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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shocking News: The SAT is Exactly Like Everything Else

Many of my students approach the SAT as if it's some sort of strange, unknowable monster.  They've heard through the grapevine that the SAT isn't like most tests - you can't study for it, you can't beat it, and it exists solely to ruin the college prospects of unsuspecting college students.

The problem with this attitude?  It's completely and utterly false.

Is the SAT different than many other exams?  Of course it is.  It uses strange, logic-based wording and unorthodox questions to ask extremely simple things in extremely challenging ways.  However, far from being an exam that you can't study for, the SAT is an exam that you need to study for.  It's an unfamiliar and bizarre test - the more time you spend with it, the more comfortable you'll be with it (and the better your score will be).

I always compare the SAT to chess.  It requires a special combination of strategy and tactics that, when used properly, bypass the malarkey of the exam and get right to the good stuff - the solvable, non-confusing question at the core of each prompt.  Much like chess, the SAT requires its adherents to follow a good strategy from start to finish, using select tactics if and when necessary.  With this in mind, I want to present a hypothetical scenario:

You find out that, in addition to your grades, extracurriculars, essay, and application, the only other factor affecting your chances of college admission is going to be a chess game against an international grandmaster.  Depending on your observed performance on that exam (which accounts for 25% of your dream school's admission criteria, you will be accepted or rejected.

Now, faced with that situation, what would you do?  Well, if you're like most sane people who want to get into college, you would study the game of chess!  You'd study it a lot.  You'd begin training early.  You'd learn the strategies and tactics necessary to do well in your game vs. the grandmaster.  You'd want to get to the point where you were dreaming about chess.  That would be the ideal.

Now, here's the problem:

This is not a hypothetical scenario!  The SAT is just a game (trust me, it does not test your mathematical or verbal abilities AT ALL - it tests your ability to take the SAT).  If you want to get good at it, play it and practice it a lot.  If you want to do terribly on the SAT, all you need to do is do nothing at all.

Students know how important the SAT is.  Yet, instead of getting into gear and beginning their preparation programs early, they wait until a month before the exam before they crack open their SAT book and read it passively once or twice.  This is bad strategy.  Very, very bad strategy.

If you want to do well on the SAT, start practicing early, and practice a lot.  Am I biased in giving this advice?  Sure!  I'm a professional SAT tutor.  But whether or not you hire me or another tutor, or decide to study on your own, the advice stands: the SAT is just like everything else in the world, so treat it accordingly!  If you wanted to get good at tennis, would you play 1 hour a week for 2 months and expect to be any good?  If you wanted to get good grades in history class, would you skip all your homework and show up to class 1/3rd of the time?  Nope.

The SAT is a game that requires guided, focused practice.  If you start early, and if you practice patiently, you're going to destroy everyone in your grade who doesn't do the same.  Remember: the SAT is graded on a scale, and your score is based on the performance of other high school students in the country taking the exam at the same time as you.  So ask yourself: If I practice the SAT diligently, and I get started early, will I do better or worse than my peers? 

I leave you with this closing thought: based on the % importance of the SAT in college admissions statistics, your SAT is more important to your chances of college admission than any class you will ever take.

How many hours do you put into your average class?  Consider matching or exceeding that, and you'll stand a much better chance of getting into a school that you really care about.

Anthony provides test prep advice to College Match's students. For more articles, advice, and daily tips, you can visit Anthony Green's New York SAT Tutoring blog.
Anthony Green was recently named New York's Best SAT Tutor by Manhattan's most popular parenting and educational blog, and his results prove it: after tutoring over 230 students, Anthony's average score increase exceeds 350 points, an industry-leading average.  You can get in touch with Anthony by visiting his website at www.NewYorksBestSATtutor.com.

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