"The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Quite true, isn’t it?
Pull up those socks and tighten those laces. Let’s take our very first step; a ‘baby step’, if you may call that. So, there is one fact that you need to swear by; each SAT question must have exactly one right answer. This seems obvious enough -- after all doesn’t every multiple choice question have one right answer?
The SAT is not allowed to have unclear answers or answers that rely on fuzzy reasoning. If two answers are close to each other in how good they are, this creates pain for the test makers. Why? Well, first of all, the test makers might make a mistaken judgment call and claim the slightly worse answer as the right one. Another scenario is more insidious: it affects students who put down the “less good” answer but are at the cusp of a big prize or a qualifier. Maybe the student is right at the cut-off of a huge scholarship. With that environment in mind, you hopefully have a better understanding as to why the SAT can afford zero mistakes on the test.
So make no mistake in this – understand our first rule for cracking SAT…
“Every SAT question has exactly one correct answer, and, once you learn this, the correct answer will look very different from all the other options.”
Striving for success without hard work is like trying to harvest where you haven't planted. So let’s get some seeds planted in your mind first…
We give you three incredible ways to think about ‘One Clear Answer’ OK, the SAT has to have one very clear answer -- that’s a little theoretical. How can you think about the degree of clarity in a way that will help you on the test? These rules get at the same single, central idea from three different directions. You should make note of these three mantras to remind yourself on the test what clarity means.
It turns out that the clarity of the right answer is so important that the best answer is not just 20% or 2x better than the next best answer, but in fact 10x better. That’s right, you might think D and E are close answers, but, to an infinitely knowledgeable test-taker, it turns out that E is actually ten times as good as D.
Another way to think about how clear the right answer must be is to realize that, if there were a panel of 100 experts, all of them would have to agree on what the right answer is. If even one or two of them disagree, suddenly the question is no longer objective -- it’s subjective and up for debate -- the test maker's worst nightmare. Because questions must be objective, a panel of carefully thinking experts must agree on the correct answer.
One final useful way to think about how clear the right answer needs to be is to realize that it must be provably correct. If given a long enough time, you could write almost a math-style proof on why the answer is correct and the other choices are wrong. If you couldn’t write a math-style proof, then some part of the logic process has to be based on a “hunch." Hunches are neither clear nor objective, and therefore, the SAT cannot rely on these. Again, the SAT must have questions that can be solved using precise, analytical logic.
How do these rules help? When you’re stuck on a question and two answers are looking very close to each other, you’ll realize this can’t be how the question is meant to be answered by the 10x Rule of Clarity. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to rely on a subjective judgment, where you catch yourself saying “my opinion is this” or “it seems likely that the answer is this," then the Panel of Experts rule will tell you that you can do more to answer your question.
The most powerful rule, the one rule to rule them all, is the Provably Correct rule.This rule tells you that you never need to rely on fuzzy reasoning or a feeling to answer a question.If you have enough background information, enough time, and enough logic, you can prove that every answer you choose is correct.
Thinking about the Provably Correct rule in the negative is also helpful. It means that, for all the wrong answers, you must be able to identify a fatal flaw that disqualifies them.
Now here are some things you can do that will surely make you more confident and comfortable on the Test Day. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and all of these don't work for everyone, so it’s always better to try them out before you actually use them on test day.
The easiest place to start demonstrating these concepts is math. Math is the subject where it is most obvious that each question has one very clear, objective, provably correct answer. The proof is fully analytical -- it breaks the entire solution into small but obvious pieces. Proofs in reading, science, or writing won’t be nearly as perfect, but the above serves as a guideline for later in the article.
Now on to some tips to crack your SAT Maths section:
Underline key parts of the problem. Avoid making silly mistakes; as they tend to cause the maximum pain. For example, instead of solving for 2x, you might have solved for x. So, start underlining the part of the prompt that was the actual question, and you may dramatically decrease the number of silly mistakes!
How to Use the Proof Method on Math Problems: First, read through the question and break down the information it gives you. Then, identify the axioms, or indisputable math facts, you'll need to apply in order to solve this problem. This is where having strong mathematical knowledge comes in handy. After you've done this, you can start the proof. Work through the problem, making a new line for each new statement, until you've solved it and figured out your answer.
Make sure you are answering the question being asked. Always double check to make sure you're answering the right question! Marking different bubbles with options that do not belong to them can totally rank in ‘top 3’ kind of unacceptable mistakes while taking SAT.
