The SAT Prep Black Book

The Nature of Elite Scores

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare. It is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”
- Seneca the Younger

Imagine a hypothetical test with 100 questions of varying difficulty on various subjects. If you needed to answer any one question correctly, you could probably find one that seemed to be the easiest for you, and get it right.

Now imagine that you’re working on the same imaginary test, and you’ve answered 90 questions correctly, and you want to get one more of the remaining ten. The odds are good that you’ve answered all of the questions that were easiest for you. All that are left are the ones you skipped, and now you’re more likely to be stuck than you were when you just started out.

Now imagine that you wanted to get nine of the ten remaining question, or even all ten. It would only get harder and harder, right?

My point is this: The more you improve on any test, the harder it is to keep improving. The more you succeed with the SAT, the rarer your opportunities for future success become. The more questions you master, the closer you come to having to deal with the questions you dislike most if you want to make any progress.

So making an elite score on the SAT (say, an overall score of 2250 or more) will require most people to prepare diligently and intelligently. Let’s talk about how to do that.

Having The Right Attitude.

Your attitude is an important factor in preparing for the SAT.

Accountability

If you want a good score, you have to do it. That sentence is probably the most obvious one in this book, but it’s also the most important. Every other strategy or attitude will fail you unless you take full accountability for your performance.

Many people feel that they have performance anxiety that makes them bad test-takers. Others think the test is biased against them. These people may be absolutely correct, but that will not help them improve their scores. The only thing that will help you improve is diligent, intelligent practice.

Thinking about nonspecific problems that you cannot fix will only distract you from other weaknesses that you can fix. When you conquer all the problems you can pinpoint, you may be surprised to find that there are no others left to deal with.

Persistence

You will fail in some way, however small or large, over the course of your SAT preparation. Everyone does. However, failure is as impermanent as you want it to be. If you are willing to work for it, every failure is literally another opportunity to succeed in the future

Remember to keep working until you achieve the score you want. As your progress becomes more and more difficult, remind yourself that it’s only because you’ve already come so far, and that you can go even further.

Practicing For The SAT

Performing on the SAT, like any other skill, becomes easier if you practice it.

Choosing Your Pace

You will need some amount of some kind of practice; the kind and amount depend on how well you’ve done so far, in which areas, and how well you want to do in the future.

First, at the very least, everyone should become familiar with the question types by reading this Black Book and looking through a copy of the Blue Book (the College Board Publication The Official SAT Study Guide). Most people should take a timed practice SAT from the Blue Book in a reasonably simulated testing environment just to see how they do. However, if you have started early enough, and if you feel comfortable with it, you can just sign up for the test and take it once in order to get a realistic idea of your performance. In either case, the point is to find out where you stand, and which areas need work.

Once you grade your test or receive your score report, you can read it to find out how you performed in which areas. Obviously, you want to pick out the areas where you’re not satisfied and work more on them. The way you work on them is up to you. You can do one problem at a time while reading through the steps in this Black Book, you can take one section of your trouble area at a time, or you can go ahead and take the full test.

However, you need to be sure to think about timing when you work up on a full section or a full test—you don’t necessarily need to time every practice session, but you do need to remember that on test day you’ll have a limited amount of time to answer questions.

You also have to be responsible in your practice. If you don’t feel like you’re practicing enough, or if you’re not improving, then you need to put in more time, or go back to basics with the different sections of this book. Just keep working away at it. You get results depending on the quality of the work you put in, so if you want an elite score, remember: Work smarter and harder.

Assessing Weakness

As you practice you will notice certain areas of the test that seem to give you particular trouble. Take note, and work harder on those sections. There is no “I can’t do it”—the information you need is there in every question, just learn to see it and use it. Don’t be tempted to convince yourself that one question type is just too hard or flawed or has some other problem. You can do them all if you will only work on it.

When you do start to notice problem areas, see them as places where you have not yet succeeded, not places where you won’t or can’t succeed. Learn the difference between recognizing weakness and expecting failure.

Making it count

You can spend all the time in the world practicing, but if it’s mindless practice, then you won’t improve. Practice actively and intelligently. Don’t try to look up every word in the verbal section and memorize its meaning, but if you feel like you keep seeing a word with which you are unfamiliar, go ahead and look it up and be sure you understand what it means; the odds aren’t bad that you’ll see it again somewhere.

However, if there is a word in the math section that you don’t understand, look it up every time. This isn’t as extreme, since there are far fewer of them in math than in verbal, but you cannot answer a math question without knowing the vocabulary.

Also, feel free to come up with your own tricks while practicing, but if your tricks don’t work every time, then don’t rely on them. When you’ve mastered all the techniques, you shouldn’t just be right all the time; you should know that you’re right, know why you’re right, and know how you’re right—every time. Remember: if you’re not getting 800s (or whatever your goal is) in practice, you probably won’t get them on the real test.

Parting advice

If you’re putting in all this extra effort to reach an elite score, then you must have some larger goal in mind (improving your chances at a particular school, qualifying for a scholarship, or whatever). Keep that goal in mind. Let it motivate you to continue to work even when you don’t want to. If you get your score report and you’re not satisfied, think of it as a progress report and let your goal keep you working. Repeat this entire process thoroughly in order to optimize your improvement.

At the same time, treat each test as the real thing, because it is. Don’t take a test thinking only that it will help you know what to do better later. It will, but always shoot for your goal or else you might not do as well as you can. Strive to do your best, always.