For many students, the days leading up to the PSAT went like this: you had family members and teachers tell you how significant the results of the real SAT are, so you asked, “what should I study?” “Errr… um… well, the thing is, it’s not like that exactly… But get a good night’s sleep!” they answered and smiled weakly. So you did and the next morning you sat through hours of what felt like fully-conscious brain surgery. Then the panic set in. “What was that? Why did I suddenly not know how to do any math? And those passages were in English, right?”
It pains me to see students become deflated after this test. Worse, some students actually consider themselves “stupid”. If you or someone you know felt that way after this week’s PSAT, pay attention to the following: it’s not you, it’s the test.
I taught Social Studies, which has a curriculum full of non-fiction reading. I collaborated with English teachers, so I know that students work with the interpretation of writing. I’ve been a teacher’s aide in Geometry and Algebra II classes, so I know that a teacher will spend days on slopes, then test you on problems similar to those that you faithfully copied from the board. These lessons are effective in achieving the goals of the different subjects’ curricula. We teachers are building on the achievements of our elementary and middle school colleagues. We are all being told to work within the state standards, composed by our state department of education.
It’s just that the College Board is not a part of any of these groups. It is a non-profit, private business which is not affiliated with any school board anywhere, nor with any education department, local, state or national. Their writers compose their strange questions and many colleges require you to take the SAT for admission (or the ACT). If they decide that a math problem should have a secret key hidden in the words of the problem, or if they think that a confusing critical reading passage is the best way to gauge your comprehension skills, the public has NO SAY about that. You’re stuck with their bizarre style of questions.
My top recommendation for preparing for this test is to spend the 10-20 bucks to buy the College Board official SAT study guide and slowly practice the questions. It’s not that I wish to ensure their financial viability, but the fact is that no other prep guide can recreate the idiosyncrasies of those test writers. The Princeton Review, Kaplan, and McGraw-Hill books may have good strategies, but their practice tests are not close enough to the real thing. (In fact, my favorite strategy guides are self-published ones on Amazon. Check out my previous post about those.) When you’ve finished the practice test in the College Board book, grade yourself, note the problems that were most confusing, and get a strategy book that will address them.
Make a plan to work through at least half of those practice tests in the official SAT study guide, timing yourself appropriately. Hopefully, the strategy books have helped you and you no longer feel traumatized. Ideally, you should be so familiar with the test questions (whose wordings repeat themselves, test after test), that you will walk in with confidence.
The next SAT tests are on Nov. 2nd, Dec. 7th, and Jan 25th.