Okay, so it’s summer – and many of you have just scrubbed off the last of the school year in the shower. We know all you want right now is to be out in the park with friends – we want that too! But we also know that October is right around the corner, and for many of you, that means the next SAT. And we know that the verbal sections of the SAT (particularly the reading comprehension, simply because the answers are necessarily more equivocal) are often the most difficult to study for in a short period of time. So to ensure you don’t find yourself at the beginning of the next school year, juggling all your new classes while simultaneously cramming for the SAT, we’ve compiled a few suggestions for the summer, so that you can begin studying with plenty of time to spare. If you can set aside just two or three hours a week to study, you’ll be well ahead of the game. Here are our top suggestions:
1. Know the layout and components of the test
The most important aspect of the SAT for you, as a test-taker, will be to ensure that you don’t waste time on test day reading through the directions that precede each section. Furthermore, before you even begin thinking about how you will devise a study plan, you’ll need to have an idea of what you need most to work on. Many of you have taken the PSAT, but please know that it differs in quite a few ways from the SAT – namely in that the PSAT does not require you to write an essay, and takes a mere 2+ hours to complete as opposed to the almost-four hour marathon that is the SAT. For some students, these differences are critical.
2. Know where you stand on each section
Take a practice test at the beginning of the summer just as a sort of diagnostic for yourself (you can actually take one at the College Board website). If it turns out you fare particularly poorly on the “sentence improvement” section, for instance, you know you’ll want to spend quite a bit of time skimming through some grammar books this summer. On the other hand, if your reading comprehension score is particularly low, you’ll know it’ll be better to devote your summer study hours to some intensive reading sessions for yourself. If you take a practice test first, you’ll be certain you’re devoting your time to those areas in which you need the most practice.
3. Get on your vocabulary!
While it might seem that there is only one section of the exam by which the College Board gauges your knowledge of those ten-dollar words, your vocabulary levels are actually being tested everywhere: for instance, you will undoubtedly get questioned about words in context throughout the reading sections (these questions will read something like: “The word palpably (line 29) most nearly means:”, and so on). If you don’t know your vocabulary, these will be examples of questions in which you’ll only have a 20% choice of guessing the correct answer – if you choose to answer the question at all, which we wouldn’t suggest.
5. Practice your context
SAT vocabulary can be found both in the College Board study guides and online. Be sure that when you’re making flashcards, you attempt to use every new word in a sentence. This way you’ll be able to understand how it functions contextually. We would suggest you don’t overwhelm yourself with a bunch of new words at once; perhaps make 2-3 new flashcards every day (word on the front, definition and sentence on the back). Try to use them over breakfast; tell your brother you’ll absolve him of yesterday’s cajoling if he clandestinely passes his donut under the table to you. Carry them with you during the day, pull them out when you and add them to your growing pile in the evening. Spending an entire day with just two or three words will ensure you know them well by the time of the test.
6. Be prepared for the words you won’t know
Also, be aware that no matter how hard you study, the English language is nearly limitless – and so you might also want to spend some time studying prefixes, suffixes, and roots: this way, if you come upon a word you’ve never seen before come test day, you might be able to figure it out by breaking down the word. The great thing about learning all this vocabulary is that it won’t just impress your parents and friends who will hear about your SAT test scores – it will also impress your future college professors and colleagues. An impressive vocabulary is going to be a really important asset well beyond this standardized test.
7. Practice reading short passages and retaining information
The most difficult section for students, hands-down, is the reading comprehension section. Here’s why: likely you’ve spent your entire high school career reading novels. The discussions and the essay questions generally ask that you contemplate a topic within the context of the 200+ more pages of the text. What the SAT asks of you, as you probably know, is radically different. You will be asked to pay attention to detail, and might be amazed to find how little attention you’ve actually paid to individual words and sentences in your high school reading.
In short, often preparing for the SAT means re-teaching yourself to read – or teaching yourself to read all over again, in a very different way;
Firstly, read as much as you can this summer, whether it be for school or for pleasure.
Secondly, make sure your textual choices are geared to appropriate reading levels: your typical high-school canon (The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and so forth) is taught for a reason. The College Board also has a great book list. Read deliberately: stop yourself every few pages and ask yourself what has happened, what has been the tone of the recent pages, what words have meant in context (definitely keep a dictionary close at hand!), how certain phrases have been used to confirm the overall theme, how certain symbols have been used to concretize a concept. These are exactly the kinds of questions you’ll be getting on the SAT, so better to start teaching yourself this way of reading now.
8. Continue to familiarize yourself with positing your opinions – coherently! – in writing
Continuing to actually sit down and practice your writing is going to be the best way to – well – improve your writing. Make it efficacious for yourself on a number of levels: write your brother a one-page “essay” outlining all the reasons he should let you borrow his car to go to that concert next weekend, or write a letter to your mother (complete with a thesis statement and support for it) arguing for that curfew extension you’ve been wanting. Your mother, for one, will be thrilled to see that you’re actually studying, and may be more likely to assent. But equally important, you’ll be getting practice for that SAT essay – as well as for the many essays you’ll likely be asked to write (and arguments you’ll likely be asked to make!) in the coming years.
Ender Markal can be reached at SFTutors.com