- The Curve: Don't spend your time worrying about the SAT Curve. For more details, check out this post.
- QAS: When you sign up for the SAT, order the Question-and-Answer Service (aka QAS) if you plan on taking the SAT again. It's an extra $18, but well worth it because you get back the test booklet of the test you took. If you have a fee waiver, the QAS is included. The QAS comes in the mail (not online with your scores) about 6-8 weeks after you take the SAT -- so it's not a great tool if you plan on taking tests that are close together. If you miss it during the sign up, you can always order it later. The QAS is only available for the SATs given in the months of January, May, and October.
- SAS (not to be confused with the QAS) is the "Student and Answer Service" that's available for non-QAS months. The cost is $13.50, and you can order it at the time of SAT registration, or after the fact. The SAS is a simple report that shows you which answers you got right and wrong. Helpful, not essential.
- When to begin test prep: Allow for 2-3 academic semesters (i.e. approximately one full year...or more) to prepare for the SAT. That will take the pressure off, and allow you to learn the material in a deeper, more gentle manner. I do realize that many people will balk at this time frame -- but seriously, if you want to do well, that's what it takes. Plus, the type of "test prep" I'm referring to is actually learning material that will serve you well in school too (e.g. vocab, grammar, etc.).
- Tutoring: The right tutor will help you be more efficient, but, a) make sure you have "the right" tutor (more on that later), and b) hiring a tutor isn't the only way to do well on the SAT.
- Preparing for the SAT on a shoestring budget: Buy a College Board Blue Book ($13.00/includes 10 official SATs), and print out the 3 official tests on the College Board website: January 2006 SAT, October 2005 SAT, and March 2005 SAT. Take a full, timed, SAT one morning each weekend (allow about 4-5 hours, and make the experience as close as possible to the real thing). Then, spend the next week (or two) correcting the test until you have a deep understanding of each and every problem that you got wrong -- including all of the vocabulary you didn't know, even if you got that question right. There are a gillion renditions of Blue Book explanations online -- from the Khan Academy to College Confidential, and even the College Board's website. Also, you can use your English and Math teachers as resources.
- Know your test taking rights: Read pages 1-11 of this ETS test day manual before taking the SAT. Here's my "broken rule" experience, which, incidentally, was reflected in my score that month.
- You are entitled to a quiet room during the SAT, so be prepared to say something if the noise is bothering you. I found hallway noise to be distracting if the doors were open, but it took me until SAT #7 to realize I could let the proctor know before the test that I'd prefer the closed doors; she was extremely mindful of my request.
- Sit in the front row if possible, so that you have less visual distractions. I only encountered "assigned seating" once in 7 SATs.
- Keep your own time: Don't count on the proctors (even though they are supposed to keep the time for you). Get an analog watch and set it back to 12:00 before each section so you don't have to do any more mental calculations than necessary. Read this post for more details.
- A proper desk is important: Avoid the "deskette" experience (aka "the pork chop"). Having the proper desk space for a test booklet (8 x 11), answer sheet (8 x 11), pencils, and a calculator makes a difference. Ask your friends or call the SAT test coordinator for the test location to inquire. I'd even go so far as to say that I think it's worth driving a bit further to get yourself to a proper desk. Pork chop desk shuffling adds unnecessary time and discombobulation to an already stressful experience.
Ok, I'm stopping here for the night because 11 is my lucky number. This list will continue to grow on the Tips Page of this site (middle, righthand side).
More tips coming soon(ish).....
llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis