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What it Takes to Ace the SATs

Most high school students anticipate the day they sit down to take the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) with anxiety and dread. After all, for many, it is the test of all tests. Relax. There are many ways to prepare for this moment.

What to Expect

You may take the SAT at your high school, if offered, or at one of the many testing centers.

Catharine Watters works in the guidance department at Macdonald Collegiate Institute, a testing center. "Students are in a classroom with 20 to 27 other students. There is an instructor who reads the instructions out to the students," she says. "Both the instructor and the students must strictly follow the instructions."

Students are given three hours to complete the test.

A new version of the SAT was introduced in March of 2016. There is now an optional essay section. If you are writing the essay, you will have an extra 50 minutes.

The new SAT does not penalize you for wrong answers - so be sure to answer every question, even if you're not totally sure!

In Preparation

How much time you spend preparing for the SAT may make it easier to complete the test in the given time frame. The better prepared you are, the more at ease you will be while taking the test.

"Learn what the SAT is about by reading the material you are given when you register," recommends Jan Gams. Gams is the associate director of public affairs with College Board.

Another preparation option is to take practice tests. There are many benefits to taking such tests. You can find out what areas you need to work on. They will give you an idea of how long it will take you to complete the SATs. If you find it takes you an exceedingly long period of time to complete a practice test, try taking more tests in order to get your time down.

Perhaps the best indicator of how you will do on the SAT is the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test). The PSAT will give you a good idea of the SAT format. Inquire at your high school guidance office about when and where the PSAT is available to you.

If you don't mind spending a little more money to bring up your score, perhaps you'd like to opt for an SAT course. These are available on computer or through tutorials.

Margaret Benedict is the founder of College Preparation Services. She says her one-on-one tutorials have been known to bring up students' scores by 200 points. "I show them how to use strategies that apply to their particular learning style," she says.

The night before you take the test, sleep well, knowing you've done all you could. Before going in to take the test, eat a good meal. You'll find you think more clearly without hunger pains.

Test Time

The moment you've prepared for has arrived. "Students are generally very nervous," says Watters.

Benedict believes that encouragement can go a long way towards easing the mind of a student getting ready to take the SAT. "A lot of test success is how you feel. Most students can improve test scores by gaining confidence," she says.

So listen closely to the instructions, take a deep breath and relax. Take each question in turn, carefully reading it and the multiple-choice answers. When you're finished, be confident in the fact that you've done your best.

What the Results Mean for You

When you get the results, see if they coincide with the requirements of the college or university you have in mind.

With a high SAT score, you may have more options when it comes time to choose a college or university. Also, a good score will increase your chances of getting a scholarship.

If you did not do so well your first time around, take heart. You can take the test again. "It's better to do it again so you know what types of questions there are," says Watters. Consider taking the SAT relatively early in the school year so you have the opportunity to take it more than once.

Remember, SAT scores are just one of the variables taken into consideration when applying to college. "Other factors are more important," says Gams, "such as grades in tough classes."

Echanis is quick to comment that SATs are just part of the student admissions. "SATs are a factor for admission, but more weight is placed upon the grade point average in college core entrance subjects," he says.

Even so, the SAT continues to be used as part of the admissions process. They should be taken seriously and given your best effort.



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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.