These two words tend to have a bad rap, but if you plan on applying to – and possibly even attending – a four-year college or university in the near future, you’re going to have to get used to hearing those words more often than you’d like.
In the United States, there are 2 main types of standardized tests high school students can take: the Scholastic Aptitude Test (more widely known as the SAT) and the American College Test (otherwise referred to as the ACT). I have taken both tests once already (as well as the Preliminary SAT/PSAT twice), and I plan on retaking both exams this upcoming fall. Today I will be mainly going over the SAT, but I’ll be sure to do another blog post another time about how I studied for the ACT!
Because the SAT is such a large topic to expand upon, I have categorized this blog post into several different headers in order to avoid any confusion! You can scroll down or up, depending on which topics you want to learn more about.
When to Take the SAT
At my high school, my teachers and fellow classmates generally advised me to take the SAT during my late junior year in order to accumulate as much knowledge as possible to ensure I get my highest score possible. Though this is perfectly reasonable advice, I would recommend to start taking the SAT either during the middle or toward the end of your junior year – in other words, anywhere between the winter and spring months.
Why this time? For lack of better words, this is the perfect time to make plenty of mistakes on the SAT. Several weeks after you take your exam, you will receive a score report via mail outlining all the questions – and the types of questions – you got wrong and right. Pay close attention to the types of questions you need further improvement on, and study extra hard on them so you can improve your scores the next time you take the SAT!
Studying for the SAT
Scores aren’t everything, BUT I’m deliberately choosing not to release my test scores simply because I don’t want people to compare their scores to mine and judge me as a person because of a number. (Just know that my scores from my first SAT ranges between 1200-1400 out of 1600.)
Studying for the SAT may be tricky, especially because tutors can be ridiculously expensive and online SAT offers are typically subjective. However, the following resources have helped me out immensely while studying for the exam:
- Khan Academy
To say that Khan Academy assists you in SAT prep is an understatement – Khan Academy outlines the structure of the SAT, tells you what each portion of your score report means, and gives you lessons specific to your own strengths and weaknesses. They even have practice SAT tests and essays that you can take to further assess which skills you can improve on. You can also create your own SAT practice schedule, which is extremely helpful if you have a hectic schedule like I do!
- The Official SAT Study Guide by The College Board
If you ever find yourself at your local Barnes & Noble unsure of what book to purchase next, this one should definitely be at the top of your list! These SAT prep books are extremely useful as they go into excruciatingly specific detail about everything you need to learn about the SAT, as well as offer several practice SAT exams! They tend to run on the pricier side of books (the one I got cost $24.99), but they’re an investment worth saving up for.
- The SAT Student Guide
If your school offers these paper-thin booklets with sample questions from the SAT, take advantage of them! Not only do they give you test-taking tips and strategies, but they also have the SAT and SAT Subject Tests Calendar for the school year on the back side, which is a wonderful resource to refer to throughout the year.
This website is a not-so-common resource amongst high schoolers; nonetheless, it’s a remarkable tool for SAT practice and any other standardized exam in general! They offer free SAT practice tests, simulating a true-to-life SAT exam. For great preparation on all three portions of the SAT, you can click here!
- Kaplan Test Prep
This resource is among the most underrated ones out there, but it was one of the most beneficial! Several weeks leading up to the SAT, Kaplan Test Prep offers free, live online seminars with test-taking tricks and tons of SAT practice questions.
I participated in these SAT webinars for about a month and I can honestly say that they helped me get the score I received. If you do attend one of these live seminars, I highly suggest taking lots of notes in a notebook specifically for SAT/ACT practice. I can guarantee that you will benefit from these sessions!
You can go here to see the full schedule of all the free webinars for the 2017-2018 school year.
Taking the SAT
So you’ve chosen a date on which to take the SAT and you’ve already registered – what now?
Here’s a general timeline of ways you can prepare before (and on the day of) your SAT:
- As soon as you finish registering: Print out all the necessary materials you need for test day. This includes your SAT Ticket (with your photo ID) and any emails you receive from The College Board with a confirmation that you successfully registered for the SAT (optional, but highly recommended just in case you run into an emergency).
- Two weeks before test day: Take a practice exam! Whether you use Khan Academy or an SAT prep book, get your mind ready and in test mode so there are no unpleasant surprises on test day.
- The night before test day: To avoid any last-minute stress, pack up your bag/backpack with all the items you need for test day, including two number 2 wooden pencils with erasers, an approved calculator, and a current and valid school or government-issued photo ID. On the other hand, do NOT bring any dictionaries or books, protractors, compasses, rulers, pamphlets or any other papers, highlighters, or colored pens or pencils.
Though you are allowed to bring your cell phone to the testing center if it’s fully turned off, I would advise leaving your cell phone at home. If your phone buzzes or makes any noise whatsoever, you’re going to be asked to leave the testing site and your scores will be invalidated – no refunds at all. This is NOT worth it and may result in an embarrassing scene for you in the middle of your exam, so don’t risk it!
I would also recommend packing a few small snacks, like granola bars or trail mix, and a water bottle. You only get a few minutes during your break, so eat something light that will keep your energy levels high throughout the test.
- On test day: Wake up at least 2 hours before the start time of your exam. Eat a large breakfast and drink tons of water. If you didn’t get sufficient sleep the night before, drink a little bit of caffeine, but be conscientious of consuming too much to avoid that post-caffeine crash during your test!
Arrive at your testing center at least half an hour prior to the start time of your exam. If you’ve never been to the area before, you may want to arrive earlier to ensure you check in at the correct location.
No matter what the weather is, wear comfortable clothes that you can layer, like jeans and a light T-shirt. Even if it’s a relatively hot day, bring a cardigan or jacket in case your testing center gets super cold. If you’re a girl, I recommend bringing extra hair ties in case you want to get your hair out of the way during the exam. Don’t forget to bring your glasses (if you use them)!
Be sure to breathe deeply and relax. Be confident that you will do your best!
Receiving SAT Scores
Several weeks after you take your SAT, you’re going to receive your long-awaited score report! This outlines all the questions you got right and wrong and gives you a breakdown of your essay score (if you took it).
If you see your test scores and aren’t satisfied with them, don’t worry (especially if it was your first time taking the exam)! You will have plenty of chances to retake the SAT and improve your scores. However, during the time between your last SAT and the next SAT, be sure to get plenty of practice in order to see a big leap in your next score report!
You have the option to send your SAT scores to the colleges or universities you’ll be applying to, but I only suggest doing this if you’re extremely happy with your scores and if you’ve retaken the SAT several times to ensure that you received your highest score possible. Make sure you research all the colleges you’re applying to and mark on your calendar when your test scores are due! Have your final scores ready to be sent well before the deadline.
Those are all my tips and tricks pertaining to the SAT! I wish you all the best of luck when you take the exam, and remember that numbers don’t define you. Your scores do NOT determine your value as a person or student. If you ever need a pep talk, I’m here for you!
As always, I will write again soon. ♡