My SAT Journey: Study Plan, Resources, and Tips

Preface

Although I did managed to get 1500 on October test date as a non-native speaker, I would like to clear that I am far from an expert or a perfect test taker. In this article, I will provide self study guides for each section, valuable resources, and a few test day tips.

My SAT Journey

I happened to know with SAT last year from admission requirements of a few reputed colleges in the United States: I realized that the test, especially the Reading and Writing sections, was a tough challenge for me because I couldn’t comprehend complex history and literature passages written in my second language at that time.

The SAT Question-and-Answer Service

I registered my first test at AsiaWorld-Expo, a test center which could hold thousands of test takers in Hong Kong, in December to push me to be productive. Fortunately, I got 1460 (660/800) in that test with really harsh curve. Studying over the summer, my reading scores only increased 20 points in the August because of dumb mistakes on writing sections. Eventually, I took the test at Vancouver, walked into the test center with confidence, and received a score of 1500 (700/800) without much preparation.

Reading

As a non-native speaker, reading is the hardest section of the SAT test, particularly the history and literature passage.

Get familiar with vocabularies: Mark the unfamiliar words in each official practice test or QAS, look up their definitions in the dictionary, and review them at least once a week. If you don’t have enough time to finish all the mock tests, you could use “Barron’s 3500 SAT Word List” to learn words that appear frequently in the test.

Manage your time wisely: Typically, I read each passage for 7 or 8 minutes and answer questions in less than 4 minutes. If you can’t read efficiently, you could refer to the next tip.

Analyze the passage: Understanding logics of passages is really essential for you to anwser the questions. I recommend you to write a breif summary of each passage if you have enough time to do so, or you could just write down some key words for each paragraph. For the long, tedious sentences in history passage, you may analyze the grammar structure or even translate it into your native language.

Read novels, newspapers, and magazines: If you have a long period of time to prepare for the test, you could begin reading articles written in English and try to comprehend them. Here’s a list of things I read to improve my skills: (From easiest to hardest)

  • Scientific American (Science and social science passages)
  • The New York Times (Social science passages)
  • The Great Gatsby (Literature passage)
  • 1984 (Literature passage)
  • The Federalist Papers (History passage)
  • Other media: Major News Media Review

Understand history events: If you are a non-native speaker, you may not familiar with important history events. In order to comprehend history passages, you could read the following documents or speeches and learn its background on Wikipedia.

  • Declaration of Independence
  • Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention
  • Constitution of the United States
  • The Federalist No. 1, No.10, No.51
  • Bill of Rights
  • Speech on the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise
  • Gettysburg Address
  • New Nationalism
  • Commonwealth Club Address
  • I Have a Dream

Writing

In my opinion, writing is easier than reading section but requires less mistakes since its curve is more tough.

Get familiar with all concepts: I used CollegePanda’s SAT Writing Guide to learn all the concepts and practice them with sample questions. You could refer to my notes of the book if you don’t have enough time: SAT Writing Review.

Practise as much as you could: Although you have learned all the concepts of this section, CollegeBoard might test you with tricky questions. Make sure to finish all the practice tests, record your mistakes, and analyze the reasons. In additon, you could find more practice tests on UWorld.

Math

Math is the easiest section for me because the courses I took at school is much tougher than the SAT. All I did is to know the type of questions and eliminate dump mistakes.

Familiar with your calculator: If you could do so, you will save a lot of time to check your answers. Since the SAT does not requires an advanced graphic calculator such as Ti Nspire CX, it’s feasible to learn how to perform crucial calculations. I used Casio FX-991EX during the test.

Resources

r/Sat: Full of helpful people waiting for anwsering questions and discussing test questions. Additonally, you may also find past SAT curves, test nofications, and scanned Question-and-Answer service for previous test dates. Don’t waste your time on producing memes.

Reddit r/Sat

1600.io: Different from the SAT tutors in Hong Kong which cost you $100 per hour, 1600.io provides high quality online courses with affordable price. If you don’t have to watch all the videos, you could skip to the questions you missed.

1600.io

UWorld and KhanAcademy: Both of them provide high quality questions, but I recommend you to practice Reading in KhanAcademy and another two sections in UWorld according to my own experience: Writing in KhanAcademy is much easier than real tests, and Math is quite harder.

Official Practice Tests and QAS: The best material I’ve ever used. Try to finish all of them and analyze your mistakes. However, I don’t recommend third-party practice tests provided by test prep agencies such as Princeton Review or Kaplan because they are significantly different from real tests.

Past SAT Curves: Scoring your practices tests.

Tips on Test Day

Don’t be afraid of the curve: Literally, there is no SAT curve, which means SAT scores will never be affected by how other test takers perform on the test. The term ‘curve’ used in SAT communities refers to ‘equating process’, which is used by the College Board to address for variations in difficulty among different test dates. I know the ‘curve’ these days is notoriously bad, the test hasn’t gotten much easier correspondingly, but there is much less room for error. However, remember that all test takers are on the same boat: The average score will probably goes down.

Check your answer sheet: One of my friend omitted two questions on Math section because he forgot to mark them on the answer sheet. Don’t let your future harmed by stupid mistakes.

Woke up early and read a passage: I increased my reading speed of the first passage by doing so.

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Siujoeng Lau

Liberty will never perish.

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