Overcoming the SAT

The SAT is an obstacle which all college-bound high school seniors must overcome – for some, it’s just an easy hop to clear it, while for others, the pressure to do well and the difficulty of the exam itself make the SAT seem as unconquerable as the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

The good news, though, is that it is manageable. Kaplan offers SAT Prep Courses that cost hundreds of dollars, but the primary thing they teach students is to be confident in their own test-taking abilities. This, of course, can be achieved without the expensive course – the SAT is as much a mental game as an academic one, and everyone who approaches it with confidence and a high level of preparation will maximize their score.

First, and possibly most difficult, the test-taker must forget the pressures exerted upon them by their parents, their teachers, their school counselors, and their friends. Rather than as a potentially life-changing activity, a better way to look at the SAT is as a couple of hours spent answering questions. Regarding it as the most important event of junior or senior year will only serve to increase pressure, increase stress, and decrease scores. It’s important to remember that the test can be retaken, and that the results do not completely determine where the student will go to college. GPAs, recommendations, and extra-curricular participation figure heavily in the process, and the personal essay is perhaps hands-down the most important aspect of any application. So, happily, a lower-than-desired score on the SAT doesn’t necessarily mean the world is ending.
That said, it is essential to prepare for the test. The creators of the SAT don’t want to deceive the student, and are not trying to intentionally lower their scores with trick questions or questions that are overly challenging. Every question is feasible, and there are methods of answering questions which will help the test-taker immensely. Those methods can be found in any test preparation book, of which there are seemingly hundreds, and so they won’t be included in this article.

What is always most important when taking a standardized test such as the SAT is confidence. Kaplan courses will say this, and experienced educators will echo it. Focus on one question at a time, and just as a tightrope walker has to stare straight ahead instead of looking down at the ground far below, an SAT test-taker must look at one question at a time, and not at the rest of the booklet, or at the clock. Both of those things will overwhelm the student and undercut their confidence. The SAT is merely a bunch of questions put together, and while as a whole it is formidable and slightly intimidating, taken question by question it is suddenly finished.

There has been so much emphasis placed on the SAT by American high schools, universities, and families that many students have trouble seeing the whole picture. While it is an integral part of the college application process, it is not the only part, and focusing on other areas, such as the personal essay, will help the student both impress the admissions officers and get their minds off the SAT. The key to success with the SAT is to relax, be confident – and take it one question at a time.

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