5 Signs of Good Test Prep

Most non- College Board test prep material is downright bad, as in, beyond “not helpful,” veering into the “detrimental” zone.

Think of it like this: If you’re training for a tennis match, you don’t train on a squash court!

Not all unofficial material is “bad.” In fact, some of it is excellent. The problem is in deciphering the good from the bad, which is not a job for the layperson who is studying for the SAT crushed by the millions of options.

Best SAT Test Prep” = 2,980,000 results on Google.

So how do you know?  Don’t assume “hard” necessarily equates to “good.”

5 Signs of “good” SAT test prep:

  1. Refers back to the The Official SAT Study Guide (aka the Blue Book). Helps student interpret the Blue Book.
  2. Written by an SAT expert. (Don’t assume PhD signals “SAT mastery.” Maybe,but maybe not.)
  3. Recommends official material for diagnostic SAT, and full official practice tests as part of test preparation.
  4. Has a goal-­setting strategy: For sections that are in “order of difficulty” you should strive for a mastery of questions inside a goal zone before attempting harder questions. Put simply: you should leave hard questions blank if you haven’t mastered the easy ones.
  5. Addresses issue of fundamental skills and test strategy. Exception: test prep aimed solely at high achievers.



From The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT.

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5 Easy Tips for the SAT

Here are five easy tips to improve your SAT score:

  1. Avoid Careless Errors — Read every word in the question and answer choices, don’t get stuck on a question, use your calculator (even for the easy questions).  Make sure to turn the last page of every section — especially at the end of the test, when you’re tired.
  2. Sit in the front row if you’re allowed to choose your own seat. This will minimize distractions.
  3. Keep your own time during the test. Don’t rely on the proctors. Bring an analog watch. You can’t use a phone or a watch that beeps. I had one really bad SAT experience where the proctor botched the time and the 5-minute warnings on nearly every section.
  4. Bring the right snacks. The test is only 4 hours, but it will be a good six hours from the time you have breakfast until you’ll be free for lunch.  Plan to use the 3 five-minute breaks wisely. My favorite snacks were apple (fills the belly), super dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher), water, Listerine strips.
  5. Make sure you are at a test center that administers the SAT in classrooms, versus gyms and cafeterias, which are noisy and distracting.

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How Much Can You Improve an SAT Score?

It’s accepted wisdom that familiarity with the SAT can improve performance (thus, a $4.5 billion test prep industry), but the College Board reports average score gains to be a mere 5-20 points — after test prep.

I raised my superscore by 330 points and my son raised his by 590 points from his sophomore PSAT.  We beat the odds many times over.

We both raised our scores by methodically working our way through the nuts and bolts of the fundamental skills of reading, writing, and math.  We also worked on test-taking strategy, which is what I think most people traditionally think of as “test prep” (though most students would have trouble achieving significant score gains from strategy alone), and we worked on our endurance.

The SAT is as much about performance on test day as it is about the knowledge being tested. Nothing in in college or in my career prepared me to focus so intently for such a sustained amount of time. Therefore, it’s essential to take full, timed practice tests to build endurance before taking a real SAT.  And trust me, no one thinks they have time for this!

What is the Perfect Score Project? Find out here.

If you’re interested in having me to your book group, here’s the link: Book the Writer. If you don’t belong to a book group but would like to, Jean Hanff Korelitz can create a “pop up” group.

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How Can Schools Help Students Prep for the SAT?

What can schools do to help students become better prepared for the SAT?

Stop perpetuating the idea that it’s a bad test, that some students are “bad testers,” and that it’s unimportant. Blaming the test doesn’t help anyone, especially the students, many of whom still have to take it and would benefit from the opportunities that can come from doing well. For example, merit aid. The SAT is often a variable in decisions about scholarship money. I would imagine most students could use and would appreciate merit aid for collage (versus loans, which need to be repaid).

Teach to mastery and test for mastery (most of us don’t know what we don’t know).  “Did you understand?” does not verify mastery. I thought learning was easy – it was “remembering” that was hard! (And I don’t think this was unique to my age as I see the same issue in both of my kids if they don’t practice what they learn.)

Keep circling back to recheck for mastery.  I found that the teachers who gave pop quizzes to my son kept him on toes and gave us all an accurate read on how he was doing.

Encourage practice. “Practice” is often spoken of with derision and scoffed at as “rote memorization.” But as I often remind my daughter if she slacks on her math worksheets, “You’re not going get to Carnegie Hall with a great teacher, you might get there with a great teacher and great practice.”

What is the Perfect Score Project? Find out here.

If you’re interested in having me attend your book group, I’d love to!  Here’s the link: Book the Writer.

To find out more about Book the Writer and its founder, Jean Hanff Korelitz, check out this story in the New York Times.

If you don’t belong to a book group, but would like to, Jean can create a “pop up” group.

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What Makes a Good Test Location?

I took the SAT 7 times in 5 different schools. Here’s how I think schools can ensure the best test conditions for students taking the SAT:

  • The SAT should be taken in classrooms, not gyms and cafeterias. Classrooms have fewer distractions
  • Full-size desks and chairs should be used, not those tablet desks. They’re too small for an optimal SAT experience, despite what the official rules allow.
  • There should be a visible clock in all test rooms and the proctors need to write the section end time down and be sure to give 5-minute warnings.
  • Proctors should meticulously follow the rules. After I wrote about my experience with a rule-breaking proctor, I heard horror stories from so many people about inattentive proctors.
  • “Quiet” should be enforced — even in the hallways during testing hours.

I wrote a book about the the SAT called The Perfect Score Project.

You can read the prologue, listen to an audio clip, and check out the reader reviews.

The book is a hybrid: part guide to decoding (and acing) the SAT/part memoir. It’s the story of how I grew as a mother, and how my son and I managed to eek some joy out of the SAT process. It’s also all the tips I learned about how to ace the test.  Tips such as What makes a good testing location…or The truth about brand-name SAT prep…or How to know if you should self-study, take a class, or use a tutor.

Ultimately, the book is about how I managed to motivate my teenage son to care about the most reviled right of passage in high school: The SAT.

All of the fabulous illustrations on this site are hand painted by Jennifer Orkin Lewis.  

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