When I was done with my O’ Level, I believed the clichéd lines my seniors fed to me: it’s all over now, you’re through with the most important years in your life, college is for fun, and now it’s all play and no work.
Little did I know that this was only the beginning. Now that I’m halfway through my A’ Level, reality bites: entry tests, university applications, personal statements, and the most dreaded of them all: SAT.
Not entirely dreadful for me, though, because I’m managing to do all right with my preparation. In fact, I’m pretty confident. So I feel I ought to help the rest of you out there who plan to sit the SAT-1 soon. I’m going to assume we’re all rookies here and start from the very beginning.
Why is SAT-1 important?
If you’re applying abroad, SAT-1 is a must. Absolutely no way out of it. In Pakistan, if you have a good score, you can skip the entry tests and be considered for admittance based entirely on your score. Besides, SAT-1 English is the basis for entry tests all over the country. (In case you’re wondering, SAT-2 is compulsory both here and abroad.)
There are three sections in the SAT-1 exam: two English (critical reading and writing) and one math. The total SAT score is worth 2400 marks, with each section carrying 800. The questions in the SAT are, except for the essay, all MCQs. Hey, don’t worry; you don’t have to answer 2400 MCQs! Your raw score, which is only about 40-60 MCQs on each section, is converted into a “scaled score”, which is out of 800.
Beware, though - you can’t be foolhardy and rely on guesswork here! Each wrong answer carries negative marking, so follow this general rule: if you don’t know it, skip it.
The math is based entirely on the O’ Level and AS Level syllabus, so it’s pretty easy (though time management might be a problem for some). The English part is a little more complicated. The writing section has two subsections, an essay part and a grammar part. And critical reading requires you to have a stupendous vocabulary and great thinking/comprehending skills.
The two-page, 25-minute essay section needs general knowledge: it’s an argumentative type and requires you to cite examples to support your point of view. The fun part is, you can give examples from literally anywhere as long as they are relevant: movies, books, history, literature, even the world of celebrities. I wrote about the anime Naruto in a practice test once and received a full score. Get my point? However, an example from your personal life may be seen as a ‘cardboard’ one and, unless it’s very detailed and convincing, will fail to fetch you a good score.
In the actual exam, two examiners read your essay, each giving a score out of six, making a total score of twelve. A typical essay topic would be “Can success be disastrous?” or “Do we need other people to understand ourselves?” or “Is conscience a better motivator than money or fame?”
If you want to practice your essay-writing skills, sign up for the official website at collegeboard.org, where you can type essays and receive online scores.
The grammar section is easy. If you’ve been a sufficiently good reader, you’ll be able to see the grammatical mistakes in the sentences/passages and choose the correct answers in an instant.
In this section, you’re required to ‘fill in the blanks’ by following the hints in the rest of the given sentence. But most of the words to be filled are fundamentally those that you never knew existed. You have two options here: you can either learn all the official 3500 SAT words and their meanings by heart and still not be able to score full marks, or you can apply a few tricks to guess the right answers.
Essentially, the questions work their way from easy to medium to hard. So in the first 2-4 questions, eliminate any difficult words without thinking - this usually leaves about two choices, and since they are easy, you can figure out the right answer. Similarly, in the last 2-4 questions, eliminate any easy word choices. It’s usually better to skip these last questions rather than to hazard a guess. Remember to fear a wrong answer.
I would still advise you to learn a SAT wordlist of at least 500-1000 words from the internet, though.
This section doesn’t require a mighty vocabulary but relies more on your thinking skills. It’s the basic concept of comprehension: you read the passage then answer the questions at the end.
If it’s a long passage, don’t read it all the way through at once; leap to the questions. If the first question goes like, “In lines 2-4 ...” you should ONLY read lines 1-4, since the questions usually carry choices that might puzzle you if you’ve read the whole passage already. Answer questions like “The primary purpose of the passage is to ...” at the absolute end, after you’ve worked your way through the whole section. (I hope I’ve explained this well enough.)
Easy. ‘Nuff said.
That is, if you’ve been a good little kid in your O’ and AS Level.
Taking a crash course at an academy certainly helps, so I would really recommend you to do so.
As for SAT books, you should definitely use The Official SAT Study Guide, which is endorsed by the College Board (your evil examiner) itself; you can order it online or get your teacher to buy it for you. Barron’s SAT is a great book, too, but don’t use any other - most don’t have the easy-to-medium-to-hard question sequence in their practice tests, which is sure to mess up your prep.
Important points to remember
1. You can retake the SAT test without affecting your overall score. Universities take your best score on each section into consideration. (For example, if you got a 700 on the math section and an 800 on the writing section on the first attempt, but an 800 on math and a 600 on writing in your second attempt, your overall score would be 800 and 800.)
2. Universities find it okay for you to take the test twice, but if you take it more than that, they consider it a weakness.
3. A good score is 2100 or above. If you do this well, admission into any university is a no-brainer, given your other activities/academics are in order.
4. Most importantly; work hard and pray harder, and you’ll be fine!