Cracking the SAT

Part I

Orientation

1    The SAT, The Princeton Review, and You

2    Cracking the SAT: Basic Principles

3    Cracking the SAT: Advanced Principles

You are about to unlock a vast repertoire of powerful strategies that have one and only one purpose: to help you get a better score on the SAT. This book contains the collected wisdom of The Princeton Review, which has spent more than 20 years helping students achieve higher scores on standardized tests. We’ve devoted millions of dollars and years of our lives to cracking the SAT. It’s what we do (twisted as it may be), and we want you to benefit from our expertise.

The Princeton Review is the leader in test prep. Our goal is to help students everywhere crack the SAT. Ideally, we’d like the SAT to be eliminated altogether; we think the test is that bad. But until that happens, we’ll content ourselves with aiding as many students as possible.

Starting from humble beginnings in 1981, The Princeton Review is now the nation’s largest SAT preparation company. We offer courses in more than 500 locations in 12 different countries, as well as online; we also publish best-selling books, like the one you’re holding, and software to get students ready for this test.

Our techniques work. We developed them after spending countless hours scrutinizing real SATs, analyzing them with computers, and proving our theories in the classroom. Our methods have been widely imitated, but no one achieves our score improvement.

Study

If you were getting ready
to take a biology test,
you’d study biology. If
you were preparing for a
basketball game, you’d
practice basketball. So, if
you’re preparing for the
SAT, study the SAT. ETS
can’t test everything (in
fact, they test very little),
so concentrate on learning
what they do test.

This book will show you how to crack the SAT by teaching you to

·        think like the test writers,

·        take full advantage of the limited time allowed,

·        find the answers to questions you don’t understand by guessing intelligently, and

·        avoid the traps that the SAT has laid for you (and use those traps to your advantage).

The test is made by Education Testing Service (ETS) and they know that our techniques work. For years, ETS claimed that the SAT couldn’t be coached. But we’ve proven that view wrong, and ETS has struggled to find ways of changing the SAT so that The Princeton Review won’t be able to crack it—in effect, acknowledging what our students have known all along: that our techniques really do work. The SAT has remained highly vulnerable to our techniques. And the current version of the SAT is even more susceptible to our methods. Read this book, work through the drills, take the practice tests, and you’ll see what we mean.

Chapter 1

The SAT, The Princeton Review, and You

Welcome! Our job is to help you get the best possible score on the SAT. This chapter tells you what to expect from the SAT and some specifics about the test. It will also explain how to make the most of all your Princeton Review materials, including a bunch of cool stuff online.

You may have bought this book because you know nothing about the SAT, or perhaps you took the test once and want to raise your score. Either way, it’s important to know about the test and the people who write it. Let’s take a second to discuss some SAT facts; some of them may surprise you.

Just because the SAT features math, reading, and writing questions doesn’t mean that it reflects what you learned in school. You can ace calculus or write like Faulkner and still struggle with the SAT. The test writers claim that the test measures “reasoning ability,” but all the SAT really measures is how well you take the SAT. It does not reveal how smart or how good a person you are.

Even though colleges and universities make wide use of the SAT, they’re not the ones who write the test. That’s the job of Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit company that writes tests for college and graduate school admissions. ETS also writes tests for groups as diverse as butchers and professional golfers (who knew?).

Wait, Who Writes
This Test?

You may be surprised to
learn that the people
who write SAT test
questions are NOT
necessarily teachers or
college professors. The
people who write the
SAT are professional test
writers, not superhuman
geniuses, so you can beat
them at their own game.

ETS is often criticized for the SAT. Many educators have argued that the test does not measure the skills you really need for college. In fact, several years ago the University of California, one of the nation’s largest university systems, decided that the SAT didn’t provide enough information for admissions. ETS scrambled to change the test and introduced the current version of the SAT. It’s almost an hour longer than the old SAT and—unlike the old version—tests grammar and includes an essay.

