Preparing to Take the SAT

Before making a decision about test preparation, students should find out what the average or median SAT test score is at their target school(s). For this information, contact the admissions department directly or look it up online at the U.S. News & World Report Web site (www.usnews.com/usnews/edu). Search for your target schools by name and select "admissions" under "more on this school." You should also research the schools' other admission criteria (i.e., class rank, GPA, etc.), to be sure you are a competitive candidate for enrollment.

There are three specific areas that students can focus on to improve performance on the SAT. These areas include test familiarity, content, and deconstruction.

Test Familiarity
The most immediate way to improve your SAT score is to become familiar with the format of the test. Understanding the test's directions and how to use the score sheets before sitting down to take the test will give you more time to spend answering questions. Understanding how the test is scored will help you decide whether to skip, guess, or come back to specific questions.

If you are a high school sophomore or junior, consider taking the PSAT. It has the same types of questions as the SAT, but is much shorter. In addition, instructional books like The College Board's Taking the SAT I, available free of charge from your guidance counselor, include test-taking tips, an actual test, the correct answers, an answer sheet, and scoring instructions. Or visit "The SAT Learning Center" at www.collegeboard.org to review questions from real SAT exams.

Content
According to The College Board, the best way to prepare for the content contained on the SAT I (Verbal and Math) is through challenging coursework and avid reading-both in and out of school. In addition, some private companies offer intensive content training for the SAT. These range in cost and can be quite expensive.

Deconstruction
Test deconstruction refers to breaking down the idiom of the SAT-that is, the order, structure, and way questions are written. This would include knowing which questions are considered easier (and answering those questions first) and learning how the test writers engineered wrong and right answers to improve your odds at guessing. Kaplan Education Centers and The Princeton Review are two programs that include test deconstruction as part of their curriculum and that offer tuition assistance programs (see "Test Preparation Tuition Assistance Programs & SAT Registration Fee Waivers" hand out.)