How to Make Your Student’s SAT Practice Actually Count — 5 Principles Your Student Must Follow
A quick note: This post is mostly for parents, so that you can know how to best guide your students toward conquering the SAT. But it’s written to students…a) because it’s easier to write that way and b) so you can give it to them 🙂 Here goes…
In order to get your best possible score on the SAT, you have to practice. Hands down. There is no other alternative. You can watch all the videos, enroll in the best online courses, read the best books…and that’s all great and wonderful.
But until you put your pencil to your practice tests, you won’t actually GET it.
You may know it. You may understand it. But you won’t actually GET it. So if you’re already getting ready for the test and you have 2, hopefully 3 months until test day…awesome. You have some time to practice—to learn and then use what you learn.
If you are crunched for time and have a month or less before the test, then learn what you can, absolutely. But please don’t skip the practice. It’s crucial.
Think about what everyone says when you’re learning a new language. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Same with the SAT.
If you don’t use it, you lose it.
It is far more effective—anyone will tell you—to learn Spanish by moving to Spain for two years than by taking two years of high school Spanish and learning primarily from books.
Now, high school Spanish is wonderful. I did it myself. I’m really thankful for it. But even for me, I didn’t actually GET it until a couple years later when I got a job for a local painting company. Most of the guys on the crews were native Spanish speakers.
Imagine me, a tiny little baby 18 year old English speaker who knew absolutely nothing about painting—I mean NOTHING—working with a bunch of older, weathered, rough around the edges (but very kind at heart) Spanish-speaking experts.
I was intimidated to say the least! Especially given some of my personal insecurities (another story altogether).
But you know what? My Spanish “comfortableness” skyrocketed. I wasn’t just reading ABOUT it anymore. I was actually doing it, using it, do-or-die type of stuff.
So your goal in getting ready for the SAT is to get that knowledge from your head—where lectures and reading and videos usually enter—down into your heart, where the core of who you are resides, where stuff really sinks in and becomes second-nature, where it integrates with the essence of who you were made to be.
If you can get your SAT knowledge to migrate into your heart and take the test from your heart…and LIVE from the heart, you’re golden.
How do you actually practice in a way that does that? Here are five pillars to rockstar SAT practice.
#1 Have the right WHY
Everything we do in life starts with the question, “Why?”
Why am I waking up today? Why am I going to school? Why do I want to get into this or that college? Why do I want a good job?
Everything you do starts here whether you realize it or not. And I guarantee you, the more you start to think about your why, the better off you’re going to be, not just on the SAT but in life in general.
Listen, I don’t just want to be your SAT coach. I think you’re better than that. You are worth more than a GPA or an SAT score or a list of your college acceptance letters. So let me challenge you…
Have a dang good “Why.”
If you practice for your SAT because you feel all the pressure riding on the test, you MIGHT get decent scores, but at what cost? I’m not in this to produce high-scorers who are set up for future emotional and mental breakdown.
I’m in this thing to encourage you, build you up, ready you to be a world-changer, an atmosphere-shifter, an overcomer.
I want to help guide you away from a path that looks good on the outside (high test scores, awesome college, great career) but that lacks substance, toward a path that is good outside AND in.
A key difference between the two is your motivation.
When your value comes from achievements, status, money, college, etc., you unwittingly enter the rat race, running running running and never being happy, never actually ARRIVING .
But you change the world when you have a healthy security and sense of just how incredibly much you are worth.
God loves you even when you score a 900 on the SAT and your GPA is 2.0.
And if HE loves you, then it would do you good to rest in that and to elevate how you see yourself and to stop putting so much weight on these tests. The SAT doesn’t define you. It’s not an obstacle. It’s an opportunity.
Goliath was not an obstacle in the way of David’s destiny to be king. He was an opportunity for David to prove himself as the king that God had already declared him to be.
This changes everything! David’s destiny was already locked. Goliath couldn’t do diddly to change that.
The SAT has NO power to change your destiny either.
So practice with the pressure off. Practice from rest. From security. From confidence.
When the SAT doesn’t carry as much pressure, it actually frees you to get better scores.
While it sounds like I’m writing myself out of a job, I’m actually giving you the key to success. Run with it.
#2 Take it Seriously
Don’t just practice on the go from your iPhone while you’re walking between classes, riding the bus, or enjoying a coffee from your favorite local munching spot.
Don’t just use practice as brain candy to fill your free time.
You’ve got to be intentional with it.
It needs its own “space.”
So how do we reconcile this concept of taking it seriously with what I just said before, that the SAT isn’t that important in the bigger picture of who you were created to be in this earth and your God-given destiny?
Take it seriously because YOU deserve to. You are awesome. I promise you are. If you don’t believe me you can contact me and we’ll talk about it 🙂
But you are. You’re awesome. Honor who you are by putting 100% effort into everything you do. And since the SAT and college entrance are very real factors of your stage of life right now, be a man or a woman of honor and fight. Practice.
Don’t kill yourself practicing. Don’t pull all-nighters and sacrifice an enjoyable existence for the sake of the SAT. But be responsible, be diligent, and do your best.
So set aside a certain amount of time every week. Maybe it’s not every day during weeks when chem tests and research papers are breathing down your neck. But at LEAST do it weekly.
And don’t just lazily watch videos about it while browsing instagram.
Engage with the content. Learn AND practice. One way to do this is to keep a pen in your hand at all times. That way, whatever you’re doing, whether it’s reading or watching my video lessons or (obviously) doing practice tests, you’re writing. You’re intentionally taking in and processing the information. You’re not just info-browsing to kill time.
When you’re doing practice tests, don’t just do them to check an item off your list. Actually do them. Throw yourself into them. If you put 100% in, you’ll get 100% back. Guaranteed.