Order of difficulty: Sections in the Math Test increase in difficulty as you go along: the questions start out easier, then slowly get harder, with the hardest questions at the end of the section. Also - the Math sections always have a few grid-ins (student-produced response questions) after the multiple choice questions, and the first few grid-ins are always easier than the last few multiple choice ones, so don't waste time on the hardest multiple choice before picking up some easier points in the grid-ins.
Every question on SAT is worth the same.Focus on getting the easy and medium questions correct first before taking a crack at harder questions.
If you don't know how to do a question, skip it. Sometimes, things don't "click," and that's alright. Just keep going and go back to the question later. Most of the time you'll realize that it was actually super easy, and your brain just needed to reset!
For Reading questions, you'll want to first start by reading the passage, then transforming it into your own words, while keeping its entire original meaning intact, like we did in the example. Then, go through each of the answer options and compare them to both the original passage and your rewording to see if they are true. Remember, each part of the answer must be true. If only half the answer is true, then it is not the right answer.
Now on to some tips tocrack your SAT Reading section:
Don't over-annotate. One might end up spending all the time writing notes in the margins which might not be helpful for any of the questions. So avoid this royal waste of time. Instead, you could circle or underline the most important parts of each paragraph, and maybe jot a + or a - or a check. Sometimes a word or two, maybe a ! or a ? - but that's it.
Read the questions quickly before reading the passage: Circle and underline names and weird words in the questions before reading the passage. Don't try to actively remember them while you read, but you will observe that your brain seems to pay more attention to those things anyway.
Read actively:Ask yourself what the point of each paragraph is after you read it, and then challenge yourself to answer that question before you start reading the next paragraph. That way, you keep checking your comprehension.
Process of Elimination: A multiple-choice test is a cool thing because you have all the right answers on the page in front of you. All you have to do is eliminate anything that isn't right. Sometimes, especially on Reading, it's easier to find wrong answers that aren't supported by the passage rather than trying to find the right answer that might not look the way you think it should. Process of Elimination, or POE, involves two steps. The first step will be the question, "What can I eliminate that doesn't match––or is inconsistent with––my prediction?" For many of the easy and medium questions, this step will be enough to get down to the right answer.
Simplify complicated sentences: Some sentences are so long and confusing! You may find it really helpful to identify the subject and the verb of more complicated sentences and cross out extra stuff like prepositional clauses beginning with of, for, about, with, etc..." Do give it a shot…
Grammar is a great area to illustrate the Provably Correct concept because it’s an area where many students use fuzzy thinking. Many students, especially native English speakers, are used to “sounding phrases out” and choosing the one that “feels best.” However, it’s also obvious that grammar follows hard, explicit logical rules like math does. And those hard logical rules, not your ear, are the only method guaranteed to get you every question right.
Don't tell them your opinion:Remember that you are being asked to analyse another author’s work, so you should evaluate their logic rather than share your own opinion in your response. You should look for any assumptions the author is making (does their argument rely on certain facts or tendencies?) and the tone they take (do they seem biased?) and examine the impact of those assumptions. You should not try to argue with the writer in your response.
Don't leave anything blank: On the new SAT, there is no penalty for guessing, so if you don’t know an answer, go ahead and guess – you might get lucky!
Use process of elimination.Crossing out choices as you go along really helps when you get that feeling that you might need to guess. Every time you confidently eliminate an option, your chance of selecting the correct answer out of the remaining options is higher. Even if you have no idea how to answer a question, try to eliminate any obviously wrong choices – and then guess from the remaining ones.
Cover up the choices:Try to come up with an answer on your own before you even look at the choices. This will help you make sure that you don’t get distracted by answer choices that look good before you have a chance to figure it out for yourself.
Pace yourself:It can be hard to get through each section in the limited time that you have, much less get the right answers and double check everything! Skip questions that are going to take longer and come back to them if you have time. Don't spend more than 1.5 minutes on any question on your first pass through.
Bubble in batches.You may want to use a system that will help you avoid accidentally bubbling in the wrong answers. Complete five questions (circling your answer choices on the test itself), and then bubble the answers in on the answer sheet. It also saves time. It’s inefficient to bubble in answers after every question - think of all that hand movement! But don't wait until the end of the test to bubble in everything, or you might panic – or even run out of time before you have a chance to enter all your answers!
Use any extra time wisely:If you find yourself with extra time at the end of a section, make good use of it. No, it isn't fun to re-read all of those questions, but you’ll be so glad if you catch any mistakes. The same goes for the answer grid - make sure your answer choices are in the right bubbles!
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