Read an Excerpt
SAT Strategies for Super Busy Students, 2006 Edition
KaplanCopyright © 2005 Kaplan
All right reserved.
Chapter One: Understanding The SAT
Step One: Get to Know the SAT
The SAT is a 3-hour 45-minute test that measures reading, writing, and math skills. That's the bad part. The good part is that you can improve your score on the SAT without necessarily memorizing a dictionary or becoming a walking calculator. Of course, in this book we'll help you improve your math, writing, and reading skills, but you can also improve your score just by knowing how the SAT is set up and learning how to deal with it. That's what we cover in Step 1.
STEP 1 PREVIEW
The Three Sections:
- Critical Reading section
- Writing section
- Math section
General Test-Taking Strategies
- Know the SAT's format
- Know the directions
- Have a plan and stick with it
The SAT is a 3-hour 45-minute, mostly multiple-choice exam. It's divided into ten sections. The Essay is always first, and a writing section is always last. The other sections can appear in any order. The sections are broken down like so:
- One 25-minute Writing section where you will write an essay
- One 25-minute Writing section containing Identifying Sentence Error, Improving Sentence, and Improving Paragraph questions
- Two 25-minute Critical Reading sections containing Sentence Completion questions and long and short Reading Comprehension questions
- One 20-minute Critical Reading section made up of Sentence Completion and Reading Comprehension questions
- One 10-minute Writing section containing Improving Sentence questions
- One 25-minute Math section with multiple-choice questions
- One 25-minute Math section with multiple-choice questions and Grid-in questions
- One 20-minute Math section with multiple-choice questions
- One 25-minute Experimental section (Critical Reading, Writing, or Math)
The Experimental section is used by the test makers to try out new questions, but it does not affect your score. It can show up anywhere on the exam and will look like any Critical Reading, Writing (except the Essay), or Math section. Do not try to figure out which SAT section is experimental. You won't be able to tell the difference, and you cannot work on any other section anyway, so treat all the sections as if they count.
You gain one point for each correct answer on the SAT and lose a FRACTION of a point for each wrong answer (except with Grid-ins, where you lose nothing for a wrong answer). You do not gain or lose any points for questions you leave blank.
The totals for the three sections are added up to produce three raw scores. These raw scores are then converted into scaled scores, with 200 as the lowest score and 800 the highest. Each raw point is worth approximately 10 scaled points. Those scores combine to equal your final score, which ranges from 600-2400.
- Check collegeboard.com for complete information about registering for the SAT.
- Register online at collegeboard.com/sat/html/satform.html. Not all students are eligible to register online; read the instructions and requirements carefully.
- Register early to secure the time you want at the test center you want.
- The basic fee at press time is $41.50 in the United States. This price includes reports for you, your high school, and up to four colleges and scholarship programs.
THE THREE SECTIONS
Critical Reading Section
There are two kinds of questions on the Critical Reading section: Sentence Completion and Reading Comprehension questions.
Sentence Completion questions test your ability to see how the parts of a sentence relate. About half will have one word missing from a sentence; the rest will have two words missing. Both types test vocabulary and reasoning skills.
Reading Comprehension questions test your ability to understand a piece of writing. The passages are either short (100-150) or long (400-850 words), and at least one part contains two related readings, or paired passages. Most Reading Comprehension questions test how well you understand the passage, some make you draw conclusions from what you've read, and some test your vocabulary knowledge.
The Sentence Completion questions are arranged in order of difficulty. The first few questions in a set are meant to be fairly easy. The middle few questions will be a little harder, and the last few are the most difficult. Keep this in mind as you work through these questions. On the contrary, Reading Comprehension questions are not arranged by difficulty. Whenever you find yourself spending too much time on a Reading Comprehension question, you should skip it and return later.
How to Approach the SAT Critical Reading Section
To do well on SAT Critical Reading, you need to be systematic in your approach to each question type. Sentence Completion questions are designed to be done relatively quickly. That means you can earn points fast, so you should do these first. Reading Comprehension takes a lot longer, so don't leave yourself just five minutes to do a passage. We will cover each question type and how to approach it in detail in the upcoming steps.
Remember, you earn just as many points for an easy question as you do for a hard one.
There are two kinds of questions on the Math section, broken down like so:
Multiple-choice questions detailing basic and advanced math concepts with five answer choices make up the bulk of this section.
Grid-in questions are not multiple-choice. Instead of picking an answer choice, you write your response in a little grid like this:
These questions test the same math concepts as the multiple-choice math questions.
Besides the basics -- No. 2 pencils, erasers, a photo ID, and your admission ticket -- you should bring the following items to the test center:
- Watch or stopwatch that you know how to use
- Calculator that you know how to use
- Snacks for the breaks
How to Approach the SAT Math Section
All sets of SAT Math questions start off with the easiest questions and gradually increase in difficulty. Always be aware of the difficulty level as you go through a Math question set. The further along you are in a set, the more difficult the questions will be, and the more traps the question will have. (We go into math traps in detail in Step 8.)
