3 Harmful Misconceptions about the SAT

As the famous saying goes, “the only thing worse than no information is misinformation.” Unfortunately, there is a great deal of conflicting and counterproductive advice surrounding the SAT. Below are three of the most harmful misconceptions that students have about the college entrance exam.

1. “If I learn SAT strategies really well, I have a great chance of getting a higher score.”

This is partly true. You can’t expect to do well without strategies; however, you definitely can’t do well without tactics. Imagine a chess player who reads chess strategy books all day but rarely plays the game. He might play better than your average Joe, but he’s not going to be exceptional. Alternatively, consider someone who has never read a chess book but who has played 1,500 games of chess. That person is probably a standout player because she’s learned what to do in a situation-by-situation basis, both tactically and strategically. The same argument holds true for the SAT. If you learn vocabulary, key grammar facts, math operations, and reading comprehension tricks through practice, you will be better able to pick up and use strategies to maximize your score. That’s why any good prep program will include multiple simulated practice tests.

2. “I heard that the SAT is a test of intelligence and that there’s nothing you can do to study for it.”

Today, most high school juniors do some form of preparation for the SAT, formal or informal. However, if they adopt this defeatist attitude, their preparation will be in vain. While various studies suggest a correlation between high SAT scores and college preparedness, many believe that the SAT measures one thing: how good you are at taking the SAT. Whatever you believe, you can and should study for the test. From learning the 14 grammar concepts tested on the SAT to practicing active reading strategies, there is a great deal of things you can study to improve your score. One of the best ways to improve is to take practice tests. The key here is to make sure you’re getting feedback on your performance by reviewing problems you got right and wrong and why. Remember: all practice is not created equal!

3. “I do really well in school, but I’m just not a great test taker so it’s not worth it to prepare for the SAT.”

If you can get As in math and English, with hard work and dedicated practice, you can achieve a high SAT score. The SAT is just like any other skill and anyone can improve at a skill with the right mindset and commitment.

What makes the SAT different from other tests? Not much, really. The SAT is a logical reasoning exam that asks questions on simple material in very tricky ways. If you have completed 9th grade, you have learned everything you need to know in order to score well on the SAT. The issue is that the way the test asks questions is intentionally complicated. For example, instead of asking what the area of a square is with a side length of 18, the SAT will ask what the area of a square is that has the same side length as the radius of a circle with a circumference of 36π. Once you get used to the format and style of the exam and get some focused practice time under your belt, solving questions such as this become significantly easier.

Mastering the SAT is a long-term process; it takes some forethought to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough time to practice before taking the real thing. Typically, you’ll want to allot four to five months prior to your test to prepare. Easier said than done, right? With school, extracurricular activities, and social commitments, it can be a difficult feat to independently manage your own preparation. If so, you may consider an individual test prep tutor who can not only work with you to build content and strategy knowledge, but also hold you accountable and guide you in a program that focuses on your weaknesses. Whatever form of preparation you choose, just be sure that these common misconceptions don’t hold you back from maximizing your score!