Prepping for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) can be stressful. High school students often think (rightly or wrongly) that their score will determine their educational future. Parents also get heavily invested in the outcome. And the worry is reasonable! Scores on the SAT can play a significant role in many application processes for colleges and academic scholarship requests. And in NYC, where the student pool is particularly talented and high-performing, the stakes and competition for selective college spots -- and the requisite high SAT scores -- can seem even higher. Indeed, a NYC student trying to distinguish himself from other competing applicants in the city knows that a great standardized test score can be a determining factor in winning a coveted spot at his desired school. With all this pressure, it's hard to keep one's cool. But heeding the following advice will likely help you prepare for and take the test.
1. Keep perspective
The SAT was created to predict how well a student will do in her first year of college, though some might say the tests measure just one thing: how well you take standardized tests. Certainly many studies find that the correlation between SAT scores and first-year college grades is not that great, but this does not stop colleges from using test scores to rank students. It would be silly to say that SATs are not a critical piece of the admissions process in the most schools, but it's also important to keep in mind that colleges still give most weight to an applicant's academic record. And, of course, in addition to grades and scores, colleges will be closely considering your extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal essay.
2. Realize you have options
If the SAT is not the test for you, another alternative is the ACT. The ACT is accepted at the vast majority of colleges. It's also probably a superior measure of what a student has actually learned in school as it is a content-based test. It's also different from the SAT in both structure and question types. For example, both tests include an essay, but one is mandatory (SAT) while the other is optional (ACT). Students taking the SAT don't need to know basic trigonometry, but ACT test takers do. And you can count on a science section in the ACT, with questions in areas such as chemistry, biology, and earth science. One of the best ways to know which is the best test for you is to take practice tests. Some students also prep for and take both tests.
You may be living in NYC now, but where are you planning on going to college? The SAT is the main college admissions test on the West and East Coast, whereas colleges in the Midwest and South more often receive the ACT. Rumors still abound that some schools prefer the SAT to the ACT, implying that the SAT is the superior test. However these views are without merit, and there's no evidence to support them. If you're concerned, check with the admissions office of your targeted colleges and see if they have a stated preference.
3. Decide on and implement your plan of attack
New York City has many choices available for standardized test preparation, including classroom prep and private tutoring. Alternatively, a student can decide to go it alone. There are pros and cons to each type of preparation, and ultimately the choice will depend on a student’s specific learning style, schedule and budget. To help you decide on the path that's best for you take a look at our article on the various SAT test prep options for NYC students and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
In New York City, the high-stakes, testing-driven competition for a top-quality education is reflected in the increasing number of NYC students opting for private tutoring and test prep. The fact that so many peers are choosing private tutoring can make you feel like it is a service that you too can't do without. Or you might just believe that it is the best test preparation choice for you. Whether to re-learn or re-visit key material, or to fine-tune test-taking skills, private test prep tutoring can help you get to the next level and stay ahead of the competition. One option is to go with a big-box, name-brand outfit like Kaplan, or you may prefer to choose a smaller local company such as Origins Tutoring or Brownstone Tutors.
4. Practice, practice, practice
Taking the SAT requires stamina. It generally takes high school students about four hours to finish this 170-question monster of an exam, which is comprised of three main components—critical reading, writing and math. Taking timed practice tests can also improve your pacing skills and help you determine particular areas where you need improvement. Make the test-taking as real as possible if you are taking the test at home, or take the test at a mock testing center in NYC, like Bespoke Tutoring.
5. Be physically and mentally at your best on test day
Get a good night's sleep as many nights as possible before the test so you are rested and have energy on test day. This is especially important in case your nerves keep you up the night before your test. Get prepared the night before by gathering your supplies: sharpened pencils, test ticket and ID, 2 calculators (in case one dies), a wristwatch, and a snack to eat during breaks. Eat a light, healthy breakfast that morning. Dress in layers in case you get too hot or cold in the exam room. Arrive at the test site a little early. Turn off your cell phone. Breathe!