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SAT/PSAT Preparation

What is the SAT?

The Scholastic Aptitude test or SAT exam is a test given to high school students around the world. The exam is designed to test high school students’ readiness for college in 3 different areas: Writing, Critical Reading and Math.  There is also a fourth experimental section that does not count towards the students score. The exam should be taken by any student interested in attending college in the coastal United States or internationally. Certain colleges and universities in the central United States also prefer their students to take the SAT Exam as well, so check your potential colleges’ websites to determine what exam(s) they want their prospective students to take. General Information There are three sections on the SAT exam that count towards your SAT score; each of which consists of three parts. The three parts of the Writing section are as follows: 1. A 25 minute essay 2. 25 minutes, 35 questions dealing with improving sentences and paragraphs, and identifying sentence errors 3. 10 minutes, 14 questions on improving sentences The three parts of the Critical Reading section are as follows: 1. Two 25 minute, 24 question parts on sentence completion and short reading comprehension 2. 20 minutes, 19 questions on sentence completion and long reading comprehension The three parts of the Math section are as follows: 1. 25 minutes, 20 multiple choice questions 2. 25 minutes, 9 multiple choice questions , 9 free response questions (grid in answer) 3. 20 minutes, 16 multiple choice questions Finally there is a 25 minute experimental section on this exam that does not count towards the student’s score.  The purpose of this section is for the test makers to try out question that they have never used before on the exam. The test always begins with the 25 minute essay writing section and ends with the 10 minute writing section. Every one of the other eight sections in between is given in a random order. Because there is a penalty for wrong answers students should plan on skipping some questions that they do not know the answer to on this exam. It is important to have good strategies in place to narrow down the number of possible correct answers, because guessing on a question without any wrong answers eliminated can be detrimental to your score. Because this test can be more stressful than the average test it is important to have a clear strategy for taking the exam going into the test.  If you decide to go with tutoring through Vadnais Heights Tutoring Services we will focus on both important test taking strategies (the pacing for each section, how to eliminate incorrect answers when guessing, utilizing your resources on the exam, and knowing the rules and layout of the exam) and how to study for the content of each specific section. What is the PSAT? The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test or PSAT is a test designed for students to take at the beginning of their junior year.  Students who take this exam should plan on taking it seriously for a variety of reasons. The test is designed to give students an idea of their readiness for the SAT exam, so if they don’t try on it they won’t have any idea how well they will perform on the actual exam. Because students are typically not use to being tested in a standardized format, practice with standardized tests is essential to improving their score on the SAT and other exams like it. I go over this topic more depth at the end of this page. Finally the PSAT serves as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is discussed below. The breakdown of the sections is a little different on the PSAT then it is on the SAT. Those sections are outlined below: 1. Critical Reading: 25 minutes, 24 multiple choice questions 2. Math: 25 minutes, 20 multiple choice questions 3. Critical Reading: 25 minutes, 24 multiple choice questions 4. Math: 25 minutes, 8 multiple choice questions, 10 free response (grid in) questions 5. Writing: 30 minutes,  40 multiple choice questions The topics tested on the PSAT are essentially the same as the topics tested on the SAT with a few key differences: 1. The topics on the PSAT are tested at the level of a junior in high school, where as the topics on the SAT are tested at the level of someone who is about to enter their freshman year of college. 2. The sections of the PSAT have less of a time constriction than those on the SAT. In other words students are expected to answer more questions per minute on certain sections of the SAT. 3. The PSAT does not have an essay writing section or an experimental section, so the test is much shorter than the SAT. If you have taken the PSAT, received your score, and want to know how that score approximately translates to your expected score on the SAT, then simply multiply your PSAT score by ten. This will give you a rough estimate of the score that you will earn on the SAT, if you took it immediately after taking the PSAT. Note that this is not an exact conversion and that the actual SAT is slightly more difficult for a variety of reasons, which are listed above.
What is the National Merit Scholarship Program? The National Merit Scholarship Program is designed to recognize juniors in each state that distinguish themselves from other students taking the PSAT.  Juniors that scored in the 96.67th percentile (the top 3.33%) of their state will be asked to join the National Merit Scholarship program. One third of these students will move on in the competition as semifinalists. The other two thirds will be given a letter of commendation. Even though they will not become national merit scholars this letter will look very impressive on any college application. Students that are deemed semifinalists will then move on to the essay portion of the competition.  The semifinalists will advance to becoming finalists if they fill out the application provided to them by the National Merit Scholarship Program, take the SAT to prove their PSAT score and meet the high academic requirements.  They must also submit a self-descriptive essay and must be endorsed by a high school official. Most of the semifinalists will advance to finalist standing. These students will be presented with a certificate to let them know that they reached finalist standing.  Many of these students will go on to be selected by various companies and programs to receive scholarships that are tied to the National Merit Scholarship program based their accomplishments, skills and potential for success in post-secondary education. These scholarships may not all be overly substantial, but every little bit helps when it comes to paying for college.  On top of that any scholarship or level of commendation in the National Merit Scholarship Program looks excellent on a college or scholarship application. More information about the National Merit Scholarship can be found on the link to their website. Practice PSAT/SAT If you have decided to take the SAT or PSAT Exam, the next crucial step is to take a SAT/PSAT practice exam to see where you stand. A links to download a PDF of a free SAT/PSAT practice exam can be found below. After printing off a practice exam, it’s important to take it in the most realistic setting possible. So make sure that you block off at least 4 hours (3 if you are practicing for the PSAT) or more if to take this practice test. When taking each section stick to the time limit and use only what you can bring to the actual SAT/PSAT exam (i.e. a pencil and for the mathematics sections a calculator). After taking the exam mark the answers that you got correct in each section. Then, using the scoring formula at the bottom of each answer key, score each section. Next you’ll want to set a realistic goal to improve these scores. Typically students can improve their overall SAT/PSAT scores between the times that they take the practice exam and the actual exam. However, this amount of improvement seen depends upon a few key factors: 1) How much time and effort the student puts into studying for the exam Obviously students will do better on the SAT/PSAT if the prepare for it diligently over a longer period of time. Hiring a knowledgeable tutor will help students stay focused on their goals in the weeks preceding the exam. Vadnais Heights Tutoring Services provides students with guidance so that can stay on track while preparing for this exam.  I also have the knowledge of the individual sections to make sure that students are studying for this exam correctly. 2) Whether or not the student is using successful test taking strategies to answer the questions These exams are not all together straight forward.  They can be very stressful, which can limit a student’s performance. That is why it is important to know the exam inside and out and a have time proven strategy to be successful on this exam.  Vadnais Heights Tutoring Services provides students with the knowledge and strategies they need to be successful when taking this exam. 3) The amount of practice the student gets in taking full length proctored ACT exams It can be seen that for most students, their score increases with the number of times they attempt to take the SAT exam. This is because the test situation of taking this exam is very stressful for most students. As they take the exam more and more they become more prepared for the stress and length of exam, so they perform better. But taking the SAT many times can be very expensive, so I offer an alternative solution. When you practice taking the SAT exam, practice for the stress. Make your practice exam conditions as realistic as possible. Vadnais Heights Tutoring Services can help students do these simulations in their own home. I can provide tips to make your practice exam setting more realistic. I can proctor the exam over the internet to simulate a more realistic test setting. I can provide students with more free practice exams like the one seen below if they are having trouble finding them.
Link to National Merit Scholarship Free Practice SAT Exam Free Practice PSAT Exam