In March and May, students all over Hampton Roads will spend a long Saturday morning hunched over a desk, wiping sweaty palms nervously on their jeans, brows furrowed as they bubble in responses to the questions that will determine their futures. Okay, maybe not their entire futures, but at least their college options.

Ah, SAT testing season.

If your child’s taking this test in the spring, now is the time to start preparing. A little knowledge goes a long way with test prep, and we like our students to feel calm and ready come test day.

Share our list of pro tips with your child:

1. Get a good night’s sleep. No amount of hail-Mary cramming the night before a test is going to improve your score. You’ll be exhausted and prone to careless errors. Too much caffeine will just make you a jittery mess. Go to bed, set an early alarm so you’re not rushed, and eat a good, filling breakfast. Have your ID and test documents ready to go so the morning is calm is stress-free.

2. Know thy enemy. Well, that’s probably dramatic — the test isn’t your enemy — but you definitely need to know what to expect and how to navigate the questions. For instance:
Questions are organized from easiest to hardest. If you feel like the questions are getting harder as you go along, don’t panic — that is exactly what’s happening. Just keep focused on tackling each question one at a time. Knowing that the easy questions are first will help you confidently choose the obvious answer early in the test, and it will tip you off that an obvious (too easy) answer late in the test might be wrong.

  • Guess smart. Use the process of elimination to make educated decisions. Any time you can narrow down your choices, even by just one or two options, your odds of getting the question right go up significantly. Guessing when you can eliminate at least one of the choices will statistically pay off in your favor, earning you more points than you lose. So guess any time you can narrow down your choices.
  • Answer every single question. In the past, guessing was penalized by deducting a quarter-point for wrong answers, so you wouldn’t necessarily guess randomly. Now, however, you don’t lose any points for wrong answers (you just don’t get any, either) so you may as well bubble in something for every single question. Your odds of a correct answer are at least 25%.

3. Slow down. Timed tests can lead panicky students to make mistakes that don’t reflect their true ability. You are better off answering the questions correctly, even if you run out of time and don’t finish completely. Put it this way — if you finish only 80% of the questions but answer them correctly, you’ve done better than if you finish the test and get about half of them wrong.

4. Mind your answer document. The very worst thing you could do would be to skip a question and start bubbling in all the wrong answers in on your answer document as a result. Stop every few questions or so and make sure you’re bubbling in your answer to #22 in the #22 bubble, not #21 or #23.

5. Mark up your test booklet. You’re allowed to write on this, so use that! Cross out wrong answers, underline key words and phrases, write out your math memory mnemonics in the margin.

6. Be strategic with your time. Don’t use precious minutes trying to figure out what a question is asking or how to solve it if you really have no idea. Skip it! You can always come back to the question later. One strategy involves categorizing the questions as follows:

  • Easy – I know this one.  Good! Answer it and move on.
  • Tricky but manageable — I can probably figure this one out but will need to spend a little time with it. Mark this one with a STAR. You’ll come back to these first.
  • What on earth — I have no idea where to start or what this question’s even asking. Mark this one with an X. You’ll come back to these when you’ve finished everything else.

What are your best tips for test prep? Leave us a note in the comments with your ideas!

As we all know, the very best way to feel confident on test day is to be well-prepared with the math and verbal knowledge being tested. Let us know if our tutors can help you get ready! Just 4-6 hours of test prep tutoring, in your home and on your schedule, can significantly improve your score.