ATTACKING THE NEW SAT: TWELVE FAQs - McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2017 Edition (Mcgraw Hill's Sat) (2016)

McGraw-Hill Education SAT 2017 Edition (Mcgraw Hill's Sat) (2016)



  1. What”s new in the redesigned SAT?
  2. What are the primary skills assessed by the redesigned SAT?
  3. What is the format of the redesigned SAT?
  4. What kinds of scores are reported by the SAT?
  5. What will colleges do with my SAT scores?
  6. What control do I have over my SAT scores?
  7. Should I take the ACT as well?
  8. What is the best way to prepare for the redesigned SAT?
  9. How can I get the most out of my study sessions?
  10. When and how often should I take the SATs and Subject Tests?
  11. What should I do the week before my SAT?
  12. What should I do on test day?


Beginning in spring 2016, the redesigned SAT features ten major changes.

  1. More time per question

The redesigned SAT gives you more time per question, making it less likely that you will underperform due to time restrictions.

Bottom Line: The new SAT should give you a bit more time to breathe.

  1. “Rights-only” scoring

The redesigned SAT no longer penalizes you 0.25 point for getting a multiple-choice question wrong. Now your raw score on each section is simply the total number of correct answers on that section. The College Board claims that this will encourage you to make educated guesses, and discourage you from “thinking strategically” about whether to guess on a question, since that is not central to the reasoning skills the SAT is designed to assess.

Bottom line: On the new SAT, answer every question . On the toughest questions, just pick an answer and move on rather than leaving it unanswered. You can”t hurt your score, and you may help it.

  1. Four choices instead of five

All multiple-choice questions now have four choices instead of five. This makes guessing on tough questions even more beneficial, since the chances of getting the question right by luck alone have now increased from 20% to 25%.

Bottom Line: All the more reason to guess rather than leaving a question unanswered.

  1. Academic vocabulary in context

The SAT no longer includes “sentence completion questions” or any other specifically vocabulary-focused questions. Rather, it tests your knowledge of vocabulary by challenging you to read and analyze college-level prose in the liberal arts and sciences, and to answer questions about how vocabulary is used to clarify ideas, establish tone, and indicate point of view.

Bottom Line: Chapter 3 discusses how SAT vocabulary is changing and provides comprehensive “new SAT” vocabulary and root lists.

  1. Return to the 400-to-1600 point scale

The redesigned SAT scores return to the 400-to-1600 point scale, based on the sum of the Reading and Writing test score (from 200 to 800) and the Mathematics test score (from 200 to 800). The Essay component is no longer mandatory.

Bottom Line: Now you can compare your SAT scores with your parents” SAT scores!

  1. Essay optional, and a new essay task

On the new SAT, you have the option of taking the Essay component, in which you are given 50 minutes to read and analyze an argumentative essay that examines an idea, debate, or trend in the arts, sciences, culture, or politics. You are then expected to “produce a clear and cogent written analysis in which [you] explain how the author … builds an argument to persuade an audience through the use of evidence, reasoning, [and] stylistic and persuasive elements.”

Many competitive colleges will require you to submit the SAT Essay score with the rest of your SAT scores. If you are considering applying to any of these schools, you should choose the Essay option when you register to take the SAT. Check the college websites for their policies on the SAT Essay.

Bottom Line: Chapter 6 gives you complete review and practice in the new SAT essay, together with sample essays with complete grading explanations.

  1. More advanced math questions

The redesigned SAT Math test includes questions on topics from trigonometry and second-year algebra, such as complex numbers, trigonometric identities, and analysis of polynomials.

Bottom Line: Chapters 9 and 10 provide comprehensive review of these new more advanced math concepts, as well as lots of practice problems and answer explanations.

  1. Calculator and no-calculator math questions

The redesigned SAT Math test is composed of two sections: a calculator section and a no-calculator section. The no-calculator section is designed to assess your arithmetic and algebraic fluency, which are essential to mathematical problem solving.

Bottom Line: The practice problems in the math review chapters (7 through 10 ) will give you plenty of practice in both calculator and no-calculator problem types, so you can hone the particular skills you need for every possible SAT math question.

