SAT Tip: Five SAT Myths

SAT Tip: Five SAT Myths
Why SAT math isn't as hard as it looks, and when you should, and shouldn't, guess on the tough questions (Photograph by Ocean/Corbis)
Photograph by Ocean/Corbis

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Vivian Kerr at Veritas Prep.

When it comes to the SAT, there’s certainly a good amount of misinformation out there. Is it harder or easier than the ACT? How is it scored? How does the essay factor in? Here are a few big myths to clear up before you start your SAT study plan.

Myth No. 1: The SAT is harder than the ACT. “Easy” and “hard” are relative, of course, and though the formats of the tests are different, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of the tested concepts. The ACT English Test and the SAT Writing question-types may look nothing alike, but they both test concepts such as sentence fragments, parallel verbs, and subject-verb agreement. The main differences are that the ACT has a science section (more like science-themed reading), while the SAT does not.

Myth No. 2: There is advanced-level math on the SAT. The math on the SAT requires you to have a strong grasp of algebra and geometry … and that’s it. There’s no trigonometry on the SAT (as we all breathe a huge collective sigh of relief). That doesn’t mean you won’t see some challenging algebraic concepts and a little bit of data analysis and statistics, but if you’ve taken Algebra II in school, it’s nothing you can’t handle with some practice.

Myth No. 3: The SAT essay doesn’t really count. It actually accounts for about 25 percent of your writing score points, and it is integrated into your writing score. If you’re aiming for a 700+, you’ll definitely need to deliver a strong essay. If you know how to prepare properly for the SAT essay beforehand, it’ll be a breeze on test day.

Myth No. 4: It’s better to leave a question blank if you don’t know the answer. This is a complex myth, since, unlike the ACT, the SAT has a wrong answer penalty. You’ll get 1/4 point deducted for every wrong answer on the SAT, while there are 5 choices per question, so it would seem that we should leave the confusing questions blank, right? Not necessarily.

If you’re scoring around a 500 on any one section of the SAT, any guesses you make have a good chance of being wrong. So it definitely makes sense to leave some of the tougher questions blank, especially if you can’t eliminate any answer choices, since a blank question accounts for a “0” score. This could actually boost your score since you’re not getting so many 1/4 points taken off. If you’re scoring highly already, however, and are aiming for a 700 or above, you’ll want to stop leaving questions blank. You’ll need those correct points to bring your score up. Use a solid guessing strategy that exploits the multiple-choice nature of the test when you can eliminate answer choices to maximize your score.

Myth No. 5: If you don’t have a big vocabulary, you won’t do well on Critical Reading. Just because you don’t have the dictionary memorized (and who does?) doesn’t mean you can’t rock the SAT. Yes, you’ll probably want to learn somewhere between 450 and 500 of the most common SAT words (lists like these can be found online or in just about any SAT practice book, such as SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps). But those vocabulary words are likely to appear only in sentence completion questions. There are only 19 sentence completion questions on the exam, and they account for only 25 percent of your critical reading score. Even without a strong vocabulary, you can still develop the skills to read those reading comprehension passages with confidence.

Don’t believe every rumor you hear about the SAT. Nothing beats studying and having good strategies for each question-type.

Vivian Kerr has been teaching and tutoring in the Los Angeles area since 2005. She graduated from the University of Southern California, studied abroad in London, and has worked for several test-prep giants tutoring, writing content, and blogging about all things SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT.

For more SAT advice from Veritas Prep, watch “Why Smart Students Struggle with the SAT”

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