The SAT Prep Black Book

Being An SAT Machine

“Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”
- Michelangelo

In this book, I talk a lot about how to answer individual questions. Obviously, that’s an important part of beating the SAT.

But you may have noticed that the processes and sample solutions get pretty repetitive pretty quickly. My students often complain, “After a while, doing these questions is just the same thing over and over . . .”

Some teachers might be insulted by that, but when I hear those magic words I just smile and say, “Exactly!”  On a standardized test, when answering questions begins to feel repetitive and automatic, you know you’ve made a huge improvement.

Standardized Tests Have Standardized Questions

It seems obvious, but a lot of people never realize that standardized tests must have standardized questions and standardized answers—otherwise, the results from one test day would have no relation to the results from another, and the test would be meaningless.

In writing the Black Book, my goal has been to teach you the standardization rules of the test, so that you can know how to attack every real SAT question you’ll ever see.

Never forget that the SAT is a test with rules and patterns that it has to follow, and once you start to unlock them you almost can’t go wrong—it’s almost like you turn into an SAT machine.

An SAT Machine At Work

One of the things I often do for students is show them how I would take a section of the test. I don’t just show them the processes and strategies I use, although the processes and strategies are definitely very important. I also show them the speed and the attitude I use to approach the test. What do I mean by that?

When I’m taking the SAT, I have an inner dialogue going on in my head. It’s very simple and straightforward. I’m reading each question, thinking briefly about what kind of question it is, then walking myself through the various steps described in these pages. It’s all second nature to me. And when I get to the answer choices, I’m ruthless about cutting them out—as soon as I see something wrong with an answer, it’s gone. Bam. Bam. Bam. Question. Bam. First step. Bam. Second step. Bam. Answer choices—bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Next question. Bam. I keep it going until I’m done with the section, then check my answers. Unless I get confused or lose my concentration, I usually finish each section in well under half the allotted time. And it’s not because I’m rushing or anything. I just don’t waste time thinking about any unnecessary aspects of the questions.

When I take a test, there’s no dilly-dallying or second-guessing. I’m prepared, and I know what to expect, because I know the SAT is ALWAYS THE SAME in all the important ways.

Becoming An SAT Machine

When most students take the SAT, they let their minds wander. They don’t realize that every question has one clear answer, so they waste their time trying to justify every answer choice to themselves. They don’t have set processes to rely on. They don’t know the recurring rules and patterns to look for in every question. In other words, they don’t take advantage of any of the gaping holes in the SAT’s armor. They’re inefficient and unfocused, and their scores suffer for it.

So what do you do if you want to turn into a machine? The key thing is to remember that every question has one clear answer, and that you can find it. Stick to a game plan—know how to start in on any SAT question and keep going until you either arrive at the answer or decide to skip the question. Then just keep working your system all the way through the test. That’s it. Don’t get distracted. Rely on the test to give you the same sorts of questions you’ve seen before—because it definitely will. It has to.

In a way, taking the SAT is similar to taking a driving test. You know in advance which skills you’ll be asked to demonstrate and what rules you’ll have to follow during the test; what you don’t know is the specific situation you’ll be in when you demonstrate each skill. Keep this in mind—stay flexible about applying what you know, but never forget that the range of things you can be asked to do on the SAT is very limited.

Also, as weird as it might sound, you should strive for the SAT to be boring and repetitive. Some students look at the SAT as a way to be creative—what’s the point of that? Find each answer, and practice finding it as efficiently as possible. You’ll be attacking the test in a systematic, methodical way before you know it—and that’s the secret to real SAT success.