  1. Graphical analysis required in some reading and writing questions

Some of the passages in the redesigned SAT Reading and Writing tests include information in the form of graphs, diagrams, or tables that you may be expected to interpret and synthesize with the content of the passages.

Bottom Line: SAT Reading isn”t just about textual analysis anymore, it also includes a bit of graphical analysis.

  1. Lots more data

As explained in Question 5 below, in addition to the basic Math and Reading/Writing scores, the new SAT will also supply you (and colleges) with up to sixteen (yes, you heard right) other “Test Scores,” “Cross-Test Scores,” and “Subscores.”

Bottom Line: Don”t worry for a second about all these extra scores. They”re just the College Board”s way of showing you that it”s really good at statistics. The only scores that really count are the Math score and the Reading and Writing score.


SAT Reading

  • Interpreting, analyzing, and drawing inferences from college-level texts across the liberal arts and sciences such as arguments, narratives, and personal or expository essays
  • Interpreting and drawing inferences from data in the form of graphs, tables, and diagrams that accompany reading passages

SAT Writing and Language

  • Analyzing sentences and paragraphs in terms of their grammatical correctness and semantic coherence
  • Analyzing essays in terms of their overall development, tone, and effectiveness

SAT Math

  • Solving algebraic problems involving equations, inequalities, systems, formulas, and functions
  • Solving data-analysis problems involving concepts such as ratios, proportions, percentages, units, and numerical relationships
  • Solving problems in advanced mathematics involving concepts such as quadratics, polynomials, angles, polygons, areas, volumes, exponentials, complex numbers, and trigonometry

SAT Essay (Optional)

  • Writing an effective essay that analyzes and critiques a given argumentative passage


The redesigned SAT is a 3-hour test (3 hours 50 minutes with Essay) consisting of four mandatory sections and an optional Essay.

Total Time: 3 hours (3 hours 50 minutes including Essay)


The new SAT returns to the classic 1600-point, “Math + Verbal” format (although now the sections are called “Math” and “Reading and Writing”), but these scores are enhanced with what the College Board calls “Insight Scores,” which include three or four “Test Scores,” two “Cross-Test Scores,” and seven to ten “Subscores.”

SAT Insight Scores


Your SAT scores show colleges how ready you are to do college-level work. Students with high SAT scores are more likely to succeed with the challenging college-level math, writing, and reading assignments. Recent studies have also shown that SAT scores correlate strongly with post-college success, particularly in professions like medicine, law, the humanities, the sciences, and engineering. Students with high SAT scores are more likely to graduate from college and to have successful careers after college.

But let”s face it: one reason colleges want you to send them SAT scores is that high scores make them look good. The higher the average SAT score of their applicants, the better their rankings and prestige. This is why most colleges cherry-pick your top subscores if you submit multiple SAT results. (It”s also why some colleges have adopted “SAT-optional” policies: only the high-scoring students are likely to submit them, and so the college”s average scores automatically increase, thereby improving its national rankings.) In addition to your SAT scores, most good colleges are interested in your grades, your curriculum, your recommendations, your leadership skills, your extracurricular activities, and your essay. But standardized test scores are becoming more important as colleges become more selective. Without exception, high SAT scores will provide you with an admission advantage, even if the college does not require them. Some large or specialized schools will weigh test scores heavily. If you have any questions about how heavily a certain college weighs your SAT scores, call the admissions office and ask.

The majority of colleges “superscore” your SAT, which means that they cherry-pick your top SAT Reading and Writing score and your top SAT Math score from all of the SATs you submit. So, for instance, if you submit your March SAT scores of 520R 610M (1130 composite) and your June SAT scores of 550R 580M (1130 composite), the college will consider your SAT score to be 550R 610M (1160 composite). Nice of them, huh?


No college will see any of your SAT or Subject Test scores until you choose to release them to that particular school. So you never have to worry about a college seeing a score you don”t want to release. Most colleges also allow you to use Score Choice to select which particular SAT and SAT Subject Test scores are submitted to the colleges among all that you”ve taken. Some colleges, however, may request that you not use Score Choice, and instead submit all scores of all SATs you”ve taken. Typically, colleges do this for two reasons: (1) to give you the maximum possible SAT “superscore,” and (2) to identify students who are inappropriately test-obsessed (for instance, those who have taken the SAT six or more times).

