As one of the most widely used standardized tests in the world, the SAT is designed to test the skills that students learn in high school and how well they can apply that knowledge. Colleges use SAT scores in combination with other factors, including high school grade point average, to help determine admission, so it is crucial to understand the test beforehand in order to properly prepare for this crucial test.
The SAT is broken down into three parts: critical reading, writing, and mathematics. The first section involves reading passages and answering questions about it, as well as sentence completion. The second part involves writing a brief essay as well as multiple-choice questions focused on identifying and fixing grammatical and syntactical errors in writing samples. Finally, the mathematics portion involves answering problems related to probability, statistics, algebra, geometry, and other arithmetic operations. This section is broken down into multiple choice questions as well as a fill-in-the-blank section where students must write the correct answer without a set of choices.
The grading scale of the SAT is a bit complex in that a student’s percentile is obtained relative to all other students taking that particular test. First, the student’s raw score is calculated, wherein a correct answer to a multiple choice question gives the student one point, while an incorrect answer subtracts a quarter of a point. For the Math portion where students must write in the answer, one point is given for correct answers while no points are detracted for incorrect answers.
Once the raw score has been calculated, it is converted into a scaled score, which lets the test makers correct for minor variations in the test, including different difficulty levels for the questions. This score, which can range between 200 and 800, is set to a bell curve, so that the majority of students fall between the 400 and 600 range.
The best way to practice for the SAT is to do so continuously, both in and out of school, and not cram at the last moment. The SAT tests skills that are obtained, harnessed, and honed throughout high school, so waiting until the last moment can be detrimental. However, studying before the test is crucial. The best way to see a progress report on a student’s capabilities is to have them take the PSAT their junior year, also called the Practice SAT. For other references, the official College Board website has a listing of free practice guides, online tools, and other resources, as well as books that can be purchased online. Since these are the people that design the test, getting resources from them is important. Materials can be found at www.collegeboard.org.
The best way to prepare for the SAT is to work hard in school by reading and writing both inside and outside of the classroom, as well as working hard in mathematics. After that, it is important to understand the format, layout, and timing of the test, so that one is not surprised by what kinds of questions are being asked, or how to answer them. Being familiar with the test format and directions can save valuable time. Finally, it is important to practice the test beforehand as much as possible, as repetition of good test-taking habits will greatly help to improve a student’s score.