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Knowing What to Do on the SAT -- and Doing It

Some SAT advice won't help you unless you learn how to apply it.

Knowing What to Do on the SAT -- and Doing It

The world's worst—and most universal—advice to students about to take the SAT is relax. This advice is awful for two major reasons. First, it's flat out wrong: if you want to relax on the SAT, take a pillow into the exam room and put your head down on the desk when the test begins.

There's nothing relaxing about taking the SAT, and most students do better with some nervous energy to get their adrenaline pumping and their mind focused on the task at hand.

Admittedly, too much adrenaline-induced tension is not a good thing: if the yellow #2 pencil in your hand is vibrating like a tuning fork before the test begins, that's a problem. But a little nervous energy is good. The only students truly relaxed while taking the SAT are asleep, or they don't care what score they receive.

The advice to relax is completely useless, however, for another important reason: it doesn't show you how to relax. Even if relaxing were helpful on the SAT, telling you to relax isn't going to make you relax. If anything, telling students to relax only makes them more aware of their nervousness. Gee, thanks. Now you've given me something else to worry about: I can't relax!

A lot of the SAT advice that people offer students is just like that: they tell you what to do, but they don't show you how to do it. Here's another piece of well-intentioned but useless advice: When you get to a difficult question on a test, don't waste time; just skip it and you can always return to it later.

I'll bet you've heard someone chirp that golden piece of advice to you plenty of times—as if skipping a difficult question were the easiest thing in the world. It's not. In fact, being able to recognize a difficult question at a glance, and being able to tear yourself away from it instantly, is one of the hardest things to do on the SAT.

I'll show you how to recognize and skip difficult questions immediately, and I'll give you drills that will force you to do that. For every technique you need to master for the SAT, I'll show you what to do, how to do it, and why you need to do it. Whenever a technique I'm demonstrating is difficult to use, I'll warn you ahead of time. Fact: the right thing to do on the SAT is often the hardest thing to do—that's why so many students haven't learned to test well. It's my job not only to show you how to do something on the SAT, but also to get you to do it. At least, insofar as I can get you to do the right things while speaking to you through a book; unfortunately I'm not in the same room with you so I can't observe and correct you as you rehearse.

Just try to meet me halfway, kay?

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