The Non Genius' Guide to Slaying the SAT
By Megan Wordell
Between countless score comparisons and “chance me” threads overwhelming the internet and schools across the nation, it can feel like students have approximately 4 hours (with 2 snack breaks) to show potential colleges what they’re made of…no pressure! As someone who took the ACT and SAT multiple times and whose stomach still drops at the phrase, “You have five minutes remaining,” I can successfully say that I’ve survived the stress of standardized tests and learned several key lessons throughout the process.
With the specific ways standardized tests are designed, I firmly believe that anyone willing to put in the effort is fully capable of achieving a successful score. This is because both the SAT and the ACT are as predictable as a Taylor Swift breakup song. There will always be four sections and you will almost always have to know the difference between affect and effect (hint: one is a verb, the other a noun). My ultimate secret to a 36? Practice. Practice. Practice. The more practice tests you take, the easier each test will become. Set up at a local coffee shop with a timer and crack open that Princeton Review as often as you can before test day. Once you’ve taken so many practice tests, you’ll be used to the format and the official test will feel like just another session.
While it feels like these tests are designed to test how objectively smart you are, I believe the SAT and ACT actually reveal how hard you can work, pick up patterns, and process copious amounts of information in a short period of time. The tests aren’t designed to trick you, no matter how many twists they seem to employ. When stuck on a seemingly impossible math equation, it always helped me to remember that the answer is there on the page, it’s just my job to find it. Seeing patterns in answer choices, treating reading comprehension questions as riddles, and simply asking the question “which of these answers is not like the others,” as simple as it sounds, can help you solve puzzles quickly and effectively.
As saccharine as it may seem, another important method for standardized test success is keeping a positive mindset before, during, and after the exam. For me, this included visualizing a successful testing day and planning way ahead. I always packed a mix of Sour Patch Kids to keep me awake and energized and a bag honey roasted cashews to keep me focused. On the way to the testing center, I recommend listening to something motivational; for me, it was Hamilton and old Disney Channel songs that kept me thinking positive and ready to crush my test. I also highly recommend planning something fun do to once the test is over. When I was stuck on a set of matrices, knowing that in 2 hours I’d be drinking excessive amounts of iced coffee with my friends again helped me push through and finish strong.
After taking countless tests and waking up at the crack of dawn with my number two pencil in hand, I’ve come to an important conclusion: In the end, the SAT and ACT are only tests. They are assessments designed to show colleges your skills, but your score on them absolutely does not define you or your educational abilities. That is something I cannot stress enough. Potential colleges want to get to know you as a person, not just how well you scored on one specific February morning of your Junior or Senior year. Not one person since entering college has asked me what I got on the science ACT section and I honestly couldn’t tell them my score breakdown. While I do very well recall the feeling of satisfaction when I achieved my highest score, I was most proud the dedication I put forth achieve my goal.
Megan Wordell is a student at the University of Florida (Class of '21), majoring in Political Science (Pre-Law) and Public Relations. When she's not cheering on the Gators, she enjoys watching way too many episodes of Parks and Recreation with her roommates, consuming an unnecessary amount of vanilla iced coffee, writing for her blog, and talking about politics.
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