SAT Tips from an Expert Test Prep Tutor

Jason King is at the top of his game when it comes to preparing students for the SAT. As an Educational Connections tutor, Jason typically helps his students throughout Northern Virginia achieve impressive score gains through his holistic approach. I recently asked Jason to share some of his test prep experience as well as his expert opinion on some SAT topics that parents and students are often curious about.

Nick:  What is your favorite part about preparing students for the SAT?

Jason:  There are usually two types of SAT prep students – the ones that don’t think they’ll do very well and those who feel like they just need help getting past a certain number. For the first, I love being able to give them strategies and pointers that help them do better than they ever expected. Especially when there’s a concept they never thought they’d “get” that suddenly becomes clear. For the latter, I love the look when they finally see where they were making the errors that were keeping their scores down.

Nick:  What do you find to be the biggest hurdle for most of your SAT prep students? Why do you think this is?

Jason:  The main hurdle seems to be them believing that they’re not good in a particular subject on the test or that they’re just not good test-takers in general; that, for whatever reason, they are simply incapable of doing well on the test. I think this primarily stems from a weakness in a subject or insecurity in general. I’m a firm believer that looking at the test not as a judgment of the student’s abilities, but as a puzzle or game that requires certain strategies in conjunction with general knowledge to successfully conquer will help most students.  Once they see it’s not as much about what they may or may not know, but rather how to find the best answer for what the question is asking, then they generally have less of this confidence block.

Nick:  If your students only took away one thing from your time spent preparing them for the SAT, what would you want it to be?

Jason: This is a tough one! If I must choose a single take away, I suppose it would be to read each question and answer carefully, looking for clues therein to help eliminate bad answer choices and find the best possible answer instead. But since each student has different strengths and weaknesses, this answer will change to best fit the individual student.

Nick: For parents of students who will be taking the SAT in 2-3 years, what advice do you have?

Jason: Students should start reading outside of school assignments and building a Vocabulary Bank of unfamiliar words. Reading builds grammar skills, writing skills, and comprehension skills, so that’s half the test right there. Work with your kids, asking detailed questions about what they’re reading, both in terms of what’s going on in the story as well as how the story was constructed by the author. Similar to a Vocabulary Bank, begin a Math Rules Bank of hard to remember rules and laws so they can refresh these oft-forgotten rules leading up to the test. Finally, work on timed writing. Completing an essay overnight is entirely different than completing one in 25 minutes; it’s a new, often not well-practiced skill.

Nick: Is there anything productive that students can do to prepare for the SAT if they’re starting late in the game, i.e., the test is in a couple of weeks?

Jason: Read advanced articles (The Economist, science journals, etc), and review them with their parents. These will have advanced vocabulary and compositional structure. Also begin compiling a list of forgotten or uncertain math rules (exponents, coordinate geometry distance formula, midpoint formula, etc). Complete a section or two each night in a prep book then review them the next night trying to look for why their mistakes were made. Note if mistakes are repeated on certain question types, if so, these are the candidates for skipping.

Nick:  Do you believe that the SAT accurately measures a student’s readiness for college?

Jason:  Honestly, I think the SAT mostly measures the student’s ability to take the SAT. That said, in a broader sense, the retention of concepts over the years and the ability to receive and apply new information are both necessary for college. The math sections show that the student has mastered an earlier idea and can expand on it. The reading comprehension sections show that the student can be presented with entirely new information and extract the pertinent ideas. If either of these areas is lacking, that will be a serious liability in college.

Nick:  A recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) entitled “Preparation for College Admissions Exams” states that commercial SAT prep, on average, garners students score increases of around 30 points and recommends that students use books or the internet independently to prepare themselves for the test. What are your thoughts on this recommendation from the NACAC?

Jason: I think it would take an exceptionally self-aware student to guide their own preparation. I have had students who put in a lot of time studying on their own who mostly want me to check their answers and explain some questions/answers to them. They usually don’t have the score increases I see with students willing to follow our program. While the test isn’t entirely strategy, a strong strategy is needed. Recognition of troublesome question types, avoidance of attractor answers, bolstering of weak subject areas, and determining the quickest ways to answer questions (as opposed to the most thorough way to answer questions) are areas that most students will not be able to master on their own. The student has to do the work, but even the greatest minds need some guidance and direction sometimes.

Questions about the SAT? Interested in working with Jason? Drop me a line at [email protected]