So don”t worry about taking the SAT two or three times, if you need to. In fact, most colleges encourage students to take multiple tests, since one data point isn”t as trustworthy as multiple data points. But don”t go overboard. If you take it more than four times, a college might think you”re test-obsessed.


The ACT is a college admissions test—administered independently of the SAT by a completely different company—that you may submit to colleges in lieu of your SAT and Subject Tests. It is roughly the same length as the SAT and tests roughly the same topics: grammar, math, reading, and science, as well as an optional rhetorical essay. Many students take the ACT in addition to the SAT and Subject Tests in order to have as many possible options as possible when submitting their applications.

Some students prefer the ACT to the SAT, and some do not. You owe it to yourself to check it out and consider it as an option. You can find out more about the ACT at


“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

–Arthur Ashe

Step 1: Make a testing schedule

First, decide when you will take your first SAT. Sit down with your guidance counselor early in your junior year and work out a full testing schedule for the year, taking into account the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, AP tests, and possible the ACT. Once you have decided on your schedule, commit yourself to beginning your SAT preparation at least 3 months prior to your first SAT. Commit to setting aside 30–40 minutes per night for review work and practice, and to taking at least two or three full-scale practice tests on the weekends.

Step 2: Take a diagnostic SAT or two

When you”re ready to begin your SAT preparation (ideally 3 months before your SAT), you”ll first need to assess your readiness. Chapter 2 contains a full-scale practice SAT. It requires 3 hours (or 3 hours and 50 minutes if you include the essay). Take it on a Saturday morning, if possible, at roughly the time you will start the real SAT (around 8:00 a.m.), and make sure that you have a quiet place, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a few #2 pencils. This will give you a solid idea of what the experience of taking the new SAT is like.

Step 3: Use the lessons in this book

The detailed answer keys after each practice test will give you plenty of feedback about the topics that you may need to review in order to prepare for your SAT. If you set aside about 30 minutes per night to work through the chapters, review the lessons, and complete the exercises in this book, you can make substantial progress and see big SAT score improvements in just a few weeks. But to get the full benefit of this book, you should start at least three months before your SAT.

Step 4: Take practice tests regularly and diagnose your performance

Practice is the key to success. This book includes three full-scale practice SATs. Use them. Take one every week or two to assess your progress as you work through the chapters in this book.

Step 5: Use online tutorials

You can find a lot of SAT advice and review material online, some of it good, most of it mediocre, some of it horrible. For the redesigned SAT, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer online video tutorials on many of the key topics for the SAT.

The best review, of course, comes from actually tackling the test yourself and getting direct feedback on your performance and specific advice on how to improve. Nevertheless, it can still be helpful to watch someone else working through tough problems and explaining strategies in a lecture format. Many of the Khan Academy lessons also include linked discussions where you can ask questions about the lectures.

Throughout this book, we will provide you with links to some of the more helpful Khan Academy videos that may help you to boost your preparation, as well as links to other online resources from McGraw-Hill.

Step 6: Read as often as you can from the College Hill Coaching Power Reading List

Engaging big ideas and honing your analytical reading skills are keys to success in college and on the SAT. Make a point of working your way though these books and checking these periodicals regularly.


The New York Times (Op-Ed, Science Times, Front Page)

BBC News (Views, Analysis, Background)

The Atlantic (Feature Articles)

Slate (Voices, Innovation)

Scientific American (Feature Articles)

The Economist (Debate, Science & Technology)

TED Talks (Innovation, Culture, Politics, Inspiration)

The New Yorker (Talk of the Town, Feature Articles)

ProPublica (Feature Articles)

Edge (Essays)

Radiolab (Weekly Podcast)


To Kill a Mockingbird , Harper Lee

Macbeth , William Shakespeare

Frankenstein , Mary Shelley

The Color Purple , Alice Walker

Pride and Prejudice , Jane Austen

Jane Eyre , Charlotte Bronte

Heart of Darkness , Joseph Conrad

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , Frederick Douglass

The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald

Walden , Henry David Thoreau

The American Language , H. L. Mencken

Notes of a Native Son , James Baldwin

The Stranger , Albert Camus

Night , Elie Wiesel

Animal Farm , George Orwell

Things Fall Apart , Chinua Achebe

The Language Instinct , Steven Pinker

The Mismeasure of Man , Stephen J. Gould

The Republic , Plato

A People”s History of the United States , Howard Zinn

Guns, Germs, and Steel , Jared Diamond

A Short History of Nearly Everything , Bill Bryson

Step 7: Take strong math courses

Challenge yourself with strong math courses that introduce you to the ideas, skills, and methods or advanced mathematics, such as trigonometry, analysis of polynomials, statistical reasoning, plane geometry, and even complex numbers. These advanced topics have become a greater focus for both the SAT and ACT.

