Test prep is a journey. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, it’s awfully difficult to figure out where you’re going!
The first, and most important, step in your test prep process is to establish your baseline scores. Taking a full-length, timed diagnostic SAT will do the following for you:
1. You’ll immediately get a better idea of what the exam is like. Familiarity breeds success – the more comfortable you are with this test, the better you’ll do when you take it.
2. You’ll know how far you have to go. It’s impossible to set proper goals and plan realistically unless you know where you currently stand. If you need a 2100 and you’re at a 1950, you’re in pretty good shape. If you need a 2100 and you’re at a 1430… there’s some serious work to be done. I’ve seen bigger score improvements than that, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Knowing what’s ahead of you and what you need to do is essential.
3. You’ll UNDERSTAND YOUR WEAKNESSES. Good test prep is all about identifying, isolating, and then squashing your weaknesses one-by-one. Accurate, timed diagnostic exams are, by far, the best way to figure out where you’re strong and where you’re weak. Once you see how you’re scoring by section, and what’s giving you the most trouble in each section, you’ll be able to study as efficiently as possible.
You need to start your test prep process with a diagnostic exam. Follow the steps below to take your exam the right way and squeeze as much useful information out of it as you possibly can.
1. Purchase the most accurate testing booklets for the SAT. (If you are using The 30-Day SAT Crash Course or The 60-Day SAT Prescription, these books will be shipped to you free, along with the Barron’s SAT book)
These books cost less than $13 each, and they’re absolutely necessary for all your future test prep activities. Pick them up on Amazon or at your local bookstore as soon as possible.
Note: when you get these books, it’s essential that you ONLY use them for diagnostic exams. I’ll recommend other resources for practice problems. The grading rubrics in these books are 100% accurate and developed by the actual test makers. The rubrics in other books and systems are just educated guesses. Save these booklets so that you can accurately gauge your progress.
2. Schedule a test block into your calendar and treat it as an unbreakable promise to yourself. There is nothing, and I repeat, nothing as important to your test prep progress as this initial diagnostic exam. If you don’t have the time, make it.
3. Before you take it, study the format of the SAT, read the instructions for each section, and get accustomed to what you’re going to take. Don’t go in completely cold! Spend an hour with the exam before you take it to get a feel for what each section is asking, how the timing works, etc.
3. Take a TIMED, REALISTIC diagnostic exam. When I say realistic, I mean:
A) No TV, radio, or computer anywhere near you.
B) Your cell phone is turned off and put away.
C) Take the exam in the morning, on a good night’s rest, after eating a healthy breakfast – the same way you would a real test. If you’re on 4 hours of sleep and haven’t eaten, you’re not going to get a true idea of your actual abilities.
D) Make sure no one bothers you the entire time. Tell friends, family, and every else to leave you alone.
E) Take the test in a comfortable, well-lit, and QUIET location.
F) FOLLOW THE TIME RULES. Every section lets you know how many minutes is allocated. Use a watch or timer and follow this timing exactly. Remember: the point of this exam isn’t to prove to yourself how good you can be – it’s to figure out what you’re scoring and where your weaknesses are. Timing can be a big weakness. Don’t cheat at all.
G) Take two or three 5-minute breaks between sections. You’ll get these same breaks during your actual SAT.
H) Use the actual bubble charts provided in your testing booklet. Don’t just write your grades on the page – I want you to get used to the full testing experience as soon as possible. Emulate everything exactly.
I) Make sure you have a legitimate calculator on you. You need to have a good calculator on the SAT math sections, so be sure that you’re packing. Of course, the best calculator for the SAT is: The TI-83 Graphing Calculator
Now take your test all the way through, following all the above rules.
Once you’re finished taking both exams, it’s on to part two: Learn How to Find Answer Explanations in the Official College Board SAT Manual.