Ask An Expert: What you need to know about the SAT

August 27, 2014

This week, Anthony-James Green of Test Prep Authority (aka “The SAT tutor to the 1%”) answers your most pressing questions about the SAT, including whether you should be taking the ACT next year.

When should students start studying for the SAT?

It depends on what you mean by “studying.” The short answer is, “as soon as possible.” However, there are two elements to any good SAT prep program: material preparation and strategic preparation. Material preparation involves the learning and retaining of the concrete facts, formulas, and vocab words necessary for high SAT scores. Strategic preparation involves the usage of that material, and the proper approach to all three sections of the exam. Students should give themselves at least two to three months to prepare for the strategic elements of the SAT, following a tested, step-by-step program. However, they should start prepping for the material elements of the test immediately. Spending time learning vocabulary words, math formulas, grammar rules, and speed reading strategy will help every area of their academics - so they’re killing two birds with one stone - and they’ll be building up a proper foundation for their strategic SAT prep down the line. Even if your child is in 7th grade, get started on the material prep immediately, and leave at least two to three months for actual SAT-specific studies.

How many times should you take the SAT?

Ideally: twice. If you take realistic, timed, graded diagnostic exams in the College Board Official SAT Manual, which contains actual SATs with actual grading rubrics, you’ll have a pretty exact idea of exactly where you’re scoring. There’s absolutely no point in taking a real SAT “to see how you do” - you can figure this out independently, without getting your scores on record. Train until your independent practice tests from the blue book are giving you scores in the range that you’re looking for, then take the actual test twice. I recommend taking it twice because you’ll be able to take advantage of random variance and add to your super score, lessen the pressure on your child for both exams, and insure against an “off day.”

What do colleges think of taking the SAT multiple times?

They don’t really care. Grades and test scores serve one purpose: they get your actual application opened (or tossed in the trash). Your actual application is your essay, recommendations, extracurriculars, etc. - in other words, you, as a person. So if your scores are good enough, the college gets to know you and like you, and then finds out that you took the test 8 times, it’s not really a deal breaker. If it’s really close between you and another applicant, then maybe it’ll come into play - but it’s just not that big of a deal most of the time. That being said, don’t take the test for no reason - make sure you’re getting good scores on independent practice tests before you go in, then take the real thing when you feel ready.

Since the SAT is undergoing changes, should students be considering the ACT instead?

Probably. If you’re going to take the SAT before March 2016, then it doesn’t really matter - the new SAT won’t affect you. But if you’re taking the SAT after March 2016, when the new test comes out, then you’ll have to adjust to the new exam, and there won’t be much out there in terms of good practice materials etc. So if you’re taking the test around the time of the transition, I’d recommend looking at the ACT first. Best to stick with the devil you know!

Anthony-James Green is a renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of 

experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is also the founder of TestPrepAuthority.com. CNN recently named Anthony: “The SAT tutor to the 1%

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