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Activity & CASSAT Test-Day Tips


  To help ease your nerves a little bit, I have put together a list of test-day tips and reminders for you. 


Before I begin, here is what the College Board recommends

(taken from


- Be well-rested and ready to go. Get a good night's sleep the night before the test.

- Eat breakfast. You'll be at the test center for several hours and you're likely to get hungry.

- Bring acceptable Photo ID

- Bring three No. 2 pencils and a good eraser — a pencil is required for the multiple-choice questions and the essay. Mechanical pencils are not allowed. Pens are not allowed.

- Bring a calculator with fresh batteries.

- Bring snacks. You will get a short break at the end of each hour of testing time. You can eat or drink any snacks you have brought with you during these breaks. A healthy snack will go a long way toward keeping you alert during the entire test.


- Make sure you use a No. 2 pencil on the answer sheet. It is very important that you fill in the entire circle darkly and completely. If you change your response, erase it as completely as possible.

Incomplete marks or erasures may affect your score. It is very important that you follow these instructions when filling out your answer sheet.


-Food and Drink: Take some water or a sports drink with you, but don't drink too much--you don't want to be running to the bathroom during the test.  As far as snacks go, I would recommend something dense and high-calorie like an energy bar. Don’t eat anything you’re not used to, though - you do not want stomach issues during the test.


-Calculators: Bring replacement batteries for your calculator, just in case. (I recommend the TI-83 and above for its graphing capabilities.)  You might even want to bring a smaller calculator as a backup. Don't be too reliant on your calculator, but at the same time, you shouldn't waste time doing complicated arithmetic when you could be using your calculator instead.  You are much more likely to make a careless error on the math section if you don't write things down and use your calculator to double-check.


-Digital Watches: Bring a digital watch and practice using the stopwatch function. Or, bring an analog watch, and set it to 12:00 at the start of each section.  For the essay, try to split it into 5-minute increments. For example, for a 6-paragraph essay you should spend 5 minutes on the outline and 7 minutes on each paragraph.  Keeping close track of the time will prevent you from having to rush or wonder how much time you have remaining in the section. Don't count on the proctor to tell you this, and don't count on having a clock in the room. (As a matter of fact, when I took the SAT many years ago, there was no clock in the room!)  Students tend to rush their answers on test day, so using a stopwatch is the best way to pace yourself and prevent careless errors.


-Breaks: You should expect a break after every hour of testing: normally these breaks occur after sections 2 (Writing and Language) and 3 (Math no Calculator).   The first break is for 10 minutes, the second break is for 5 minutes, and there is a 2-minute “stretch break” before the Essay section. All in all, the test is 4 hours and 7 minutes long, including breaks.


-Test-Day Planning: You should arrive at the test center by 7:45, as the College Board suggests, but don't believe their claims that the test is really going to start at 8:00. It usually starts closer to 9:00 because of all the forms you have to fill out, the reading of the instructions, seating of students, etc.   So try not to be nervous when you arrive, because there will be plenty of time to be nervous when the test finally begins.


-Nerves: Remember, being a little bit nervous is a good thing, because it means that you care.  Just trust your instincts and remember the lessons that we worked on, and you should be fine.   If you're confused, you might want to think to yourself, "What would Vince say about this problem?"


If you find yourself starting to zone out or panic, sit back, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.  This is a very long test, so you will have to relax and pace yourself. There are 10 sections and 170 questions on the SAT, so remember that no one problem is going to make or break your score.


-Overall Strategies: Remember to "look at the big picture" and to pay close attention to the wording of each question.   Don't forget to consider order of difficulty—if an answer choice looks too easy on a hard problem, it's probably not the correct answer.


- Working carefully: Putting your finger on the page when reading is a good way to make sure you read carefully. Go slowly at the beginning of the question so you don’t misread it, and go slowly at the end of the question so you don’t make a careless mistake just because you want to finish it. Remember the quote: “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. It feels scarier to work methodically than to work quickly, but it’s worth it.


-Brainstorming to the Radio: While in the car on the way to the test, you might want to turn on the local classical music station (studies have shown that classical music stimulates the brain and can even cause short-term increases in intelligence.)  You might also want to turn on NPR, so that you can catch up with current events and possibly even use some of this information in your essay.


-Scoring: Depending on your score goal, you might skip anywhere from 0 to 5 or more questions in each section. The great thing about skipping is that it buys you more time to work on the questions you don't skip. Keep in mind the difficulty level of the question - hard questions have unpopular answers.


- Rough spots: Accept that the test isn’t going to go perfectly. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to excel when you hit a tough spot. Just get through it. That way at least you won’t burn too much energy and time on it.


- Tough spots: The worst thing to do with hard questions is to invest energy and time on them. Your brain may want to struggle through the question. DON’T. Stop staring at it. Come back to it later, unless there are no easier questions to do. If you are stuck, then move on ASAP.


- Reading Section:  Be mentally prepared for the 1st section of the test: a 65-minute reading test!  When in doubt, choose the answer that is harder to disprove (in many cases, the more general answer).  Specific answers sound tempting but are often incorrect precisely because of their specificity. If you can't find explicit evidence for your answer in the text, then don't choose it.


-Reading: the question is king.  Pay close attention to the wording of the question, and re-read the question several times (beginning / middle / end) to make sure that you are not going in the wrong direction.  Don’t be fooled into choosing the right answer to the wrong question, or an answer choice that is true, but not correct. 


-Reading: always peek at the next question to identify “question pairs.”  The Reading Test on the new SAT loves question pairs--questions where the following question says something like “Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?”  In fact, this happens 10 times over the course of the SAT’s 52 questions--twice per passage. This means that 20 of the 52 questions on the test are part of these question pairs!


