Taking the New SAT This Weekend? What to Expect and How to Be Empowered

By Mark Greenstein and The Ivy Bound Staff

Some of the most prepared students enter important tests like the SAT and the ACT with very honed skills but fail to score well on the actual test.  The best advice we give to our students beyond the skill-building is to prepare for three added aspects:

  • Test-Taking Skills
  • Time-Management
  • Parrying Obstacles

Together we call this “Situational Awareness Training” (“SAT for the SAT”).  Let us evidence all three and give some suggestions for students who have yet to thoroughly prepare.

Test Taking skills go beyond the math.  Students who know the math well still need to read the ENGLISH aspects of a word problem carefully.  There’s nothing worse than working out that x equals 15 but omitting that the question was actually asking for the “SQUARE of x” (thus, the right answer is 225).  Students who know the vocabulary tested still need to answer with the vocabulary IN CONTEXT.  Students who understand what they read in an English passage still need to sift the right answer from tempting wrong answers.

Time Management skills include proper pacing to finish in the newly-defined limits: 65 minutes for Reading, 25 minutes for Writing and Language, 35 minutes for Math without calculator, 55 minutes for math with calculator, and 50 minutes for the essay.  Students who have not practice-tested multiple times (Ivy Bound recommends five prior practice test sessions) may not have a good sense of pacing prior to this first test.  The new English includes graphs and “science” questions which can delay students more than the average reading question.  The new Math has questions with backdoor entries that can save time if you know them, and greatly delay students who are unaware.  Most important for timing, SAT Math used to have a predictable ascendance in difficulty.  The samples of the new SAT Math do not evidence where easier and harder questions lie, and thus weaker and mid-range students might need “triage” to reach easier questions that lie deeper in the sections.

Parrying Obstacles includes: what do I do if another student is distracting during the test?, how do I react when a proctor is standing over me?, what do I do if I’m seated without a view of the clock?,  what can be done when there is an outside distraction?,  what kind of calculator is allowed?,   what happens if a proctor mis-times a section? (yes, it happens frequently),  what happens if I mis-grid in the answer bubbles?,  what do I do if given a defective booklet? (rare, but it happened in many schools in 2015),  how many essay sheets does a proper booklet have?  With the new SAT, even proctors might not be sure of all these answers.  Thus, we ask students to be well-armed for the situation.

Ivy Bound also asks students to stand up for themselves if anything disadvantageous occurs.  This advice may be especially important this weekend, with proctors giving the New SAT for the first time.

The unexpected (for some):  The SAT WILL will adding a fifth multiple choice section to some testers.  This 20 minute session will be given to those not taking the 50 minute essay.  Whether it occurs first or last is still unclear, whether it contains a mix of experimental and real questions or exclusively experimental questions is also unclear.  Valerie Strauss reported this for the Washington Post, and we MAY get more clarity later this week.

Students need to be prepared for the 20 minute extra section AT ANY TIME.  And they need to try on all questions, even though they are being used as “guinea pigs” on at least some of them.  The old SAT had an “equating” section that was never in evidence because it mimicked one of the six 25 minute-sections.  This made it very straightforward for students.

Though this week’s SAT is still obscure, it is equally important in the college admissions process.  Indeed, since problems will befuddle SOME test-takers, students who keep their cool and parry all procedural challenges just may have a better chance to score higher than ever before.


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