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Taming the SAT Test Monster

Taming the SAT Test Monster

By Jean Burk Author of
College Prep Genius:
The No Brainer Way to SAT Success

Taking the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT tests can be a very scary experience. Stress can be a giant that freezes students in their tracks. But don't fear, preparation and knowledge can help alleviate the test anxiety that many students face. Here are some important steps to help relieve the fear that seems to lurk in the minds of many students:

  1. Create a similar test environment when practicing for the real test.

    Many students don't realize that these tests are very long and require mental endurance to finish them without running out of steam. The SAT itself is around 3 ½ hours long. One way to prepare for this academic marathon is to practice just like the real test. By creating a test environment like the actual test, surprises can be eliminated and test success can be achieved. Practice like this:

    1. Start the practice test around 9:00 am.
    2. Take only a five-minute break between sections.
    3. Use the same watch and calculator that will be used at the real test.
    4. Make sure the testing area is free of distractions.
    5. Time each section correctly.
    6. Use a watch with a chronometer or set a second-hand watch at 12:00 for each section.
    7. Keep several sharpened pencils nearby.
  2. Know the rules for each section ahead of time.

    The rules for all three sections of the tests are always the same. Make it a point to learn them long before you take the real SAT and PSAT/NMSQT. This not only saves time, but students will already know what to expect in each section.

  3. Take PSAT/NMSQT for practice in both freshman and sophomore years.

    The score will not count but it will help familiarize students with the test as well as they will get their test booklet back in the mail. It usually arrives a few weeks after the October test. The student's score will arrive sometime later. When you receive it, go over your mistakes and find the patterns that were missed. Students can also use the booklet to retake the test later and see how much they've improved. (Retaking this same test again can be beneficial since most students will forget the questions.)

  4. Take the PSAT/NMSQT in your junior year when it counts.

    In many schools, guidance counselors and teachers have mistakenly told their students that this test is not a big deal and should only be used for measurement on how well they might do on the SAT test. This is faulty counseling since this one test can give students amazing scholarship offers from colleges all over the nation. If a student scores in the semi-finalist range, they can literally get a full-ride to numerous colleges because they are in the top 1% of the nation. But, this tests only counts in their junior year or the third year that they take it.

  5. Take the SAT many times.

    There are no penalties for taking the SAT many times, so a student should take it until they get their desired score. Colleges do not average the tests but take the highest scores. Many colleges will even take the highest score from each section from different tests to get the student's best overall score. Every college is different when it comes to their desired entrance score as well as entry level for starting scholarships; so make sure you check with the college(s) of your choice.


    The key to doing just about everything well is to practice. Someone who plays a sport or learns an instrument cannot expect to win a game or perform their best concert without practicing. The same applies with these standardized tests. After learning test-taking strategies, students should practice with actual College Board practice tests. The more they do this, the quicker they can find the recurring patterns and the faster they can answer the questions. The students, who usually score the highest, have made practicing a priority; they have put at least three to fours hours a week into practicing, over the entire year, and a few months leading up to the real test, they have treated it like a marathon. Here is a basic time guideline for students for the year:

    Freshman — thirty minutes to an hour per week
    Sophomore — one to two hours per week
    Junior — three to fours hours per week several weeks before the October PSAT/NMSQT
    Senior — three to four hours per week

    Your heaviest studying should be at least three months before the actual test you will be taking.

    Put at least two hours a day during the week (studying and practicing) and ten hours on the weekend. (Remember - you are working toward a desired test score and/or amazing scholarships.)

Taming this so-called behemoth is attainable. Confidence and preparation can take the fear out of taking standardized tests. It doesn't have to be an experience that makes students tremble or run and hide. When a student scores high, The College Board will be the only ones frightened out of their wits.

Meet Jean Burk

About Author Jean Burk

Jean Burk is the author of "College Prep Genius: The No Brainer Way to SAT Success." She has written numerous articles about the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT. She has been featured as an SAT expert on Good Day Dallas (Fox 4) and KXAS (NBC 5). She currently travels and speaks about the importance of college preparation, and teaches her "Master the SAT" Prep Class all over Texas.

Both her children received incredible scholarships because of their PSAT and SAT scores. Her teaching DVD will be released in the Spring of 2008, as well as the first edition of the brand new VocabCafé Book Series intended to help teenagers and younger children increase their knowledge of vocabulary words.

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