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SAT preparation simplified: Test Structure, preparation strategy and official learning resources

ByRushi Sheth
Jul 09, 2024 08:58 PM IST

This article breaks down the test format to help test takers create a study plan and share strategies to enhance their reading, writing, and math skills.

Every year, thousands of students in the United States, India, and other countries set their sights on higher education, with the SAT serving as a crucial stepping stone to their dreams. Thousands of students take the SAT exam annually, which opens the door to prestigious universities, scholarships, and a world-class international education.

Preparing for the SAT can often feel overwhelming, but with the right strategies, aspirants can confidently approach the test..(Getty Images/iStockphoto/ Representational image)
Preparing for the SAT can often feel overwhelming, but with the right strategies, aspirants can confidently approach the test..(Getty Images/iStockphoto/ Representational image)

Preparing for the SAT can often feel overwhelming, but with the right strategies, aspirants can confidently approach the test. This article breaks down the test format to help test takers create a personalised study plan and share section-specific strategies to enhance their reading, writing, and math skills. With these expert tips and resources, students can master the SAT test and achieve their academic aspirations.

Understanding the SAT Structure

The SAT offers a streamlined testing experience. Here’s a breakdown of the current structure and question types to ensure students are well-prepared!

The SAT has two main sections: Reading and writing and Math. Students have 64 minutes to complete the Reading and writing section and 70 minutes to complete the Math section, totaling 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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Each section is further divided into two equal-length modules. Aspirants will have a 10-minute break between sections to recharge and strategise.

The first module of each section presents a mix of easy, medium, and hard questions. Based on their performance in this initial module, the difficulty level of the second module will adjust accordingly, becoming either more challenging or less challenging.

The SAT offers a streamlined testing experience. Here’s a breakdown of the current structure and question types to ensure that students are well-prepared!
The SAT offers a streamlined testing experience. Here’s a breakdown of the current structure and question types to ensure that students are well-prepared!

The Reading and Writing Section of the SAT exam evaluates students’ capacity to critically analyse texts, grasp different writing styles, and identify the central arguments and ideas presented. This section utilises multiple-choice questions to assess proficiency in grammar, vocabulary, and overall writing abilities.

On the other hand, the SAT Math section is designed to measure mathematical skills. It encompasses many topics, including Algebra, Advanced Math, Problem-Solving and Data Analysis, Geometry and Trigonometry. Both modules feature questions in multiple-choice and open-response formats, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation of mathematical skills.

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Scoring System and Target Goals

The SAT is scored on a scale of 200-800 for each section (Reading & Writing and Math), with a total possible score of 1600. There's no penalty for guessing, so it's always in the aspirant’s best interest to attempt an answer for every question.

A "good" score depends on the universities students are targeting. Each institution sets its own score expectations. Research the average SAT scores for the shortlisted universities to get a sense of the target score.

Test Day Tips and Strategies

Before implementing any strategy, students must ensure they are comfortable with the basic section skills tested on the SAT.

Reading Comprehension is all about being able to dissect challenging passages. Students need to identify the main ideas, understand what the author is trying to convey, and draw conclusions based on the text. Practice summarising the key points and analysing the author's purpose. A strong vocabulary will be useful against difficult passages and their corresponding questions. Aspirants should dedicate some time each day to learning new words. Flashcards and mnemonic devices can be helpful tools for memorisation. But just memorising won’t suffice – students need to actively try to incorporate these new words into the writing and conversation to solidify understanding.

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A solid grasp of proper grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure will not only strengthen the writing skills but also allow identifying errors in the Writing and Language section of the SAT.

The SAT tests the student’s math abilities in two main areas: Algebra and Geometry. In algebra, test takers should brush up on working with expressions, solving equations and inequalities (both linear and quadratic), and understanding functions (including linear and exponential functions). For geometry, refresh the knowledge of lines, angles, shapes (including their areas and volumes), congruence, similarity, and the Pythagorean Theorem.

Students need to become comfortable reading and interpreting graphs, tables, and statistical information like mean, median, mode, and percentiles. Finally, they should sharpen their skills in basic math operations (including fractions and decimals), percentages, and ratios. These seemingly simple skills can show up in various ways on the SAT.

Getting a good score in the SAT requires dedication, a strategic approach, and the development of mental resilience. By following the steps outlined in this article and maintaining a positive mindset, aspirants can confidently approach the exam.

Remember, the skills students develop while preparing for the SAT – time management, critical thinking, and the ability to perform under pressure – will serve them well not only on test day but also throughout their academic journey and beyond. This investment in the preparation will help them tackle challenges confidently and pave the way for achieving their academic goals.

(Author Rushi Sheth is Vice President of International, College Board. Views expressed are personal.)

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