10 Steps to Hack the SAT
I received a call a few days ago. A high school aged relative needed math help. Specifically, they needed help with the math SAT. To be very specific, they needed help prepping for the SAT two weeks from now. Could I meet for an hour to do some tutoring?
As a high school teacher, I’ve received a few of these types of calls during my career. Frankly, I can’t teach much math in an hour especially when I’m not sure what is covered by the current test. What I can do, is teach how to hack the test.
The SAT is designed to help a couple thousand college admissions officers sort the mass of kids graduating from high school. In order to determine small differences between the millions of students, SAT questions are designed to trick and confuse. Students that can take the questions apart and understand how they work will do better than their peers that have the same content knowledge. In order to help a specific student, we want to teach them to do things that other students aren’t doing.
Below are 10 Steps to Hack the SAT that I gave my high school age relative.
If you know how to hack the SAT you will do better than other kids. You will commit to the doing the following steps.
- I will read the problem. This sounds silly, but under time pressure, kids skip reading the question portion (especially on the math) and immeadiately start trying to solve the problem. Don’t be that kid! The math SAT is a reading and logic test more than it is a math test. Cover up the answers with scrap paper to force yourself to READ THE PROBLEM.
- I will underline the key words. As you are reading the problem, underline the key words. What is the problem asking you to do? (Yes, with a pencil in the test booklet, actually underline the words.) If you are taking a practice test and are underlining everything or are underlining nothing then you need help. There should be 3 or 4 words that pop out. They are trying to trick you.
- I will underline NOT twice. Not questions catch so many people it is ridiculous. Don’t be fooled.
- I will plug and chug. If you can quickly test each answer to see which one is right then do it. You need to learn math and to solve equations but right now it is all about selecting the right answer fast.
- I will cross our answers that I know are wrong. Eliminating choices that you know are wrong means you have a better chance of picking the right answer.
- I will read the reference information before starting the section. There is a cheat sheet at the beginning of the section. Read it! This will help you know what is there when you need it later.
- I will write things down. Write in your booklet. Put down in writing what you know and work the problem. You’ll be stressed and under time pressure, writing it down will help. Seriously, your booklet should be all marked up when you are done.
- I will use my calculator. You have a calculator, use it! The provided answers are designed to trick you by having simple math errors as options.
- I will guess if I can eliminate even one choice. If you can eliminate one choice, your chance of randomly guessing the right answer goes from 20% to 25%. That is enough to make it better to guess than leave it blank.
- I will trust my gut when time is short. If there are only a few minutes left, don’t second guess yourself.
Action Plan: Use the SAT prep course at Khanacademy.org to answer practice questions. Watch the videos on questions you get wrong. Use these videos to understand the content but also how to hack the problem. Take practice test on paper and try the strategies above on hacking the test. Use your pencil and practice underlining key words, eliminating choices and writing things down.