The SAT runs 3 hours and 45 minutes and is divided into 10 sections. These include

·        one 25-minute Essay section, requiring you to present your viewpoint on a topic

·        two 25-minute Math sections, one containing multiple choice questions and the other containing multiple choice questions and response questions (we call these “grid-ins”)

·        two 25-minute Critical Reading sections, made up of sentence completions and reading comprehension questions

·        one 25-minute Writing section, containing error identification questions, improving sentences questions, and improving paragraphs questions

·        one 20-minute Math section, including only multiple-choice questions

·        one 20-minute Critical Reading section, again featuring sentence completions and reading comprehension questions

·        one 10-minute Writing section, containing only improving sentences questions

·        one 25-minute Experimental section, which may be Writing, Math, or Critical Reading. There’s no way to tell which section is the Experimental, so treat every section as if it will be scored

The Essay section on the SAT is always first. Sections 2 through 7 are the six 25-minute sections, in any order. Sections 8 and 9 are the two 20-minute sections, in any order (Math and then Critical Reading, or Critical Reading and then Math). Finally, the 10-minute Writing section is always section 10, the last section on the test.


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Each subject area on the SAT—Math, Writing, and Critical Reading—is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. Some colleges look at each individual score, but others look at the highest combined score, of all three scores added together. The combined score ranges from 600 to 2400. The average SAT score is about 500 per section, or 1500 total.

You’ll receive your score report about two to four weeks after you take the test. It will include your scaled score as well as your percentile rank, which tells you how you performed relative to other people who took the same test. If your score is in the 60th percentile, it means that you scored better than 60 percent of test takers.

One way of thinking of your SAT score is to imagine yourself in a line with 100 other students, all waiting to be seen by an admissions officer. However, the officer can’t see every student—some students won’t make it through the door. If your SAT score is in the 50th percentile, you’d have 50 other kids in front of you. Maybe you’ll be seen, maybe not. Wouldn’t it be nice to jump the line? If you can boost your SAT score, even by a couple of points, you move up the line and increase your odds of getting through the door. We can help you do that…

The College Board restarted a program called Score Choice. Normally, colleges get to see every single time you take the SAT. With Score Choice, however, you can tell the College Board which test date or dates (as many or as few as you want) to send to colleges. At first glance, this seems great. “Hey, colleges don’t have to see that one bad score from the first time I took the SAT without preparing? Great!” But there are some major problems with it, which you may want to consider before using Score Choice.

First and foremost is that some colleges require that you send them all scores from all times you took the SAT. They want to know about every single time you take the SAT, and they don’t want the College Board telling them which of your SAT scores they’re allowed to see. For these colleges, you must submit all scores, and Score Choice is not an option.

Second, many colleges actually just look at your highest scores either for one sitting of a test or, in many cases, per subject across several sittings. If the college just looks at your highest sitting, Score Choice doesn’t make any difference, and it’s not worth bothering with it. The college admissions officer will just look at your highest-scored test date and ignore the other scores. But for the colleges that cherry pick your scores by subject, Score Choice can actually hurt you. For instance, let’s say you take the SAT in March and get a 510 in Math, a 400 in Reading, and a 450 in Writing. You retake the SAT in May and get a 410 in Math (ouch), a 500 in Reading (much better), and a 470 in Writing (OK). Many schools look at your best scores per subject and would consider your SAT score to be 510 Math, 500 Reading, and 470 Writing. But if you submitted only one score, the colleges wouldn’t have the high points to choose from.

Whether or not you decide to use Score Choice, plan on taking the SAT two or three times. Many colleges frown on taking the SAT four or more times.

A searchable list of colleges and their requested SAT score submission requirements, as well as more information on Score Choice, can be found at the College Board website at www.collegeboard.org.

The SAT schedule for the school year is posted on the College Board website at www.collegeboard.org. There are two different ways to sign up for the test. You can sign up online by going to www.collegeboard.org and clicking on the SAT hyperlink directly underneath the purple “Students” link, or sign up through the mail with an SAT registration booklet, which should be available at your school guidance counselor’s office.

Stay on Schedule

Although you may take
the SAT early in your junior
year, most students take
it for the first time in the
spring of their junior year
and possibly retake it in
the fall of their senior year.
In addition, you may also
need to take SAT subject
tests (many competitive
colleges require them), so
don’t leave everything to
the last minute. You can’t
take SAT and SAT subject
tests on the same day. Sit
down and plan a schedule.

Try to sign up for the SAT as soon as you know when you’ll be taking the test. If you wait until the last minute to sign up, there may not be any open spots in the testing centers closest to your house.

If you require any special accommodations while taking the test (including, but not limited to, extra time or assistance), www.collegeboard.org has more information about applying for those accommodations. Make sure to apply early; we recommend applying six months before you plan on taking the test.