Step 8: Take strong writing courses

Take courses from teachers who emphasize strong writing skills, particularly by giving challenging writing assignments and providing timely and detailed feedback. Reading and writing skills are at the core of both the SAT and the ACT, so working with strong reading and writing teachers is invaluable.


  1. Create a schedule, a study log, and place to study.Stick to a firm schedule of 30–40 minutes a day for SAT preparation. Write it down in your daily planner and commit to it like you would to a daily class. Also, keep a log of notes for each study session, including key strategies, important formulas, vocabulary words, and advice for your next test. Then make an effective study space: a well-lit desk with a straight-back chair, plenty of pencils, a timer for practice tests, flashcards, your study log, and even a stash of brain-healthy snacks.
  2. Eliminate distractions.Turn off all alerts on your phone and laptop, and tell everyone in the house that this is your study time. Make sure everyone is in on the plan. Even kick the dog out of the room.
  3. Stick to focused 30 to 40-minute sessions.Set a very clear agenda for each study session, such as “Master six new roots and complete the first half of Algebra Practice 4 in Chapter 7 ” or “Read and annotate one complete New York Times Op-Ed and read Lesson 2 in Chapter 9 .” Then find your study spot, shut out all distractions, and set to work. Try not to go beyond 40 minutes for each session: stay focused and engaged, and keep it brisk.
  4. Do 30-second checks.Once you”ve completed your session, take out your study log. Give yourself 30 seconds to write down the most important idea(s) that helped you through that study session. Reread your notes just before you begin your next session.
  5. Learn it like you have to teach it.Now step away from your log and imagine you have to run into a class of eighth graders and teach them what you just learned. How would you communicate these ideas clearly? What examples would you use to illustrate them? What tough questions might the students ask, and how would you answer them? How can you explain the concepts and strategies in different ways? How can you help the students to manage potential difficulties they might have in a testing environment?
  6. Sleep on it.A good night”s sleep is essential to a good study program. You need at least eight hours of sleep per night. To make your sleep as effective as possible, try to fall asleep while thinking about a challenging problem or strategy you”re trying to perfect. As you sleep, your brain will continue to work on the problem by a process called consolidation. When you awake, you”ll have a better grasp on the problem or skill whether you realize it or not.
  7. Make creative mnemonics.Whenever you”re challenged by a tough vocabulary word, grammar rule, or mathematical concept, try to visualize the new idea or word as a crazy, colorful picture or story. The memory tricks are called mnemonics, and the best ones use patterns, rhymes, or vivid and bizarre visual images. For instance, if you struggle to remember what a “polemic” is, just turn the word into a picture based on its sound, for instance a “pole” with a “mike” (microphone) on the end of it. Then incorporate the meaning into the picture. Since a polemic is a “strong verbal attack, usually regarding a political or philosophical issue,” picture someone having a vehement political argument with someone else and hitting him over the head with the “pole-mike.” The crazier the picture, the better. Also, feel free to scribble notes as you study, complete with helpful drawings. Write silly songs, create acronyms—be creative.
  8. Consider different angles.Remember that many math problems can be solved in different ways: algebraically, geometrically, with tables, through guess-and-check, by testing the choices, etc. Try to find elegant, simple solutions. If you struggled with a problem, even if you got it right, come back to it later and try to find the more elegant solution. Also, consider experimenting with pre-test rituals until you find one that helps you the most.
  9. Maintain constructive inner dialogue.Constantly ask yourself, What do I need to do to get better? Do I need to focus more on my relaxation exercises? Should I try to improve my reading speed? Should I ask different questions as I read? Should I refresh myself on my trigonometry? Having a clear set of positive goals that you reinforce with inner dialogue helps you to succeed. Banish the negative self-talk. Don”t sabotage your work by saying, “This is impossible,” or “I stink at this.”
  10. Make a plan to work through the struggles.Before you take each practice test, have a clear agenda. Remind yourself of the key ideas and strategies for the week. But remember that there will always be challenges. Just meet them head on and don”t let them get you down.