You reap everything you sow, all the time. God said it, so I believe it.
#3 Don’t focus on school-type concepts…but don’t forget them either
If you spend the bulk ofyour SAT “study” time studying math you learned in school or how to diagram sentences, then it’s time to change your plan of attack.
You’ve got to understand that the test is not really about how much you have learned in school.
Instead it’s about how you think.
It’s FAR different from tests as you know them.
Think about it. In school, you have an English final coming up. So you spend the next week studying all of the grammar your teacher taught, the vocab words from your weekly vocab quizzes, the books and poems you read and what literary devices were in them and how the authors used them for what purposes.
And for math you might review how to solve systems of equations, formulas for conical sections, how to use Gauss-Jordan elimination in matrices…blah blah blah. You get it.
Not going to help you here…AS MUCH.
On the SAT, your goal in studying shouldn’t be to reach a certain level of comprehension and then…done.
Your goal should be to have a mastery over the necessary school topics so that you can wield them as weapons with which to attack the test.
So your practice plan should have two stages:
1) Learn the school stuff as quickly as possible. If you already know it, awesome, skip to the next stage. But DO know it 🙂
For the reading section of the test, you don’t need much, if any, outside school knowledge to show it who’s boss.
But for the math and writing sections, you definitely do.
There’s no getting around it, you’ll need to know algebra, geometry, and some algebra II. I can send you a packet that covers most all of the math you’ll need for the test, so you’re not left guessing on your own…or going through all the practice tests and pulling out the needed math concepts (like I have been).
For the Writing and Language section (not the essay, but the multiple choice) you definitely need to know a certain set of grammar rules and concepts. Thankfully you don’t need to know everything. So if you can figure out the exact unchanging set of grammar topics covered on the SAT, then you only need to worry about those few topics, master them, and watch your writing score go up. In the past, the writing section has been the easiest to improve on.
If you want your copies of the Math and Grammar Success Checklists that tell you at a glance exactly what math grammar topics you need to learn, sign up right here, and I’ll send them to you.
The second stage of your practice plan should be:
2) Get to the SAT strategy quickly so you can spend the bulk of your time learning the actual test and how to conquer it.
Once you know your grammar and math, awesome! Now you can focus on how these things translate to the SAT. Because, as I’ve said before, school knowledge is only the beginning. Now you need to practice actual test questions in order to learn HOW to use your school knowledge. It’s not as straightforward as you might think.
The difficult thing with learning how to conquer the SAT is that just taking repeated practice tests won’t always be the most helpful approach.
Usually, at the beginning, you’ll want to do a whole diagnostic practice test to get a feel for the whole beast and to figure out where your weaknesses are.
At this point, most students undoubtedly benefit from SAT instruction. That’s where books, tutoring, online courses come into play. Whatever the case, you need to learn strategy and then practice it on real test questions.
You may find as you practice that you need extra help in certain question types or certain math/grammar topics. That’s where repetition is super important, but also where the official practice tests are super weak.
The tests, unfortunately, don’t present themselves in nice convenient chunks of geometry questions, graphing questions, word problems etc. Similarly, they don’t throw at you all comma questions first, then modifiers, then verb tense. They’re sporadic…which is great for real test simulation, but a pretty big bummer for actual learning.
Several years ago, I found that someone online had organized the entire group of available official practice SATs into various question groupings. Math questions were listed by subject matter, by solving strategy, etc. Grammar questions were listed according to grammar topic.
When the new SAT came out with a brand new set of official practice tests, that resource no longer applied, and I couldn’t find any other.
So I made them myself.
Right now they only have math and writing questions from the first four practice tests, since those were the first released. But soon I’ll be including all eight.
If you’d like these, enter your email here and I’ll send them to you. I promise you they are extremely useful for that targeted practice.
#4 Practice according to where you’re at
If you are just starting out your test prep journey, feel free to take your practice tests with your instructional materials right next to you. Actually look at them for help when you’re doing a practice test.
If you join our echelon of overcomers and enroll in Conquer the SAT, you’ll get a bunch of helpful material, the centerpiece of which is about 70 pages worth of note-taking worksheets that go over everything you need for the test.
Don’t take notes and then just put them away. Keep them out, refer to them, use them.
After you’ve done some rounds of practice with help…THEN you can put the help away and practice as if it were a real test.
Focus first on kicking butt on the test content and on your tactics for overcoming. Don’t worry at first about timing yourself. It’s far more important for you to build a foundation of knowing how to wield a weapon and use it with force, finesse, and precision.
After you feel comfortable with good solid SAT strategy and you know the math and grammar concepts needed for the test, then you can start timing yourself…and definitely time yourself for a couple practice tests during the last 2 or 3 weeks leading up to the test.
This is super important. Maybe the most important concept in this article. You cannot just do a round of practice one time through and count it as effective practice. You absolutely MUST go back through the questions that you missed and try them a second time.
This time through, don’t use your old work from round 1; start fresh if you can and go at it like it’s the first time you’ve seen it. If possible, try to look for a new way to answer it since the old way didn’t work.
After scoring your second round of answers take note of how you caught your original mistakes and fixed them on this second round. If you still missed some questions the second time…really dig into them. Pull out an answer explanation, either in the book (which won’t be super helpful) or find one online. Or use mine. But find something to help you see what you’re missing.
That’s a very quick summary of a good practice process. You’ve got to attack attack attack until you get it right and until you know WHY it’s right and why everything else is wrong. You’re not truly learning the SAT until you know the WHY’s behind the right and wrong answers. Once you get to that stage on your questions, you can move on to the next.
Above all, friends, don’t give up and don’t be intimidated and don’t be overwhelmed. You were made to rise to challenges. You were made to do difficult things. You were made smarter than you think.
Let’s do this.