5 Strategies to Master the SAT

Feb 11, 2016 11:00:00 AM Jessica Beidelman Education Trends


A recent New York Times article opens with the following ominous line:

For thousands of college hopefuls, the stressful college admissions season is about to become even more fraught. 

The College Board is redesigning the SAT, shifting its focus towards longer and more challenging reading passages.

Many fear that such a shift will penalize students and introduce present bias for English Language Learners or students who struggle to read. Others express concern that math problems are narrative rich, which may confuse students and distract them from the targeted math concepts being tested. To reduce some of the angst around the new SAT exam, we have identified several strategies to assist students as they ready themselves for the new SAT.

Encourage students to focus on the question being asked.

Students do not need to know the meaning of every word to correctly answer a question, especially those presented in the math section. For example, students should be able to quickly skim the prompt to determine the question type and the specific question being asked. For a problem that asks the student to use a given equation, it is not important to know the meaning of all words presented in the question stem. 

Prepare students for uncertainty through the ability to use context clues.

There is more emphasis on defining vocabulary in context, understanding and using evidence, making logical arguments, and using scientific reasoning on the new SAT. Students should practice reading advanced texts to test their ability to define unknown words based on their context.

Students should continue to study with SAT practice questions but can also make a concerted effort to read widely – from challenging books to newspapers such as The New York TimesThe Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Challenging articles will help students better define new words in context. Science-based articles in publications such as National Geographic will help students feel more confident for reading in the math and science sections as well. Students are never too young to develop a genuine love of reading!

Encourage students to access narratives through media other than books and written texts.

There are a number of ways for students to access narratives through media beyond written text. Listening to podcasts, watching documentary movies and attending plays can encourage students to engage with challenging material. Because it is through a different medium, some of the monotony associated with SAT prep can be avoided while still advancing student skills.

Practice makes permanent.

Strong preparation gives students the confidence to succeed. Students who feel confident in their ability to master the SAT will perform at their peak. Instilling within students a growth mindset enables them to view their progress with a positive attitude. A "growth mindset" is an attitude that embraces hard work, grit, and determination as the keys to intelligence and capability and encourages students to look at how far they have come rather than how far they still have to go.

Keep students grounded in broad, long-term objectives rather than the number score.

Focusing on their numerical score – 700, 640, 520, 800 – will cause students more harm than good. Teachers should encourage students to remember why they are preparing for the SAT and their long-term goals and objectives. Walking into the SAT on test day with the knowledge and understanding that this will prepare them for their future career will improve student mindset and improve results.