One piece of advice a seasoned tutor often gives her students is that when taking a mock test they should mimic test conditions as much as possible. Turn off your phone; give yourself the exact time allowed for each section. If you are dealing with new SAT essay prompts, don’t write using a pen or a keyboard. Use exactly what you’d use test day: a number 2 pencil.
Though I have told my students many times to simulate test conditions, when I took the May SAT a few weeks back, I was surprised out just how many little things there are—stuff that can actually have big effect on your score. There were, of course, a few surprises from the test. I’ll discuss all of these things below.
1. The earlier test hour
Sure, I’ve recommend many times that students get a good night sleep. But what exactly does that mean? First, figure out what time you’ll need to wake up to get to the testing center. The instructions tell you to arrive there by 7:30 but you should account for possible delays (for me a 20-minute wait between subway trains complicates thing). Once you figure out what time you have to wake up by (this will likely be around 6, possibly earlier) subtract 8 hours. So you’ll probably won’t to go to bed around 10 to get a full night’s sleep. I slept far fewer hours and that affected my ability to concentrate.
2. The proctor’s protocol
So, though the testing center told test takers to arrive at 7:30 in the morning, the doors to the testing center didn’t open till 8am. That means we had to wait around in the cold drizzly rain for 30 minutes. Upon sitting down at 8:05, I was eager to take the test. However, I had to wait all the way to 8:45.
For those who’ve taken the SAT or ACT, this lag might not be a surprise. For those of you who don’t know, the test proctor—the one supervising the class so that nobody cheats or talks—spends a long time slowly reading out the instructions, or the do’s and don’ts. Then, once it is time to fill in the personal information, the proctor walks through each step, slowly waiting while students bubble in the information.
In the end, if you wake up at 6, you’ll have to wait nearly three hours later to finally take the test.
3. The reading section
I’m an avid reader. Yet even I found all the text challenging, perhaps not too surprising given how tired I felt. I probably would have finished the section more quickly and with less effort had I spent more time leading up to the test doing five reading passages back to back. I’ve been taking tests for many years. But even if you usually get an average SAT score (officially or on practice tests), you will still benefit from such targeted practice, especially if you mind wanders easily. To really prepare yourself, you should do this reading practice when you wake up first thing in the morning. That way, even if you are tired test day, you’ll be prepared for doing reading passages when your brain isn’t completely awake.
4. The math section
The real surprise I experienced might actually be good news to some. Though the new SAT touted its focus on higher-level math, I didn’t see a single trigonometry question. Nor were there any questions dealing with advanced polynomials or questions dealing with imaginary numbers. That is not to say everyone will have the same experience. But instead of fretting over these question types—as many do—make sure you have lots of practice dealing with graphs and charts, because you will see lots of this question type on the new test.
Written by Chris Lele
For the last ten years, Chris has been helping students excel on the SAT and the GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.