Surviving the SAT

Use resources to become familiar with the exam before you take it

Use resources to become familiar with the exam before you take it

January 28, 2003|By KATE COLEMAN

This is a test.


Those three letters can send chills up the spine of many a high school student who hopes to get into the college of his or her choice.

The SAT - Scholastic Aptitude Test - is a test of verbal reasoning and mathematical problem solving.


Maybe, but you can make it less scary by learning about the test before you take it.

"Research shows being more familiar with a test leads to better performance," says Bob Brown, supervisor of testing and accountability for Washington County Public Schools.


Being familiar with how the test is organized is absolutely key, says Leslie Hobbs, supervisor of secondary mathematics for Washington County Public Schools. Students really need to practice taking "real" SAT test questions, she says.

How can you get to know the SAT?

There are lots of resources - the College Board's Web site ( among them.

And help is available right in your own high school.

Washington County Public Schools put a lot of work into SAT prep, says Boyd Michael III, executive director of secondary education.

"We feel an obligation to help students produce a good score on that very important testing document, which does have a bearing on college entrance expectations. It's not the only factor, but it's actually still a major factor in college considerations," he says.

Teachers are incorporating SAT-type material in classes, as warm-ups - analogies, vocabulary builders, sentence completion, critical analysis and reading comprehension, says Sherry Purkey, supervisor of secondary reading and English.

"I think vocabulary is an immense part of the test," says Dustin Reichard, 17, a Clear Spring High School senior. He's been helped even in biology class. His teacher has been working with vocabulary - looking at root words.

An elective SAT prep class also is available. It's a meaningful course for students - not filler, Purkey says.

A lot of it is just test awareness, says Kevin Jackson, literacy resource teacher at Clear Spring High School. He's been working with students to help provide that awareness.

There's an after-school program at Clear Spring, but many students are busy with extracurricular activities and some have jobs, so Jackson arranges for them to get help during the school day. The whole school is cooperating to enable students to work one-on-one with Jackson and individualized SAT prep computer programs.

Does it help?

"Definitely," says Lexi Shingleton, a 17-year-old senior. She had taken the SAT once before her most recent attempt last Saturday. She wasn't thrilled with her initial scores, and regrets that she didn't start test preparation sooner.

"I hate to say this," Lexi says about Jackson encouraging her to take time for SAT preparation. For a while she thought he was just chasing students down to annoy them, she laughs.

But the preparation she's done helps, she says.

Ashley Stoner, 17, a Clear Spring High senior who's applying to Hagerstown Community College and Frostburg State University, says she was really stressed out the first time she took the SAT. "I feel a little better," she said last week as she anticipated the Jan. 25 session.

Knowing the test - understanding the types of questions and problems - is important.

SAT questions are not organized in order of difficulty. The 25th question may be the easiest, Brown says. He recommends that students go through the test questions three times:

First answer the questions you know you know.

Next answer the questions you think you know - that you have a pretty good idea about.

If there is time remaining, try to work through others, Brown advises.

Should you guess?

Brown recommends being careful. "If you don't know the answer, it's better to leave it blank," he says.

Taking the SAT at least twice is beneficial for two reasons, Brown says. Familiarity is one. The other is between sessions, you've had time to learn more - to beef up weaker areas. Students who continue to enroll in math courses tend to score better in the math portion of the SAT.

Last Saturday was Dustin's fourth shot at the SAT. He had done no preparation for his first attempt, but he has since and developed an SAT strategy.

Dustin learned that most colleges take a composite of a student's best - not most recent - verbal and math scores. He has used that knowledge to his advantage.

His early scores showed him that he needed to focus on building his verbal skills. He became familiar with the SAT, he prepared, he practiced, and between the second and third times he tested, his verbal score jumped 60 points.

The College Board recommends you get enough sleep, eat breakfast and take what you need to the test site - ID, No. 2 pencils, the appropriate calculator and batteries.

Take advantage of preparation tools.

They can help you to go in with more confidence, Jackson says.

"That's really critical."

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