Outsmart the Reading test by always peeking one question ahead.  This will allow you to answer these questions in pairs, using the line numbers in the latter questions to help you find the answer to the former questions.  Remember that your answers should always agree with each other--if they are not connected, then one of them is incorrect.


-Essay Outline:  On the essay, don't forget to take the first 3-5 minutes to outline your essay. Also, make sure to include a conclusion of some sort—an incomplete essay will rarely receive a good grade. The best conclusions are short and sweet, and don’t introduce any new details.


Remember, the best SAT essays are almost always LONG--it's very rare to see a student scoring above 20/24 on the New SAT Essay unless that student reaches halfway down the 3nd page (out of the total of 4 pages provided). 


Other Issues to consider on the essay:


CONTEXT: Who is the audience?  What are their preconceptions and how does this affect the author’s approach?


ARGUMENTATIVE STYLE: Does the author have a strong opinion, or does it require that we read between the lines?


EFFECT: What is the intended effect on the audience?


CHRONOLOGY: Why does the author start and finish with certain ideas?  


ADDRESSING OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS: Does the author do so? Why or why not? 


LOGOS, ETHOS AND PATHOS: How does the author make use of logic, ethics and emotion?  


SUBTLETY/ORIGINALITY: Can you manage to notice something in the passage that most writers don’t? 


Buzzwords:  tone, rhetoric, argumentation, rhetorical question, direct address, repetition, formality, familiarity, “establishes a framework,” contrast, comparison, hyperbole, absurdity, empathy, sympathy, urgency, inclusiveness, etc.  


Don’t just tell your reader what the author says, and how the author says it.  You must also delve deeper into larger issues of strategy and subtlety. WHY does the author make the choices that he/she does?


If you forgot about it, then here is a link to my sample SAT Essay.  


-Write it Down:  As for the rest of the test, make sure to write everything down! Remember, this is a nearly 4-hour test.  The more you try to do in your head, the harder you have to think. Write things down as soon as you think of them, and you will prevent yourself from "burning out" later in the test.  (This will also be helpful if you finish a section early and want to double-check your answers.) Don't forget to circle/underline relevant text--the more you write on the test, the better.  Circle/underline relevant text in the Critical Reading passages and to try to "put your own words in the blank" for the Sentence Completions.


-Math: Important Formulas and Concepts - Click here for my full list of Math Formulas and concepts required for the SAT.  


-Math: skip or do?: The very first step for any math question is deciding whether to skip (remember, “skip” really means to take your best guess--make sure to answer every question before moving on to the next page) or try the question. Make this decision right after reading the question. If you're unsure about it or if you don't know how to do it, skip it and come back later if you have time. Remember to also check in after you’ve been working on a problem for 30-45 seconds. If you’re stuck, confused, or not confident, take a quick guess and move on.


-Math: get the ball rolling: When coming back to a question you didn't know know to do, start anywhere. Doing something - anything - often gets the ball rolling enough for you to solve the question. Don't worry about "setting it up" correctly - just solve for something, draw a picture, estimate, etc.


-Math: "Drawn to Scale": You can assume that it's "Drawn to Scale" unless told otherwise. If a math problem doesn't specifically say that it's *not* drawn to scale, you can assume that it *is* drawn to scale.  So always double-check your answers to make sure they make sense according to the illustration. For example, if you answered 30 degrees but it looks more like 120, then you know you must have made a mistake.  In fact, you should always use common sense to quickly double-check your answers, even on problems that don't involve geometry.


-Math: Plugging In: On the math section, ALWAYS CONSIDER PLUGGING IN AS AN OPTION.

Remember, if the answer choices contain variables, plug in for those variables.  If the problem does not include any specific values, plug in your own numbers. When the answers are constants, plug in the answers (backsolving).


-Grammar: read it s l o w l y: One of the best ways to hear grammar errors is to read the sentence very slowly - about half the speed you'd normally talk. Move your lips.


-Medications and preparing for extenuating circumstances: If you are prone to allergies in the morning, or have any other medical conditions, then don't forget to bring your medicine in case you need it!  If you have a cold, take the proper medicine and bring some tissues…but DON'T take any medicines that make you drowsy,  


-The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Finally, don't be afraid to raise your hand and request a different seat if you are uncomfortable.  In my many years of tutoring students for this test, I have heard almost every test-day horror story imaginable, from a broken desk to a testing room where the college band is practicing at full volume on the floor below!  If you are uncomfortable for *any* reason, then raise your hand and request a different seat right away. Don't wait until the test has already begun, because then you will have no power to change the situation.


-**Pacing**: Usually, when students run out of time on a test, or have to rush at the end, this happens because they took too long to complete the first half of the test.  Make sure that you set a "halfway" goal for yourself based on the number of questions you want to finish in the section. Don't forget your watch! REMEMBER: depending on your score goal, you may or may not work on every question in a section.




-Please feel free to give me a quick call or text to let me know how it went. I will get back to you as soon as I can to talk it over.


-You should be able to see your scores online in approximately 3 weeks.


-Remember that most students take the SAT more than once, so if you don't receive your ideal score, don't panic.  Those “average" SAT scores that you see in the college guides are usually not the students' scores from one test date; rather, they are the students' "best scores" from multiple administrations of the test.  If you need to take the test again, then you can always sign up for future SATs. Remember that the College Board's new "Score Choice" policy allows you to take the SAT as many times as you like, and to send only your best score to colleges (except for a handful of colleges who require you to send your entire score report).  


OK, that's all.  GOOD LUCK!

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