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SAT Strategies from Academy Seniors and College Counselors

On March 8th, thousands of anxious high school juniors from around the nation will be taking the national SAT test. The 4-hour test consists of 10 sections that test students’ knowledge and applicability when answering questions in math, critical reading, and grammar. Some may view this test as another assessment in the long process of college admissions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many colleges place a great emphasis on these tests while others place more emphasis on other aspects of an individual’s resume. If unsure about what university to apply to, performing well on test day is a must. 

As many of you may know, Academy has had plenty of success with PSAT results, a shortened version of the SAT. In the past 5 years, 27.8% of students have earned recognition in the National Merit Scholarship program, and an average of 19% of students have become national merit semifinalists. This year’s senior class boasts 17 National Merit semifinalists as well as 14 commended students, which is very impressive, especially with a senior class of 90 students. To put this into perspective, New Albany high school, which has a student body that is at least 3 times the size of our high school, has 4 national merit semifinalists.

I decided to interview our 17 national merit semifinalists to see what their advice was for this year’s test takers.

1) Practice.  Although this may seem cliché, all of our interviewed National Merit semifinalists agreed that this was by far the most important method in preparing for the test. According to seniors Jeremy Schroeder  and Suesan Chen, doing timed-practice tests the summer before the exam allows students to familiarize themselves with the material, learn strategies, and perfect their approach towards the test.

2) Study Vocabulary. Memorizing vocabulary that may be on the test can be  tedious and daunting, but according to seniors Randy Zhong and Alex H, memorizing words gives students a huge advantage in the critical reading part of the test.

3) Tutoring.  Although self-studying works well if time and hard work are put in, receiving tutoring for the test allows students to get valuable tips, practice, and review books that can raise students’ scores. Both Connie Zhang and Alex Ho took prep courses that they believed to have helped them prepare for the test.

4) Prepare Early. Most of this year’s National Merit semifinalists at CA started preparing for the test the summer after sophomore year or even earlier. This helps students know what to expect and be familiar with the content.


Exam Tips

1) Get Your Brain Prepared. The latest research has shown that it is important for test takers to get up an hour before the test and “warm up” their brain. The best approach to doing includes reading the local newspaper, a magazine, or simply doing a little bit of exercise. This allows your brain to be fully functional for the start of the exam and shake off any drowsiness from having to get up earlier.

2) Take your Time. Many of our national merit scholars agreed that for some of the sections, especially math, making simple mistakes from incorrectly reading the question can be huge in lowering students’ scores. By slowing yourself down and reading the question, you decrease your chances of making a simple error.

3) Plan Out Your Essay. The essay is one of the biggest factors in determining a student’s writing score. With only 25 minutes to impress two readers, it’s important for students to gather their thoughts, address the prompts, and present a strong argument. Our national merit scholars agreed that taking 2-3 minutes before you start writing to organize your thoughts is an essential part of doing well.

4) Avoid Guessing if Possible.  The basic rule is that if you can eliminate one of the five answer choices, guessing is your best bet because the penalty for a wrong answer is ¼ of a point. If it is impossible to eliminate any answer choices, guessing is definitely the best choice.

5) Wear Your Power Clothing. According to Mrs. Heywood, wearing comfortable, lucky clothing will boost your confidence while taking the test and settle your nerves. “If you do well on tests with your letter jacket, wear your letter jacket. If you perform well in blue, wear blue,” says Mrs. Heywood.

6) Relax.  It’s important for test takers to relax while taking the test. Research has shown that during a relaxed state of mind, students usually perform better due to heightened brain capability. If you find yourself stressing out during the test itself, take a couple of deep breaths, and relax your body.

At the end of the day, the SAT is an influential test in the college admissions process, but if you can relax and  know that you gave it your best shot, that’s more powerful than any score that results.

Varun Vallabhaneni’16


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