The SAT Is Not Like Your School Tests

The SAT exam differs in technique and problem solving from regular high school exams.

I'm sure you know kids who don't do so well in school, yet somehow manage to ace standardized tests like the SAT. And you probably know other students who do really well in school, yet when it comes to the SAT these same students don't do nearly as well—and sometimes even bomb the test completely.

Why do so many bright students have so much trouble on the SAT? Because taking the SAT is nothing like taking tests in school. I mean nothing like it.

  • To take one obvious example, school tests rarely last more than an hour.
  • Not the SAT. On the SAT you've got to stay mentally focused for over three hours.

  • On school tests, your teachers give more weight to the more difficult questions. So it makes sense to spend more time on those questions than on easier ones—they're worth more.
  • Not on the SAT. On the SAT, all questions are worth the same, so it doesn't make sense to spend more time on hard questions. But that's exactly what most students do.

  • On school tests, your teachers generally give partial credit for partial answers. If your answer to a long, complicated math question was mostly right, except for a "silly mistake," your math teacher would probably give you nearly full credit. If your answer on an English test was not the one the teacher was looking for, but you made a good argument for it, your English teacher would give you at least some credit—possibly full credit for originality!
  • Not on the SAT. There's only one right answer for each question, and no partial credit for anything else. On the SAT there's no such thing as just a careless mistake since any mistake costs you full credit, and then some.

Those are just a few of the many differences between the SAT and the tests you're used to taking. They may seem to be minor differences, but these differences will have a major impact on how you'll have to change the way you take the SAT if you want to achieve your maximum score.

Trust me: even if you're an excellent student—

  • if you solve SAT math questions the way you're used to solving math questions in class
  • if you read SAT passages the way you're used to reading novels or even your textbooks
  • if you compose an SAT essay the way you're used to writing essays in English class
—then you're in for a rude surprise on the SAT.

You'll need to learn a whole new set of skills for the SAT. Indeed, many of the academic and test-taking skills that lead to success in the classroom will work against you on the SAT.

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