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SAT Do’s and Don’ts


‘Tis the season – that time of year when high school juniors & seniors all over the country are preparing (or are not preparing) for that momentous testing day – that Saturday when they will be sitting down to take their SAT’s.  The prospect can be intimidating for students & parents alike, since the results of the test have a bearing on a student’s college prospects.

But take heart!  Students need not go into the SAT unprepared.   Here are a few basic do’s & don’ts to keep in mind for the SAT:


  1. Mark up the passages in the passage-based reading section.  No one else will be using the test booklet you will receive – mark main ideas, important opinion statements, dates, names, & other important parts of the passage.  You don’t get points for just reading the passage, only for answering the questions, so read through it quickly, while marking it up. In doing so, you create a table of contents for yourself, s you can refer back to it as needed when you arrive at the questions.
  2. Make a strong, clear point on the essay.  SAT essay graders are only taking about a minute & a half to read each essay – make your words count.  Take one side of the argument & use the strongest examples you can to support your view.  Make your thesis statement clear.  Use the traditional “five paragraph” format – introduction, one paragraph for each of three main points, and a conclusion.  The length of the essay is not what is important, but rather its substance.  And correctly use a few impressive vocabulary words to make it even better.
  3. Brush up the ol’ vocabulary.  The SAT is known for pulling out words that are rarely used elsewhere.  Pay special attention to the vocabulary work you may be doing in English class at school, and look up words that you hear but do not understand as you run across them in books, in media, or in conversation.  Also, check out for a free, online resource to augment your lexicon.
  4. Make use of The College Board’s test tips.  The College Board (, which is the institution that makes the SAT, gives you free access to real SAT practice test questions & even a full-length practice SAT exam.  Plus, you can sign up for their “Question of the Day” to stay sharp.
  5. Make sure your student knows how to find the SAT test site location.   There is no need to make the day of the test more stressful by getting lost trying to find the test site on the morning of your SAT.  If you are taking the test at a location you have not been to before, drive there a few days before the test so you know where you are going.  You can also use Google Street View to give you a visual idea of what the building looks like before you go there.



  1. Leave any grid-in questions blank.  While most of the questions on the SAT are multiple-choice, the grid-in questions in the Math section do not offer any answer choices.  It is worth noting that you do not lose any points for guessing on them – something that is not true for any other questions on the SAT.  While you should try your best on these questions, do not hesitate to take a guess on them, since you have nothing to lose.
  2. Randomly guess on any questions that are not grid-ins.  It is not mathematically wise to just take a wild guess on the multiple-choice questions.  Use process of elimination before guessing, and do not be afraid to leave a question blank if you cannot eliminate enough incorrect answers.  You do not gain or lose any points for leaving a question blank.
  3. Stay up too late the night before the SAT or skip breakfast the morning of the test.  While these may be common-sense point, it is hard to argue that you are most likely to be able to give your best effort on the test if you are not feeling drowsy or hungry.

Are you preparing to take the SAT, or are you the parent of a student who will be doing so?  While this article is just a taste, Sylvan has just what you are looking for – an SAT Prep program to give your teen the confidence he or she needs to face the big test & succeed at it.  The next new SAT Prep seminar course begins on October 21.  Call Sylvan at 717-823-3789 to learn more!