How Students Can Score Higher on SAT Test Day
Your practice tests are in the high 1700s, but you can't break a 1600 on the real SAT. Why the disparity in scores?
I take the SAT and ACT every year to make sure that my teaching tactics and curriculum are current and precisely aligned with the test. Usually I miss one or two questions on the exam, typically from a silly mistake. But taking this January's test was different than any previously. Not because the test was different, but because I had forgotten my graphing calculator at one of my students' homes the day before.
Whereas I typically finish a math section with 10-15 minutes to spare, on this test day I was scrambling to finish each question as quickly as possible and trying to ensure that I didn't make a mental or arithmetic mistake. And, even though I did finish some of the math sections early, I felt pressure when doing the problems. The result? I made more silly mistakes than I ever have. Not arithmetic mistakes, but mistakes on concepts that I could never miss otherwise and that I would have bet my life on getting correct.
It occurred to me afterwards that the way I took the test is how many students take the test: in a relative panic, trying to finish each question as quickly as possible. When we take practice tests, we look at a question, assess it, and then begin to solve it. When we feel pressure to finish quickly, we read the question and immediately begin.
In short, students react instead of proactively and systematically approaching the questions that they could otherwise recognize and solve. The difference in approach can often mean a 100 point score difference between practice tests and the real exam.
How do we solve this dilemma? For starters, it is key to recognize this tendency. Without knowing what we are doing, it is difficult to correct ourselves. Secondly, practice is key. Not only does practice build up confidence but it helps make questions second nature. Thirdly, we need to remove psychological pressure.
Remember that both the SAT and ACT offer score-choice: students never have to submit scores to colleges if they do not want to (as long as they did not have their scores automatically sent to a school). Even if students do not utilize score choice (and most do not), it is very important to keep this option in mind to help take the pressure off. And, lastly, quality over quantity. It is vastly more important for students to take their time on questions, even if they do not quite finish a section, than to hurry through problems just to have an answer for every question.
If students incorporate these practices (and bring a calculator), not only will they be less stressed, but they will also score higher on the exam.