If you’re like me, a lot of standardized test prep advice from the internet can seem pretty intense. Studying for the SAT every day? Taking practice tests under simulated test conditions every weekend? Now, for students who feel unprepared for the exam, students with low scores they need to bring up before college application season, or for students with testing anxiety, that kind of hardcore testing prep can be incredibly helpful. But if you’re pressed for time before the next SAT date, you’ve done a lot of prep already, or are just a naturally talented test taker, that kind of intense test training isn’t really what you need.
I personally did very little studying for the SAT – not because I was brilliant, but because I was completely strapped for time and energy, like every other high school junior on the planet. I had a solid background in grammar and composition, so the critical reading and writing portions weren’t too difficult, and while it took some effort to bring up my math score, I didn’t lie awake at night praying for that to happen. I found that utilizing the internet’s favorite test prep device – the timed practice test – made me feel panicky and stressed more so than confident and well-prepared, as did a lot of other intense test prep advice from math and English teachers. What I needed was low-stress test prep, which is what I’m about to share with you guys.
The Blue Book
If you’re frequenting a site like The Prospect, I probably don’t have to tell you what The Blue Book is or why it’s so helpful. But for those of you out of the loop, The Blue Book is the College Board’s official SAT guide. What gives it a leg up over Princeton Review, Barron’s, and the like is that it contains ten practice exams, three of which are real past SATs. When using The Blue Book for low-intensity test prep, just skim through the instructive portions – highlighting and tabbing sections that you know are tricky for you if you’d like – and work through at least the three official SATs. Working through them under simulated test conditions is fantastic for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the timing of the exam, but if you’ve taken the SAT before and know you’re a quick, efficient test-taker (like I did), you really don’t have to.
The SAT Question of the Day
Your guidance counselor has probably already extolled the virtues of the great and glorious SAT Question of the Day, and I absolutely recommend signing up for it – and not just because it feels so gratifying to unsubscribe from it when your SAT days are over – but with a caveat. When I was in high school, instead of answering the SAT QOTD every day, I would put them all into a folder in my inbox. That way, I stored up a solid bank of questions to tackle on Friday nights or Saturday mornings – the two times a week I wasn’t slammed with homework or lacrosse practice. I worked through them at my own pace, and it was helpful, low-key and low-stress.
PWN the SAT
If you take away one resource from this article, let PWN the SAT be it. I stumbled upon their Tumblr when I was a sophomore, and ended up using the main blog as my primary source of test prep in my junior year. The advice from this site is clever and completely legit – it tells you exactly how to tackle the specific problems the test is going to toss your way. The site admin has even published a math practice book, and I found it to be a fantastic investment (especially if you want to squeeze in some prep on the bus or before homeroom). Trust me – you will see (more or less) the same problems with different numbers on the real exam. And the essay advice is also spot-on for those of you trying to nail down the writing section. Following the PWN the SAT Tumblr is also a great way to integrate a little test prep into your daily procrastination, since the guy behind PWN the SAT works through Tumblr user-submitted math problems (usually from the Blue Book or an equivalent test prep guide) and answers any logistical questions you might have about the exam. Honestly, PWN the SAT is the reason I brought up my math score 100 points in one exam sitting with very little stress, so it has my loyalty for life.
If you’re having a bit of trouble with SAT grammar and you’re on Tumblr more often than not, then the YUNiversity is for you. The site explains confusing grammar concepts using short and sweet explanation guides using pop culture references you’ll actually understand. You can’t get more low-stress than scrolling down your dashboard and taking a minute or two to untangle a tricky grammar concept.
The Khan Academy
I maintain to this day that when I graduated from high school, I did not receive my diploma from that high school, but rather from the Khan Academy. Salman Khan taught me everything I know about algebra II, biology, chemistry, and calculus – which admittedly, is not much – but he also helped me out with raising my SAT score. Khan Academy has an entire section of their site dedicated to working step through an entire SAT practice test from the Blue Book. So, if you find yourself stuck when you’re working through your practice tests, you can have the answer untangled in less than ten minutes by Salman Khan himself.
Crash Course Literature, Thug Notes, and Video Sparknotes
For the writing section, you’ve no doubt heard about the importance of having “canned” essay topics – books of literary merit that you know like the back of your hand that you can easily write about in the minuscule amount of time the SAT gives you. If you have a busy schedule, you’re probably not reading the greats on your own time, so your canned examples will probably from your AP English class. Video summaries like Crash Course Literature, Video Sparknotes, and – for those unafraid of coarse language and split sides – the hilarious Thug Notes can all help you refresh your memory on all the major classics quickly and easily.
Beyond using these resources, the key to quick and painless test prep is isolating what your biggest weaknesses are and just attacking those. It’s rare that you’d be having difficulty with an entire section of the exam, so pinpoint your trouble spots within your chosen section. For example, I had problems with the math section every time I took the exam. More specifically, I struggled with probability and lengthy volume problems – so that’s what I focused my energy on. I skimmed my class notes and the Blue Book to rectify any glaring errors I was making, and used the Blue Book’s practice tests and PWN the SAT’s math guide for a little bit of practice. No more, no less.
Now, it might psych you out to see your friends or classmates attending countless SAT tutoring sessions or taking practice test after practice test in order to prep when you know that you just don’t have the time or energy to do the same. High school is all about one upmanship, and standardized test prep is certainly not an exception to the rule. But truly, all you have to do is remind yourself that other students’ testing needs are not your own. You know what you need to accomplish, so go out there and do it – as painlessly as possible.