Countdown to the SAT

The day before you take the test, don’t do practice tests. Do look over all the tactics listed below so they will be fresh in your mind.


If the test location is unfamiliar to you, drive there before the test day so that you will know exactly where you’re going on the day you take the test.

Set out your test kit the night before. You will need your admission ticket, a photo ID (a driver’s license or a non-driver picture ID, a passport, or a school ID), your calculator, four or five sharpened No. 2 pencils (with erasers), plus a map or directions showing how to get to the test center.

Get a good night’s sleep so you are well rested and alert

Wear comfortable clothes. Dress in layers. Bring a sweater in case the room is cold.

Bring an accurate watch—not one that beeps and not your cell phone—in case the room has no clock. You’ll want to use the same watch or small clock that you’ve been using during your practice sessions.

Bring a small snack for quick energy.

Don’t be late. Allow plenty of time for getting to the test site. You want to be in your seat, relaxed, before the test begins.

Pick your favorite letter from among A, B, C, and D. This is the letter you will always use when you have to make a quick guess.


Pace yourself. Don’t work so fast that you start making careless errors. On the other hand, don’t get bogged down on any one question.

Feel free to skip back and forth between questions within a section.

Play the percentages: always eliminate as many of the answer choices as possible and then make an educated guess, not a random one.

If you have no idea, quickly guess your favorite letter and move on.

If you are running out of time in a section, use your last 20 seconds to fill in your favorite letter on every question you didn't get to.

Watch out for eye-catchers, answer choices that are designed to tempt you into guessing wrong.

Change answers only if you have a reason for doing so; don't change them on a last- minute hunch or whim.

Check your assumptions. Make sure you are answering the question asked and not the one you thought was going to be asked.

Remember that you are allowed to write anything you want in your test booklet. Make full use of it

  • Do math calculations and draw diagrams.
  • Underline key words in reading passages.
  • Cross out answer choices you are sure are wrong.
  • Circle questions you want to come back to, but first make a guess.

machine, and a machine cannot always tell the difference between an accidental mark and an intentionally filled-in answer.

Check frequently to make sure you are answering the questions in the right spots.

Remember that you don't have to attempt every question to do well. Just be sure to fill in answers for every question you don't attempt


Read all the answer choices before you decide which is best.

Think of a context for an unfamiliar word; the context may help you come up with the word’s meaning.

Break down unfamiliar words into recognizable parts—prefixes, suffixes, roots.

Consider secondary meanings of worth. If none of the answer choices seems right to you, take another look. A word may have more than one meaning.

When you have a choice, tackle reading passages with familiar subjects before passages with unfamiliar ones.

Make use of the introductions to acquaint yourself with the text.

Read as rapidly as you can with understanding, but do not force yourself.

As you read the opening sentence, try to predict what the passage is about.

When you tackle the questions, use any line references given to help in the passage.

Base your answer only on what is written in the passage, not on what you know from other books or courses.

In answering questions on the paired reading passages, first read one passage and answer the questions based on it; then read the second passage and tackle the remaining questions.

On graph analysis questions, take time to evaluate the graph labels and axes. Be mind­ful that you will often need to integrate information from the reading passage with what is presented in the graph.

The vocabulary in context questions typically involve unusual meanings of words you know—be sure you read enough of the text in which the word appears so that you’ll be able to figure exactly how the word is being used in the passage.

If you notice that a question is immediately followed by a second question that asks which lines in the passage provide evidence supporting your answer to the first question, don’t waste time going over the second question’s answer choices. Instead, as you answer the first question, note where you found the evidence supporting your answer choice. Mark the lines with an asterisk, or set them in brackets. Then answer the second question.

Do not hesitate to come back to questions if you are unsure; a question that initially seems confusing will often be far easier when you consider it a second time.


Whenever you know how to answer a question directly, just do it. The tactics that are reviewed below should be used only when you need them.

Memorize all the formulas you need to know. Even though some of them are printed on the first page of each math section, during the test you do not want to waste any time refer­ring to that reference material.

Be sure to bring a calculator for use on the long math section, but use it only when you need it. Don’t use it for simple arithmetic that you can easily do in your head.

Remember that no problem requires lengthy or difficult computations. If you find yourself doing a lot of arithmetic, stop and reread the question. You are probably not answering the question asked.

Answer every question you attempt. Even if you can’t solve it, you can almost always eliminate two or more choices. Often you know that an answer must be negative, but two or three of the choices are positive, or an answer must be even, and some of the choices are odd.

Unless a diagram is labeled "Note: Figure not drawn to scale,” it is perfectly accurate, and you can trust it in making an estimate.

When a diagram has not been provided, draw one, especially on a geometry problem.

