Starting Early: A Long-Range Plan

You're the type of person who buys summer clothes in December. (By the way, thanks a lot. Because of you, all the department stores feature bikinis when normal people are trying to buy sweaters.) To put it another way, you're not in diapers, but the test isn't coming up within the next year. Congratulations. Check out the following long-range SAT-prep plan:

  • Sign up for challenging courses in school. If you're in high school, eschew (reject) courses that require papers short enough to tweet and just enough math to figure out how many minutes remain before your next vacation. Go for subjects that stretch your mind. Specifically, stick it out with math at least through Algebra II. If high school is in your rearview mirror, check out extension or enrichment adult-ed courses.
  • Get into the habit of reading. Cereal boxes, Internet pop-up balloons, and 1,000-page novels — they're all good, though they're not all equal. The more you read, and the more difficult the material you read, the more your reading comprehension improves. The new SAT places special emphasis on two reading skills — understanding vocabu­lary in context and analyzing evidence. In all your assigned or leisure reading, take note of unfamiliar words. Try to figure out the definition from the surrounding material, and then check yourself by looking up the word in a standard dictionary or online diction­ary or by questioning a handy teacher or parent. (Your peers may know also, but they'll think you're strange if you ask vocab questions!) Also notice how the author makes a point — through description, quotations from experts, word choice, and so forth. Then when you encounter a question about evidence on the SAT, you'll know how to respond. Studying writing style also preps you for the optional SAT essay.
  • Write to the editor. The editor of anything! Find a point of view and start sending off your prose — to the school or local paper, to websites, or to television stations. By practicing argumentative skills (and, yes, you can use them to fight with authority figures in your personal life!), you learn to recognize writing techniques in SAT reading and writing passages. As a side benefit, you may have a civic impact.
  • Be aware of graphics. You don't have to be Picasso, but you do have to understand how tables, charts, graphs, diagrams, and other visuals convey (communicate) informa­tion. The new SAT awards many points to those who can correctly interpret graphic elements. Pay attention to illustrations when you're studying science, history, and math or reading something that has nothing to do with school.
  • Keep your math notebooks. Resist the urge to burn your geometry text the minute the last class is over. Keep your math notebooks and (if you're really motivated!) folders of homework papers. Don't throw out any old exams. From time to time, go over the important concepts, because these are what you'll need on the SAT. Research shows that memory improves when concepts are reviewed after a period of time. The SAT math doesn't go in depth into any one topic, but the questions do require you to be proficient (skilled) with the basics. Review your notebooks to stay current with multiplying exponents, the Pythagorean theorem, and y = mx + b.
  • Read Parts II, III, and IV carefully so you understand the structure of each type of SAT question. When SAT day dawns, you shouldn't be facing any surprises. Be sure that you're familiar with the directions for each section so that you don't have to waste time reading them during the actual exam.
  • Take the practice exams in Part V of this book. Work your way through all those ques­tions and then check the answers and explanations to everything you got wrong, skipped, or wobbled on. After you identify your weak spots (not that you actually have any — just areas where you could be even more excellent), you know what you have to practice.
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT. This “mini-SAT” gives you a chance to experience test conditions. It may also open the door to several pretty snazzy scholarships, such as the National Merit (the “NM” in the title of the test). The new PSAT/NMSQT, which is changing along with the SAT, debuted in October 2015. You'll get a preview of what you face on the redesigned SAT.

As the SAT approaches, you long-range planners can relax. You're in a fine position to condescend (act superior) to all the goof-offs who didn't even begin to think about the exam until junior year in high school. What? You're one of those goof-offs? Never fear. Hope and help arrive in the next section.