Before the Test

Two Months Before




First, get the paperwork out of the way. Unless you like paying late registration fees, be sure to pick up a test registration form at your high school guidance office and send it in to the College Board at least 6 or 7 weeks before the date on which you want to take the test. Plan ahead: if you want to take the test in October, you have to mail your form in early September, when you are bound to be busy getting off to a good start with your new classes at school.

To get a registration form, or to order a copy of The SAT Preparation Booklet, a guide to the test including a sample SAT, go online, call, e-mail, or write the College Board:

(866) 756-7346
A.M.–9:00 P.M. Eastern Time, weekdays)


College Board SAT Program
P.O. Box 025505
Miami, FL 33102




The best way to practice for a race is to run the course in advance. Likewise, the best way to practice for a test is to take a simulated test, going over all the different question types in advance.

First, memorize the directions in this book for each type of question. These are only slightly different from the exact words you’ll find on the SAT. The test time you would normally spend reading directions can be better spent answering questions.


Did You Know?

You can have an official SAT Question of the Day delivered to you by e-mail. It’s free! Just sign up at to take advantage of this service.


Then take your practice test. In this workbook, you have four model tests—one self-assessment test in the next chapter, plus three more at the end of the book. To get the most out of these tests, try taking them under test conditions—no breaks in midsection, no talking, no help from friends.

You’ll find this kind of run-through will help build your test-taking stamina and strengthen you for those four vital hours after you walk through the test-center door.



In taking the SAT, your job is to answer as many questions as you can, rapidly, economically, correctly, without getting hung up on any one question and wasting time you could have used to answer two or three additional ones.

As you go through this book, if you find you do get bogged down on an individual question, think things through. First, ask yourself whether it’s a question you might be able to answer if you had a bit more time or whether it’s one you have no idea how to tackle. If you think it’s one you can answer if you give it a second try, mark it with a check or an arrow, and plan to come back to it after you’ve worked through the easy questions in the section. If, however, you think it’s a lost cause, mark it with an X and come back to it only after you’ve answered all the other questions in the section and double-checked your answers. With practice, you should be able to distinguish a “second chancer” from a lost cause. In any case, if you’re taking too long, your best bet is to move on.



Students always worry about whether they should or shouldn’t guess on standardized tests. Because wrong answers do count fractionally against you on the SAT, you may think that you should never guess if you aren’t sure of the right answer to a question. But even if you guessed wrong four times for every time you guessed right, you would still come out even. A wrong answer costs you only ¼ of a point. On the multiple-choice questions, the best advice for top students is to guess if you can eliminate one or two of the answer choices. You have a better chance of hitting the right answer when you make this sort of “educated” guess.

As you go through this book, try this experiment to find out what kind of guesser you are. Take part of any test that you have not taken before. You don’t have to take an entire test section, but you should tackle at least 25 questions. First, answer only the questions you are sure about. Then, with a different color pen, answer the remaining questions for which you can make educated guesses. Finally, with yet another color pen, guess blindly on all the other questions.

Score each of the three tests separately. Compare your scores from the three different approaches to the test. For many people, the second score (the one with the educated guesses) will be the best one. But you may be different. Maybe you are such a poor guesser that you should never guess at all. That’s okay. Or maybe you are such a good guesser that you should try every question. That’s okay, too. The important thing is to know yourself.



Another important technique for you to work on is building your powers of concentration. As you go through the practice exercises and model tests, notice when you start to lose your focus. Does your mind drift off in the middle of long reading passages? Do you catch yourself staring off into space, or watching the seconds ticking away on the clock? The sooner you spot these momentary lapses of concentration, the sooner you’ll be back working toward your goal.

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with losing focus for a moment. Everybody does it. When you notice you’re drifting, smile. You’re normal. Breathe in slowly and let the air ease out. Then take a fresh look at that paragraph or question you were working on. You’ve had your minibreak. Now you’re ready to pick up a few points.



Despite all rumors to the contrary, your whole college career is not riding on the results of this one test. The SAT is only one of the factors that colleges take into account when they are deciding about admissions. Admissions officers like the test because the scores give them a quick way to compare applicants from different high schools without worrying whether a B+ from the district high school is the equivalent of a B+ from the elite preparatory school. But colleges never rely on SAT scores alone. Admissions officers are perfectly well aware that there are brilliant students who fall apart on major tests, that students who are not feeling well can do much worse than normal on a test, and that all sorts of things can affect SAT scores on any given day. What’s more, every college accepts students with a wide range of SAT scores.

You do not need to answer every question on the SAT correctly to be accepted by the college of your choice. In fact, if you answer only 50–60 percent of the questions correctly, you’ll get a better than average score, and that, plus a decent GPA, will get you into most colleges.

As you can see, there’s no need to panic about taking the SAT. However, not everybody taking the SAT realizes this simple truth.

It’s hard to stay calm when those around you are tense, and you’re bound to run into some pretty tense people when you take the SAT. (Not everyone works through this book, unfortunately.) If you do experience a slight case of “exam nerves” just before the big day, don’t worry about it.


• Being keyed up for an examination isn’t always bad; you may outdo yourself because you are so worked up.

• Total panic is unlikely to set in; by the time you face the exam, you’ll know too much.

Keep these facts in mind, and those tensions should just fade away.