To maximize your Math score, you need to:
- Work systematically
- Use your time efficiently
The key to working systematically is to THINK ABOUT THE QUESTION before you look for the answer. A few seconds spent up front looking for traps, thinking about your approach, and deciding whether to tackle the problem now or come back to it later will pay off in points. On basic problems, you may know what to do right away. But on hard problems, the few extra seconds are time well spent.
There are three question types and an essay on the Writing section, broken down like so:
The Essay is a student-produced writing sample based on a specific assignment prompt. There are either one or two quotations before the prompt that serve to shape the topic of the Essay. You will be given two pages to write your persuasive essay.
Multiple-choice questions comprise the second part of the Writing section. The three question types are as follows:
Identifying Sentence Error questions ask you to choose the appropriate error from a sentence. There is also the option of no error.
Improving Sentence questions ask you to fix or re-word a part of a given sentence. There is also the option of no error.
Improving Paragraph questions give you a sampling of an essay with each sentence numbered. The questions will ask you to correct one of these sentences or to combine two or more sentences to make a more cohesive paragraph.
All of these question types test grammar, reasoning, and vocabulary skills.
How to Approach the SAT Writing Section
None of the question types in the Writing section are ordered by difficulty. Easy and hard questions are mixed up, so it is important to decide which questions can be done quickly and which will take more time. Strong knowledge of grammar and sentence structure will go a long way in helping you make that decision. We will discuss helpful strategies and approaches for honing these skills in the coming chapters.
GENERAL Test-taking STRATEGIES
We will go into more section-specific strategies in later steps, but for now, let's go over some basic test tips.
Know the SAT's Format
The first time you see an SAT should NOT be on Test Day. On the day of the test, you should recognize Sentence Completion questions, Improving Paragraph questions, Grid-ins, and the setup of any other question type or section on the test. If you are reading this book in the recommended amount of time (two to four weeks), we will introduce you to the format of each section and question type as you go along. If you are cramming, take 10 minutes now to familiarize yourself with the practice SAT at the back of the book.
Know the Directions
One of the easiest things you can do to help your performance on the SAT is to understand the directions before taking the test. Knowing the instructions beforehand will save you precious time reading them on Test Day. The directions NEVER change, so learn them now.
If you are completing this book in the recommended amount of time, you will learn each set of directions as you read each chapter. If you are cramming, go to the first page of each chapter, and read the directions for each question type.
Have a Plan and Stick with It
Now that you know some basics about how the test is set up, you can approach each section with a plan. Kaplan has come up with a seven-step plan that organizes the way you approach the SAT:
1. Think about the question before you look at the answers
2. Pace yourself
3. Know when a question is supposed to be easy or hard
4. Move around within a section
5. Be a good guesser
6. Be a good gridder
7. Two-minute warning: locate quick points
1. Think About the Question Before You Look at the Answers
The people who write the SAT put distractors among the answer choices. Distractors are answer choices that look right, but aren't. If you jump into the answer choices without thinking about what you're looking for, you're much more likely to fall into a test writer's trap. So, always think for a second or two about the question before you look at the answers.
2. Pace Yourself
The SAT gives you a lot of questions to answer in a short period of time. One of the biggest complaints students had about the updated SAT is that they ran out of time. To get through a whole section, you can't spend too much time on any one question. Keep moving through the test 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. Remember, you get the same amount of points for easy questions as you do for hard ones.
3. Know When a Question Is Supposed to be Easy or Hard
Some SAT questions are more difficult than others. Except for the Writing section and Reading Comprehension questions, the questions are generally designed to get tougher as you work through a set, and the pattern starts over for each question type. So if a section begins with a set of regular math questions, those questions will begin with an easy one and then gradually become more difficult. If the section proceeds to a set of Grid-in questions, this set will also progress from easy to difficult.
Arranged Easiest to Hardest?
Math Regular math: Yes
Critical Reading Sentence Completion: Yes
Short Reading Comprehension: No
Long Reading Comprehension: No
Writing Essay: NA
Identifying Sentence Errors: No
Improving Sentences: No
Improving Paragraphs: No
As you work, always be aware of where you are in a set. When working on the easy problems, you can generally trust your first impulse -- the obvious answer is likely to be right. As you get to the end of the problem set, you need to be more suspicious of obvious answers because the answer should not come easily. If it does, look at the problem again. Your chosen answer may be a distractor -- a wrong answer choice meant to trick you.
Hard SAT questions are usually tough for two reasons:
1. Their answers are not immediately obvious.
2. The question stems do not ask for information in a straightforward way.
Here's an easy Sentence Completion question.
Known for their devotion, dogs were often used as symbols of ---- in Medieval and Renaissance painting.
(B) tidal waves
The correct answer, fidelity (C), probably leapt right out at you. This question would likely be at the beginning of a problem set. Easy questions are purposely designed to be easy, and their answer choices are purposely obvious.
