Demystifying the SAT

16 Jul

Sitting in an exam hall, with a booklet of multiple choice questions before him, 25 questions to be answered in as many minutes, along with questions based on hundred line passages, the clock ticking by at a seemingly faster rate, Joe cannot help feeling stressed. Even the best of students do. So then, what is it that makes normal students who get As and A+s get less than 2000 on the SAT, and, moreover, what makes others with lower school grades score in the 2300s when it comes to the SAT?
Although Ivy League colleges adopt a holistic approach to admissions, one cannot ignore the fact that the SAT is indeed a very significant factor influencing their admissions decisions. While exceptions exist where those with stellar transcripts gain entry with scores in the 1900s, one must be cognizant that the broad mass of Ivy League students have scores above that number. “Anything above 2000 is Ivy League” says Eric Ho, a violinist, tennis player and now Economics student at Brown University. Others had similar comments.
When talking about the test, Ho said, “it’s about knowing how to take the test”. On a similar note, Will Hutchison of Yale University added that “[the SAT] is about knowing that you can get a consistent score on a test and walking into the testing center ready to get the same number”. Both agreed that practice makes perfect. Eric Ho used two guides, doing a total of twenty tests, which he believes has significantly contributed to his comfort level
Commenting on his strategies, Ho recommended that test takers “[should not] be afraid to skip a question and return to it”. He was very positive about making estimated guesses. His approach to questions (particularly on the math section) is that he skips those questions which need the “brute force” approach or those that he just cannot solve, to proceed to those at the end which may be easier, as “you’ll be kicking yourself if you get stuck on a hard question when there was a question at the end which you could answer straight out”. He then proceeds to return to the questions where he believes that he can get the answer through brute force, and if not, then by eliminating the most unlikely choices and making an educated guess for the answer. He encourages students to not be afraid to guess as “every one guess right is equal to four guesses wrong”. He strongly advocated efficiency “use any and all tricks you know, and know how to use your calculator very well”
Approaches differ when it comes to passage reading part of the critical reading section. While Hutchison reads the passage, sees the questions given and then proceeds to answer them, Ho chooses to read the questions first, and use his knowledge of the specific questions and the fact that they appear in the chronological order of the passage to answer each question. Ho also said that “you don’t really need to read the whole passage”, but rather just enough to answer the questions. When approaching a passage based question, Ho reads a few lines around the line where the answer or reference appears to gain a background that helps him answer the question.
Ho stressed the importance of practice when tackling the writing section, as he believes that “you start recognizing patterns in the questions after some time, which are very useful when taking the test.” Referring to the essay, he said that one of the key skills was to come up with a quick thesis and three point justification. He also noted that pacing was of great importance. Ho believes that “You need to write a cohesive, concise essay to convince the reader” of your singular point of view.
Addressing the question of the SAT Subject Tests, Ho and Hutchison remarked that one must take two tests that show their interests, and also those that they have a high level of comfort with. However, as an applicant to engineering at Yale, Hutchison was expected to take a higher level of math, along with chemistry.
While some may study for as long as a year for the SAT, some just choose to study in the last few days. Both kinds of students get into the Ivies. However, while remembering the importance of the SAT in the application process, one must not lose sight of what the Ivies are truly looking for- an all rounded, driven person with a love for learning. In that light, the SAT is just a part of the process, and the applications process a way of showing a college who you are rather than how well you can score at ninth grade algebra in a standardized test.

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