SAT Guide: 5 Tips from an SAT Guru

They say, “War is hell.”  For millions of students nationwide, so is the SAT.  But the truth is preparing for the SAT doesn’t have to be the painful, depressing, and terrifying experience you keep hearing about.  In fact, success on the mother of all tests is a lot easier than you think.  Here are 5 helpful tips from a Harvard guru who has taken more than a 100 SATs and PSATs, helped instruct thousands of students and experienced first hand what a great score can do for your future. 

Before you even begin to prepare for the SAT, remember that you are always more than a number on a piece of paper.  You are the sum of your life experiences, and the SAT is only one part of the admissions equation.  If you become obsessed with your score (or the scores of your friends), you are setting yourself up to go crazy.  Honestly, the world is full of crazy people already and a meltdown with a number two pencil is just no way to go.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

  1. Have a Plan – You have plenty of time to get ready for the SAT, but if you try to hide from it and pretend it’s not there, believe me it will sneak up behind you, beat you down and take your lunch money.  Mapping out a strategy early on that fits your schedule, your learning style and your goals is essential.
  2. Make a Schedule – Choosing when to take your first SAT is an important decision.  If you have AP tests in May, you probably want to take your SAT earlier in the year to avoid stress; if you are an athlete* with a winter sport, preparing during the season may be tough.  Be realistic about your time commitments.
  3. READ  — Pick up a book.  Read the newspaper (box scores don’t count).  Stop relying on SparkNotes and read the Scarlet Letter for real (you can still use SparkNotes to help).  This isn’t just about improving vocabulary and reading comprehension for the SAT; YOU SPEAK ENGLISH, this will help you for the rest of your life.
  4. Don’t Burn Out – Focusing too much on the SAT is a mistake.  To most colleges, your GPA is just as, if not more, important than your SAT scores.  If you are taking mountains of practice tests and sections without reviewing them thoroughly you are wasting your time.  If you are locking yourself in your room for hours doing nothing but SAT work, you are a weirdo.  And all too often you will burn out and get frustrated.  This is a marathon, so pace yourself.
  5. Block out the Nonsense – When it comes to the SAT, suddenly everyone is an expert.  There is no “easy” or “hard” month to take the SAT.  The ACT isn’t the “easier” test.  Guessing “C” isn’t better than guessing “A” or “B”.  Ignore most of what you hear since it is usually anecdotal at best.  Sorting fact from fiction is sometimes difficult, so only trust those with a solid track record and experience.  Even then, a second opinion never hurts.

* Athletes who are hoping to get recruited should start early to give coaches solid scores to work with.  In future posts I will discuss how the academic index is used in admissions decisions for recruited athletes.