Now here is virtually the same question made hard.
Known for their ----, dogs were often used as symbols of ---- in Medieval and Renaissance painting.
(A) dispassion . . bawdiness
(B) fidelity . . aloofness
(C) monogamy . . parsimony
(D) parity . . diplomacy
(E) loyalty . . faithfulness
This question would likely be at the end of a problem set. This time the answer is harder to find. For one thing, the answer choices are far more difficult. In addition, the sentence contains two blanks.
The correct answer is (E). Did you fall for (B) because the first word is fidelity? (B) is a good example of a distractor.
4. Move Around Within a Section
On a test at school, you probably spend more time on the hard questions than you do on the easy ones because hard questions are usually worth more points. On the SAT, this strategy will not help and will actually hurt your total score.
As we said before, pace yourself. But don't be careless. Don't rush through the easy problems just to get to the hard ones. When you run into questions that look tough, circle them in your test booklet, and skip them for the time being. (Make sure you skip them on your answer grid, too.) Then, if you have time, go back to them AFTER you have answered the easier ones. Sometimes, after you have answered some easier questions, troublesome questions can get easier.
You CANNOT skip from section to section. You can only skip around within a section.
Don't spend so much time answering one tough question that you use up three or four questions' worth of time. That costs you points, especially if you don't get the hard question right.
Remember, the name of the game is to get as many points as possible, so you need to score points as quickly as possible.
5. Be a Good Guesser
On the SAT, you will be faced with questions that you don't know how to answer and need to guess. We highly encourage guessing on the SAT, as long as you are making educated guesses. Simply guessing randomly will most likely cost you points, but if you can eliminate one or more answers that are definitely wrong, you'll turn the odds in your favor and come out ahead by guessing.
Here's why. If you get an answer wrong on any multiple-choice question on the SAT, you lose one-fourth of a point. The fractional points you lose are supposed to offset the points you might get "accidentally" by guessing the correct answer. By learning Kaplan's techniques, you can eliminate a few answer choices on most questions, even if you have no idea what the right answer is. By learning how to eliminate wrong answer choices, you can actually turn the guessing "penalty" to your advantage.
Let's take a close look at this to make sure you are confident with this strategy. By eliminating one wrong answer in five, you are down to four answer choices, so you have a 1 in 4 chance of guessing correctly. Thus, for every four questions you answer, you should get 1 right and 3 wrong. 1 right = 1 point. 3 wrong = 3/4 points. 1 - 3/4 = 1/4 point
By eliminating just one answer choice and guessing on four questions, you have gained
one-fourth of a point! This may not seem like a lot, but over the course of a long test, these fractions really add up and can increase your score significantly. And, of course, if you can eliminate two or three wrong answers, your chances -- and score -- improve even more.
Take a look at this question again:
Known for their devotion, dogs were often used as symbols of ---- in Medieval and Renaissance painting.
(B) tidal waves
Chances are, you recognized that choice (A), breakfast, was wrong. You then looked at the next answer choice, and then the next one, and so on, eliminating wrong answers to find the correct answer. This process is usually the best way to work through multiple-choice SAT questions. If you still don't know the right answer but can eliminate one or more wrong answers, YOU SHOULD GUESS.
6. Be a Good Gridder
Don't make mistakes filling out your answer grid. When time is short, it's easy to get confused skipping around a section and going back and forth between your test book and your grid. If you misgrid just one question, you can misgrid several others before realizing your error -- if you realize it at all. You can lose a TON of points this way.
To avoid mistakes on the answer grid:
- Always circle the answers you choose. Circling your answers in the test book makes it easier to check your grid against your book.
- Grid five or more answers at once. Don't transfer your answers to the grid after every question. Transfer your answers after every five questions, or, in the Reading Comprehension section, at the end of each reading passage. That way, you won't keep breaking your concentration to mark the grid. You'll save time and improve accuracy.
When time is running out at the end of a section, start gridding one by one so you don't get caught at the end with ungridded answers.
- Put a big circle in your test book around the number of any questions you skip; they'll be easy to locate when you return to them. Also, if you realize later that you accidentally skipped a box on the grid, you can more easily check your grid against your book to see where you went wrong.
- Write in your booklet. Take notes, circle hard questions, underline things, etc. Proctors collect booklets at the end of each testing session, but the booklets are not examined or reused.
7. Two-Minute Warning: Locate Quick Points
When you start to run out of time, locate and answer any of the quick points that remain. For example, some Reading Comprehension questions will ask you to identify the meaning of a particular word in the passage. Those can be done at the last minute, even if you haven't read the passage.
These SAT facts and strategies apply to the upcoming Critical Reading, Math, and Writing strategies. Use what you've learned here on the practice questions that follow. By the time you finish this book and are ready to take the practice test, these strategies will come naturally.
Copyright 2005 by Kaplan, Inc.
Excerpted from SAT Strategies for Super Busy Students, 2006 Edition by Kaplan Copyright © 2005 by Kaplan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.