Yes, that’s the dreaded standardized test that most students bomb—even really smart ones. Colleges not only use it for entrance exams but also scholarships—the higher the score, the bigger the scholarship money. It is even looked at more than a student’s GPA since every school has a different standard for calculating grades. For the homeschooler, it demonstrates their academic prowess and validates their transcript since it is often homemade.

Unfortunately, most students approach this test like a normal test they take at home or school. (memorizing information and regurgitating it back out on a test). But the SAT is a test of logic and critical thinking and the questions are designed to trick the student. Once students learn the hidden recurring patterns that are found on the test, they can learn to find the right answer quickly and not fall for the wrong answer.

The SAT contains three sections: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. It is almost four hours long without breaks. This test can be like a mental marathon, and so learning time-management is a must. Most students do not finish each section on time because they treat it like other tests and work out each problem the long way. This not only results in a lot of blank questions but also a lower score for the student. Since this is a logic test, questions can be answered quickly and correctly when approached with a critical eye.

The Critical Reading section has three sections that total 70 minutes. The first part is the Passage-Based Reading section. There are three types of passages: Long, Short and Dual. In one section alone, there are four passages, 24 questions and only 25 minutes to finish it in. Most students run out of time before finishing. Students can cut their time in half by realizing that reading the passages is a waste of time. The College Board only puts the answers in key places.

There are also three question types that follow the passage: Line Citation, Vocabulary Use and Overall Passage question. Each question is answered differently and should not be answered in the order given. There are also four hidden patterns that that the SAT uses to make students second-guess themselves and choose the wrong answer. The irony is that this section is not about reading but about knowing where to find the answer to each question type. A student can actually skip 70% of the passage and still get every answer right.

The Sentence Completion is the second part of The Critical Reading section. This section contains sentences that contain one or two blanks, and the student has to find the perfect word for each blank. Students tend to pick an answer that sounds good but that is usually a wrong answer. Finding correct answers is based on finding the key elements found in the sentence By learning scope words like but, although and not, students can determine the direction of the sentence. If these words are found, students will need to look for an opposite answer.

If the sentence contains a semi-colon, comma or colon, the flow stays the same and the key to the answer will be found in the other part of the sentence. Students should be aware of the most common words–these are usually a trick and should be avoided. There are also times that the first blank should be ignored and students should predict the second blank first.

The Math section contains two sections that total 70 minutes. Most students approach the math just like they do their normal math classes by working each problem out the long way and showing all their work. There is a long way and a short way to answer math questions. If students can learn to not use their calculator, answers can be found quicker since the more calculations, the bigger chance of making mistakes. There will be two types of questions found in each section. The first type is the Multiple-Choice section. This is where students will have five answer choices to pick from. There are usually two to three answer choices that be eliminated right away. It is also strategic to know the importance of the order of the answers–it is always the same and can help you cut your time in half.

The good news is that a student doesn’t have to be a math genius to ace this part. There is no calculus or trigonometry, just basic math such as algebra, geometry and arithmetic. It is merely a logic test using math as the medium. They are not testing how smart students are in math but testing their critical thinking skills on a math problem. Every math problem can be solved in 30 seconds or less.

Student-Response is the other part of the math section. This part does not contain any answer choices; there may also be more than one answer for a certain question. Students will need to learn how to fill in the grid-in box correctly. There are four columns, two fraction bars, four decimal points and the digits zero through nine. There are only four columns so answers may need to be reduced to fit. Decimals need to fill up all four boxes and mixed numbers must be converted to improper fractions in order to be counted as correct. Many students get the answer right but often bubble-in the answers incorrectly. 

The last part is the Writing section. It contains four parts and they will total 60 minutes. The first part is the essay which is clearly the most dreaded section of the test (even more than math) because a student must write an essay in 25 minutes, won’t know the topic ahead of time and this section is worth 30% of their writing grade. This puts lots of pressure on the student, but the good news is that it is not hard to write a perfect scoring essay in only 15 minutes—and this will give them 10 minutes to spare. The judges are only looking for a few key ingredients on the paper because they only spend about 30 seconds grading it. After reading through once very quickly, the judges will write down their first impression of the paper so students need to make sure they end with a punch.

The last three Writing parts are Sentence Error, Improving Sentence and Improving Paragraphs. Understanding basic grammar rules is important but it is still a logic test and answers can be found quickly by using reasoning and critical thinking. By concentrating only on the underlined parts in the Sentence Error and Improving Sentences, students can save time when looking for the right answer. And the Improving Paragraph section combines two previous parts learned and the sentences are reproduced in the questions so there is very little need to read the passage. There are only a limited amount of concepts that are used, so when students know what to look for, they can answer these very quickly. There are recurring patterns in this section that occur 50-75% of the time; once students learn this, they can usually eliminate 2-4 wrong answers immediately.

With college entrance and scholarships all riding on one test, students can become confident test-takers when it comes to the SAT. Students don’t have to be a genius to ace the SAT but understanding the test and the question-types is a must in order to do well on this test. A standardized test means that the patterns stay the same. It is not a random test but students can learn to find the relationships and logical patterns that recur. With some preparation, knowledge and practice, students can figure out the SAT. Acing the SAT is not hard or scary—you just have to know how to do it.

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