Most competitive colleges require either SAT or ACT scores from all of their applicants, although some schools are “test-optional,” allowing you to choose whether or not to submit your standardized test scores with your application. Many competitive colleges also require two or three Subject Test scores. The Subject Tests are hour-long tests in specific subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, foreign languages, U.S. history, world history, and literature.

If you want to be able to apply to any competitive college in the country, plan to take the SAT at least twice, as well two to four SAT Subject Tests, by the end of spring semester of junior year, and retake any of those tests, if necessary, in the fall of your senior year. This way, you will have a full testing profile by the end of your junior year, and you”ll have a much clearer picture of where you stand before you start your college applications. Also, if you plan well, you will have some choices about which scores to submit.

Even if your favorite colleges don”t require standardized tests, you may be able to submit them anyway to boost your application. The Subject Tests, specifically, can provide a strong counterbalance to any weaknesses in your grades. For instance, a strong chemistry Subject Test score can offset a poor grade in chemistry class.

Take your Subject Test when the subject material is fresh in your mind. For most students, this is in June, just as you are preparing to take your final exams. However, if you are taking AP exams in May, you might prefer to take the SAT Subject Tests in May, also. Learn which SAT Subject Tests your colleges require, and try to complete them by June of your junior year. You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests on any test date.


  1. Get plenty of sleep.Don”t underestimate the power of a good night”s sleep. During sleep, not only do you restore balance and energy to your body, but you also consolidate what you”ve learned that day, and even become more efficient at tasks you”ve been practicing.
  2. Eat healthy.Don”t skip meals because you”re studying. Eat regular, well-balanced meals.
  3. Exercise.Stick to your regular exercise program the weeks before the SAT. A strong body helps make a strong mind.
  4. Visualize success.In the days before your SAT, envision yourself in the test room, relaxed and confident, working through even the toughest parts of the test without stress or panic.
  5. Don”t cram, but stay sharp.In the days before the SAT, resist the urge to cram. Your best results will come if you focus on getting plenty of sleep and staying positive and relaxed. If you”re feeling anxious, take out your flashcards for a few minutes at a time, or review your old tests just to remind yourself of basic strategies, but don”t cram.
  6. Keep perspective.Remember that you can take the SAT multiple times, and that colleges will almost certainly “superscore” the results, so don”t get down about any single set of test results. Also, keep in mind that colleges don”t base their acceptance decisions on SAT scores alone.
  7. Lay everything out.The night before your SAT, lay out your admission ticket, your photo ID, your #2 pencils, your calculator (with fresh batteries), your snack, and directions to the test site (if necessary). Having these all ready will let you sleep better.


  1. Wake up early and get some cardiovascular exercise.A good 20-minute cardiovascular workout will get your blood flowing, wake up your brain, and release stress.
  2. Eat a good breakfast.Don”t skip breakfast. Your brain needs energy for a three- to four-hour workout!
  3. Bring a snack.You”ll have a couple of short breaks, during which you can have a quick snack. Bring a granola bar or some other quick burst of energy. You”ll need it!
  4. Take slow, deep breaths—often.Most test takers feel some anxiety before and during the test. Don”t worry—it”s a normal physiological response to keep you on your toes. If this anxiety begins to overwhelm you, just take three long, deep breaths and remind yourself that you are prepared, and you will perform better if you are relaxed rather than tense. It works wonders.
  5. Dress in layers.Since you won”t know whether your test room will be hot or cold, dress in layers so you”ll be ready for anything.
  6. Don”t worry about what anyone else is doing.If you”ve been practicing as this book recommends, you will have a good sense of your own pacing and game plan. Trust your preparation, and resist any temptation to take your cues from what anyone around you is doing.
  7. Don”t panic when things get tough.Don”t psych yourself out every time you get to a hard question or even a hard section. That might be an experimental section! Just stay positive and keep going.