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Mastering the SAT

The SAT Reasoning Test, more commonly known as the SAT, is a standardized test designed to be a predictor of college success. The test claims to measure not what you’ve learned in high school, but how prepared you are to complete college-level coursework. To do this, the test focuses on reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills that students are likely to need in college.

The SAT is administered by the College Board and is offered several times throughout the year, primarily to high school juniors and seniors. The SAT is used commonly as a college admissions test, as well as a qualifier for many scholarship opportunities. It has gone through several changes of name and format over the years, and is currently comprised of three sections (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) that are scored from 200-800, resulting in a total score of 600-2400.

Preparing for the Test

Mastering the SAT involves some amount of preparation, as the test is likely to be substantially different from other tests you’ve encounter previously. Standardized test prep is available in many forms, ranging from free practice questions online to test-taking classes and private SAT tutoring. Some standardized test prep can get extremely pricey, and the benefits of such services are far from concrete. Depending on what you want to accomplish with your SAT scores, you may be best served by taking advantage of a variety of test prep options that do not involve expensive tutoring sessions.

The best advice for approaching the SAT successfully is to go into the test with a clear sense of what to expect, both in terms of the test format and environment, and in terms of how well you need to do on the test. Start early reviewing for the test and consider registering for a test date during your junior year of high school, rather than one of the dates in the fall of your senior year. This will give you time to retake the test if you so desire and to readjust your strategy towards testing, college admissions, or scholarship applications if needed. Enrolling in challenging courses in high school and devoting more of your spare time to reading may also help boost your testing scores, especially in writing and reading, plus these are good practices anyway.

Taking and scoring practice tests online will also help you prepare, especially if you take care to simulate the test environment by timing yourself and taking the test on paper in a quiet space. High school juniors also may take the PSAT, which serves as practice and preparation for the SAT, as well as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, a popular nationwide scholarship award based on PSAT scores.

The Test Day and After

In addition to practicing, you can also make the most of your SAT test day by being sure to show up to the test center well-rested, well-prepared, and preferably at least a few minutes early to avoid rushing, panicking, and throwing off your rhythm for the whole day. If you’re familiar with what to expect and you feel prepared for the test, the boost of confidence may also boost your score.

If you don’t do well on the test, don’t panic. If you know immediately that something went wrong and your test date was a train wreck (perhaps you fell asleep during the test or personal issues derailed your concentration completely), you are able to cancel your scores and forget that testing session ever happened. You won’t get a refund, but at least you won’t have embarrassingly low test scores reported to your top-choice college. The College Board has also rolled out a new service called Score Choice, letting you choose which scores will be reported to colleges and scholarship providers as part of the application process, rather than reporting every single score as they have in the past. However, Score Choice is limited by colleges’ SAT score submission practices, and some schools will still require applicants to submit all of their SAT scores.

If you’ve left yourself time to retake the test, you can take advantage of that popular option, spending more time on preparation and using your SAT score report as a study guide for the next test. Most colleges won’t blink at receiving multiple sets of test scores, and many scholarships are kind enough to use your highest scores when considering you for an award.

If you choose not to retake the SAT or you’ve taken the test multiple times without getting the score you want, remember that standardized test scores aren’t everything. Colleges and scholarship providers are increasingly moving towards a holistic approach to assessing applications, meaning they’re likely to give more weight to your strong grades and excellent record of community service and leadership, and less to your less-than-stellar test scores.

As a final note, some students who struggle with the SAT do better on the ACT and vice versa. If after all your efforts, you still aren’t getting where you want on this test, you can always try the other. Nearly all colleges accept scores from either test for admissions, as well as for university scholarship awards.

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