SAT 101: What Students Need To Know

The following is a guest post written by Brittany Phillips of Varsity Tutors.

Student studying

The SAT is one of the most common tests students will take in their academic lifetime.

A majority of students who are entering college will have to take at least one of the standardized tests, and for many this includes the SAT or ACT.

Although almost everyone has heard of the SAT, many people aren’t aware of what is actually tested. And with the recent changes to the testing format, it has become an even bigger mystery to some. Before you take the SAT, you need to be aware of what will be assessed. Read on to find out what you should learn.

The SAT covers three subjects: critical reading, writing, and mathematics. The reading section will cover reading passages and comprehension questions, the writing section contains a short essay and multiple-choice questions on grammar and word usage, and the mathematics section contains questions from a variety of math fields. That may seem like a ton of information, but there are certain things you can focus on for each section to use your preparation time wisely.

Critical Reading Section

This section will determine how well you can read and comprehend information in a short amount of time. It will test the skills that you will use later in life, during college and your career, like finding evidence, interpreting data, and summarizing information. For this section, do not focus on memorizing lengthy, academic vocabulary words. Unlike the previous version of the SAT, there is no sentence completion. Anytime you are asked to define a word, it will be based off the context in which it is used in the sentence.

To excel at this section, you should review and practice reading and interpretation skills in a variety of passages. Passages on the SAT will cover a range of topics, from U.S. and World Literature, to History and Social Studies, to Science, so you will need to be comfortable reading and understanding many different types of writing. Practice reading passages from each of these varieties and summarizing the articles after you read. You should know the author’s point of view, the main idea, any arguments the author makes, and the evidence that backs all this up.

There are also charts and graphs on the reading section immersed in the science passage. While you will not need to know specific scientific data, you should be comfortable with chart reading and interpretation skills. Revisit different types of charts and graphs and familiarize yourself with how the data is shown and what it means.

Writing Section

The new SAT writing section will test grammar and writing logic. The biggest change here is that instead of solving often obsolete grammar rules in isolated sentences, you will now need to determine the correct grammar usage in a sentence or phrase embedded in a passage. This will require you to have a larger understanding of correct writing as a whole, but will not require you to memorize individual grammar rules.

You will need to have a good understanding of writing style to do well on this section. In some cases, you will need to read the whole paragraph or even the whole passage to answer a question. The test may ask which sentence would logically precede a sentence or where to move a certain paragraph, which will require you to understand writing logic. You should revisit any class notes on essay organization and refresh your knowledge on the concepts of main ideas and supporting details.

You will also need to revisit applying grammar techniques. Relearn rules for punctuation and basic grammatical knowledge. While you do not need to memorize what a pronoun is, you should know how to replace a noun with the proper pronoun. Familiarize yourself with common grammar mistakes as well, as these are likely to be tested (and a great way to learn more).

Mathematics Section

The mathematics section on the SAT will cover algebra, geometry, problem-solving and data analysis, and some trigonometry. The problems on the new SAT are much more likely to be applicable to real-world situations, as well as much more straight-forward than they have been in the past. Practice solving math problems set in word problems or scenarios.

You should try to focus more on math concepts than simply memorizing math equations. Because a lot of the problems are rooted in concrete scenarios, it won’t often be clear as to what exactly you need to do to solve the problem. While revisiting the math concepts you’ve learned, be sure to note what types of problems these concepts help solve so you can recognize them in the situations that are presented to you.

There is also a section on the math portion that does not allow the usage of a calculator. Don’t fret though—this section will also contain questions where a calculator would only slow you down. These questions will not be impossible to solve and will often be more direct than the other types you will see on the test.

This post was written by Brittany Phillips, a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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