If a diagram has been provided, feel free to label it, and mark it up in any way, including adding line segments, if necessary.

Answer any question for which you can estimate the answer, even if you are not sure you are correct. *

Don't panic if you see a strange symbol in a question; it will always be defined. Getting the correct answer just involves using the information given in the definition.

When a question involves two equations, the most useful thing to do is to add them or subtract them. If there are three or more, just add them.

Never make unwarranted assumptions. Do not assume numbers are positive or integers. If a question refers to two numbers, do not assume that they have to be different. If you know a figure has four sides, do not assume that it is a rectangle.

Be sure to work in consistent units. If the width and length of a rectangle are 8 inches and 2 feet, respectively, either convert the 2 feet to 24 inches or the 8 inches to two-thirds of a foot before calculating the area or perimeter.

Standard Multiple-Choice Questions

Whenever you answer a question by backsoiving, start with choice (C).

When you replace variables with numbers, choose easy-to-use numbers, whether or not they are realistic.

Choose appropriate numbers. The best number to use in percent problems is 100. In prob­lems involving fractions, the best number to use is the least common denominator.

When you have no idea how to solve a problem, eliminate all of the absurd choices before you guess. Remember, you should provide an answer to each and every question. Guess if you have to. Bubble in an answer to every question.

Student-Produced Response (Grid-ln) Questions

Write your answer in the four spaces at the top of the grid, and carefully grid in your answer below. No credit is given for a correct answer if it has been gridded improperly.


Remember that the answer to a gridLin question can never be negative.

You can never grid in a mixed number—you must convert it to an improper fraction or a decimal.

Never round off your answers. If a fraction can fit in the four spaces of the grid, enter it. If not, use your calculator to convert it to a decimal (by dividing) and enter a decimal point followed by the first three decimal digits.

When gridding a decimal, do not write a zero before the decimal point

If a question has more than one possible answer, grid in only one of them.

There is no penalty for wrong answers on grid-in questions, so you should grid in anything that seems reasonable, rather than omit a question.


This section is all about your essay-editing skills. To edit well, you must take your time. Fortunately, this section is generally easy to finish. So use the full amount of time allowed, taking about 9 minutes per passage.

Silently mouth out the wording to pick up on errors. Even though you may not know the "official” grammar rule, hearing what sounds best can help you figure out the correct option.

Build your skills and confidence by reviewing the SAT grammar topics in Chapter 3. Grammar "pet peeves” will not be tested, but grammar rules wifi. Be on the lookout for some of the most common issues (punctuation, wordiness, verb tense, parallelism’ subject-verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, logical comparisons, and diction/proper word usage).

Jumping to an answer without considering enough context will not work—the incorrect answers will be very tempting. If, however, you are having trouble determining what concept the question is testing, narrow down tire likely issue by reviewing the answer choices to see what is different among them. "No Change" has just as much of a chance of being correct as does any other option.

On graph interpretation questions, use only the evidence in the graph and the passage. No background knowledge will be required. Carefully review the graph labels and axes to avoid making careless mistakes.

Many questions go beyond simple grammar to assess broader writing topics, like para­graph transitions, essay introductions, and argumentative evidence. As you work through the questions, be ready to shift gears between focused proofreading and general editing. Sometimes you will need only a sentence to answer the question, while other times you will need a paragraph or more. When in doubt, check it out.


The essay prompt will not change from test to test—you will always be. asked to explain how the author of a source text has made an argument.

The source text will change from test to test, but it will always be a broad argument for a general audience.

Do NOT insert your personal opinions on the topic into your response. Your job is to exam­ine the author’s argument, not to give your views on the subject.

Do NOT waste time writing about supposed flaws in the source text. These are very well- written arguments. Your job is to analyze them, not to rip them apart

Start by taking several minutes (no more than 10) to read and take notes on the source text. Ask yourself what the author is arguing and why he or she has chosen to make that argument.

Take time to prewrite (no more than 5 minutes). Plan to show how the author makes use of evidence, reasoning, and style to make his or her case.

Start with a solid thesis, and use clear transitions and excellent organization throughout. Have variety in your sentence structure; use precise vocabulary and specific descriptions.

Write for the full 50 minutes. The essay comes last in the test—finish strong, drawing on your last reserves of energy. A longer essay (as long as it has well-written, focused material) will score better.

Write legibly—the graders are human. They can grade only what they can understand.

Watch out for spelling and grammar issues. However, don’t spend so much time proofread­ing that you fail to develop your essay fully.

Pace yourself so that you can make all of your points and have a strong conclusion. This essay is very different from many you likely have written—don't let test day be the first time you try writing an SAT essay within the time constraints.