The SAT is neither a test of academic excellence, nor a test of intelligence, nor a test of aptitude. It only tests you on some Math and English topics that are covered in high school. The test writers do not give a syllabus or any reference books that a student can work through to prepare for the test. It is, however, possible, to analyze each section and its question types to understand the content and skills required for the SAT.
1. The Reading Test
The Reading Test is formally a Test of Reading Comprehension. It uses passages from Science, History/Social Studies, and Fiction to test how well you ‘interpret, synthesize, and use evidence from a wide range of sources’. In addition to questions about the passages, it will also have questions that require you to interpret accompanying tables, charts, and graphs. What matters is how carefully you read the passages and answer the questions based on what you have read. Consistent timed practice with reliable material and taking full-length tests are ways in which you can improve your scores. Just reading and comprehending do not get you points. Thus the section actually turns out to be a test of your ability to answer the questions rather than just your ability to read and comprehend.
One passage in each test will be from a US Founding Document or from a document on a related theme from elsewhere; these documents will typically be on themes such as justice, liberty, equal rights, dignity, and governance. Though there are no prescribed books you can read to prepare for the test, a familiarity with the historical context of the US Founding Documents and the vocabulary used in such passages will help.
The SAT tests Command of Evidence explicitly. A number of questions will ask which part of the text provides the evidence for the answer to the previous question.
The SAT does not ask questions that require you to know obscure and uncommon words. Vocabulary in Context questions will ask about words from the passage. These are often common, familiar words used in unusual ways or with their secondary, less common meanings. You need to develop habits and skills to use clues from the context to figure out what the words mean.
However, improving your vocabulary should be part of your SAT preparation. Since the Reading passages are often complex and sometimes technical or abstract, good vocabulary skills will help you to understand the passages better and answer the questions more easily.
2. The Writing and Language Test
The Writing section tests your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and the effective use of language. Fortunately, SAT tests you on just a handful of common grammar rules. By mastering those rules and having a systematic approach you can ace these questions with ease. Definitions of rules are not tested; what is tested is the correction and identification of errors.
Some grammar concepts and rules that you will need to know are subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage, parallelism, and modifiers. Quite a few questions will test your knowledge of punctuation and linking of phrases and clauses.
The Writing section also asks questions about style, tone, word choice, transitions between paragraphs, passage structure, and passage coherence.
At Manya Education, we teach students to do the Writing Test by applying three basic principles– Consistency, Precision, and Concision.
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3. The Math Test
For most of the Math section, you need to know 6th to 10th Grade math covering arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, and basic trigonometry. Some Advanced Math and “Additional Math” concepts will involve Quadratic and Exponential functions, Geometric and Trigonometric concepts, and Complex Numbers.
Very often on the SAT, a math question is hard not because it tests a hard concept; it is hard because most students get it wrong. Therefore, careful reading and a systematic approach can get you a great score.
One part of the Math test does not allow the use of the calculator, the other one does. If you use a calculator, and we recommend that you do, make sure that you are familiar with its usage and also that you are using one that conforms to SAT’s calculator policy
“Careful reading” is the key to success on the SAT, especially because the questions themselves can be long and wordy. Some SAT math questions seem to be tests of reading comprehension as much as of Math.
The test writers often include a few traps in the question wording or in the answer choices in such a way that if you don’t read carefully, you are likely to fall for those traps. Therefore, knowing the test is more important than just studying academic content. That’s why we at Manya Education believe that the SAT just tests “how good you are at taking the SAT”.
4. The Essay
For the SAT essay, you have to do a Rhetorical Analysis of a given text, typically a speech or an article. You are not asked to present your own views on the subject. The task is to explain the methods the author uses to build the argument and what effect these have on the audience. You need to support your assertions with evidence from the text.
To prepare for the essay, you must learn to identify and analyze different stylistic devices and types of appeals used in persuasive writing and practice how to describe them in a coherent essay. Structure, organization, and clarity will go a long way in getting you a great essay score.
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