1) Decide which test to take
Though this post is called “Preparing for the New SAT,” the first step is to decide whether the SAT or ACT is a better choice, since colleges accept either one. The best way to tell is to take a full diagnostic test for each and look at your percentile rank compared with other test-takers. If you’ve already taken the PSAT, use that score and compare it with a practice ACT. It’s better to spend a few hours at the beginning figuring out which test is the best fit than to realize several weeks into your preparations that you would have been better off prepping for the other test.
The rest of this blog will focus on the New SAT specifically, though much of the information also applies to the ACT.
2) Figure out your starting point
If you’ve decided to take a class or purchase an individualized tutoring package (an excellent choice!), a diagnostic test and individualized score report should be included. Even if you’re eager to get started, make time to take the full diagnostic first so you can get the most out of your tutoring time.
If you’re prepping on your own or haven’t decided yet on a test prep program, you have a few options. If you’ve already taken the PSAT and believe your score reflects your true abilities, use that to start. (See “Understanding Your PSAT Score Report” for more on this.) If you haven’t, or you believe your PSAT score isn’t accurate, give yourself a test from the Official Guide or one of the free practice tests on www.khanacademy.org. Take the test in a quiet place that simulates test-taking conditions.
Once you’re done, go through the test and review the questions you missed. Note any categories of questions or concepts you’re consistently missing.
3) Figure out your goal score
The best way to set your score goal is to do an internet search and find the average scores and the 25th-75th percentile range for your dream school(s). Aim to score at least average, preferably in the 75th percentile. (Make sure you’re looking at the New SAT score out of 1600 and not the old score out of 2400.) If your diagnostic score is far (more than 150 points) below your goal, plan for a lot of preparation time and consider applying to additional schools that have a lower score range or place less emphasis on testing.
4) Invest in at least two books
If you’ve purchased a class or tutoring package, books and materials should be provided. If you’re prepping on your own, you should buy at least two books: one Official Guide and one additional strategy/concept review book.
Though it contains some strategies and concept review, The Official SAT Study Guide is mostly useful for its practice tests, since they are created by the same company that makes the real test.
While the Official Guide is a good source of practice tests, other guides provide more information about strategies and more thorough concept review. The Ivy Global New SAT Guide is a favorite of LA Tutors, as it provides concept-by-concept practice for the Math and Language sections along with helpful strategies.
5) Address your weaknesses, sharpen your strengths, learn test-taking and pacing strategies, and practice, practice, practice!
As you work your way through your prep book(s), only skim through the topics you aced on the diagnostic. For topics where you need practice, read the book carefully and work all the practice drills.
In addition to a practice book, take advantage of the free resources at www.khanacademy.org. The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer free practice questions, videos, and full-length practice tests. You can import data from your PSAT score report or take one of their full-length practice tests and then receive an individualized program of practice questions and instructional videos.
While it’s important to improve weak areas, don’t abandon your stronger areas during your preparations. Sometimes a little practice can turn a good score into a great one!
6) Take practice tests throughout your preparations
During your preparations, it’s important to apply what you’re learning by taking several practice tests. If you’re working with a tutor, he/she will identify the optimal times to take practice tests. If you’re working on your own, a good strategy is to take the first test halfway through your preparations (if you’ve been working diligently for at least a month) and stagger the other tests throughout the last half of your program.
7) Register for a test date that allows for a retake, if possible
Of course, your goal should be to take the test once and then be done. If you don’t get the score of your dreams, however, then you should allow time in your schedule for additional preparation before you retake the test. If you don’t get additional practice, you could risk scoring lower than the first time.
While the New SAT is still new, there are good materials out there to help you prepare. With hard work and good preparation, you can substantially raise your score and get closer to the college of your dreams!