subject Tests are scored on a 200-800 scale. In the case of the Writing Test, you'll receive separate subscores for both the essay and multiple-choice sections. You'll also receive an overall score on the 200-800 scale, which is calculated by combining the two separate subscores. Later chapters of this book will have more to say about scoring.
What's a "Good" Score?
That's tricky. The obvious answer is: the score that the college of your choice demands. Keep in mind, though, that SAT II scores are just one piece of information that colleges will use to evaluate you. The decision to accept or reject you will be based on many criteria, including your high school transcript, your SAT I score, your recommendations, your personal statement, your interview (where applicable), your extracurricular activities, and the like. So, failure to achieve the necessary score doesn't automatically mean that your chances of getting in have been damaged. For those who want a numerical benchmark, a score of 600 is considered very solid. (Note that as of 2002, the Score Choice option to withold a score you're unhappy with has been eliminated for the SAT II subject tests.)
If you take the Writing Test, you can order three graded copies of your essay through College Board's Writing Sample Copy Service. If you get a high score on the essay section, it's in your interest to use this service. Adding another piece of strong writing to your application, it goes without saying, will help your chances for admission.
What Should I Bring to the SAT IIs?
It's a good idea to get your test materials together the day before the tests. You'll need an admission ticket; a form of identification (check the Registration Bulletin to find out what is and what is not permissible); a few sharpened No. 2 pencils; a good eraser; and a calculator (for Math Levels IC and IIC). If you'll be registering as a standby, collect the appropriate forms beforehand. Also, make sure that you have good directions to the test center. (We even recommend that you do a dry run getting to the site prior to test day -- it can save you the grief of getting lost!)
SAT II Mastery
Now that you know a little about the SAT II: Subject Tests, it's time to let you in on a few basic test taking skills and strategies that can improve your scoring performance. You should practice these skills and strategies as you prepare for your SAT IIs.
Use the Test Structure to Your Advantage
The SAT II: Subject Tests are different from the tests that you're used to taking. On your high school exams, you probably go through the questions in order. You probably spend more time on hard questions than on easy ones, since hard questions are generally worth more points. And you often show your work since your teachers tell you that how you approach questions is as important as getting the right answers.
Well, forget all that! None of this applies to the SAT IIs. You can benefit from moving around within the tests, hard questions are worth the same points as easy ones, and it doesn't matter how you answer the questions or what work you did to get there -- only what your answers are.
The SAT IIs are highly predictable. Because the format and directions of the SAT II: Subject Tests remain unchanged from test to test, you can learn how the tests are set up in advance. On test day, the various question types on the tests shouldn't be new to you.
One of the easiest things you can do to help your performance on the SAT IIs is to understand the directions before taking the test. Since the instructions are always the same, there's no reason to waste a lot of time on test day reading them. Learn them beforehand, as you work through this book and study the College Board publications.
Many SAT II questions are arranged by order of difficulty. Not all of the questions on the SAT IIs are equally difficult. The questions often get harder as you work through different parts of the test. This pattern can work to your benefit. As you work, you should always be aware of where you are in the test.
When working on more basic problems, you can generally trust your first impulse -- the obvious answer is likely to be correct. As you get to the end of a test section, you need to be a bit more suspicious. Now the answers probably won't come as quickly and easily -- if they do, look again because the obvious answers may be wrong. Watch out for answers that just "look right." They may be distracters -- wrong answer choices deliberately meant to entice you.
You don't need to answer the questions in order. You're allowed to skip around on the SAT II: Subject Tests. High scorers know this fact. They move through the tests efficiently. They don't dwell on any one question, even a hard one, until they've tried every question at least once.
When you run into questions that look tough, circle them in your test booklet and skip them for the time being. Go back and try again after you've answered the more basic ones -- if you've got time. On a second look, troublesome questions can turn out to be remarkably simple.
If you've started to answer a question but get confused, quit and go on to the next question. Persistence may pay off in high school, but it usually hurts your SAT II scores. Don't spend so much time answering one hard question that you use up three or four questions' worth of time. That'll cost you points, especially if you don't even get the hard question right.
The SAT IIs have a "guessing penalty" that can actually work in your favor. The College Board likes to talk about the guessing penalty on the SAT IIs. That's a misnomer. It's really a wrong answer penalty. If you guess wrong, you get penalized. If you guess right, you're in great shape.
The fact is, if you can eliminate one or more answer choices as definitely wrong, you'll turn the odds in your favor and actually come out ahead by guessing. The fractional points that you lose are meant to offset the points you might get "accidentally" by guessing the correct answer. With practice, however, you'll see that it's often easy to eliminate several answer choices on some of the questions.
The SAT II answer grid has no heart. It sounds simple, but it's extremely important: Don't make mistakes filling out your answer grid. When time is short, it's easy to get confused going back and forth between your test booklet and your grid. If you know the answers, but misgrid, you won't get the points. Here's how to avoid mistakes.
Always circle the questions you skip. Put a big circle in your test booklet around any question numbers that you skip. When you go back, these questions will be easy to relocate. Also, if you accidentally skip a box on the grid, you can check your grid against your booklet to see where you went wrong.
Always circle the answers you choose. Circling your answers in the test booklet makes it easier to check your grid against your booklet.
Grid five or more answers at once. Don't transfer your answers to the grid after every question. Transfer them after every five questions. That way, you won't keep breaking your concentration to mark the grid. You'll save time and gain accuracy.
A Strategic Approach to SAT II Questions
Apart from knowing the setup of the SAT II: Subject Tests that you'll be taking, you've got to have a system for attacking the questions. You wouldn't travel around an unfamiliar city without a map, and you shouldn't approach the SAT IIs without a plan. What follows is the best method for approaching SAT II questions systematically.
Think about the questions before you look at the answers. The College Board loves to put distracters among the answer choices. Distractors are answers that look like they're correct, but aren't. If you jump right into the answer choices without thinking first about what you're looking for, you're much more likely to fall for one of these traps. And on the Writing Test essay, think about the topic before you begin to write.
Guess -- when you can eliminate at least one answer choice. You already know that the "guessing penalty" can work in your favor. Don't simply skip questions that you can't answer. Spend some time with them in order to see whether you can eliminate any of the answer choices. If you can, it pays for you to guess.
Pace yourself. The SAT II: Subject Tests give you a lot of questions in a short period of time. To get through the tests, you can't spend too much time on any single question. Keep moving through the tests at a good speed. If you run into a hard question, circle it in your test booklet, skip it, and come back to it later if you have time.
You don't have to spend the same amount of time on every question. Ideally, you should be able to work through the more basic questions at a brisk, steady clip, and use a little more time on the harder questions. One caution: Don't rush through easier questions just to save time for the harder ones. The basic questions are points in your pocket, and you're better off not getting to some harder questions if it means losing easy points because of careless mistakes. Remember, you don't get extra credit for answering hard questions.
Locate quick points if you're running out of time. Some questions can be done more quickly than others because they require less work or because choices can be eliminated more easily. If you start to run out of time, locate and answer any of the quick points that remain.
Copyright © 2004 by Kaplan, Inc.
Excerpted from Kaplan SAT II by Kaplan Publishing Copyright © 2004 by Kaplan Publishing. Excerpted by permission.
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