Learn how to battle the SAT and ACT dragons

Jasen Williams Teen Columnist, The Friday Flyer

Jasen Williams
Teen Columnist, The Friday Flyer

For those of us wanting to go to a four-year university, the SAT and ACT are the “big things” to prep for. Whole classes and school years are created for readying students for these four-hour tests. Most four-year colleges require one of the tests. I’ve taken each of the tests twice, officially, with about 10 practice tests each at libraries or home.

So here are my top two recommendations for battling these dragons that are barring the way to your treasured score.

First and foremost, have the right tactic for each dragon. Understanding how each one goes about the battle is undeniably more important than practicing the sword forms time after time. For instance, you would first want to understand how baseball is played, how the bases work, and where the ball should be thrown rather than merely practicing the same throw over and over again; right?

It is the same here. Having the knowledge of how the SAT and ACT are going to go about asking the questions will be much more effective than solely practicing, say, how to work linear equations. I’d recommend the SAT Black Book and the ACT Prep Book, both by Mike Barrett, for the best explanation behind each test. Here is a short summary of each dragon’s traits.

The SAT is a spiky, deceptive serpent that will attack in perplexing ways. But the key to beating it down is to stand out of its tricky wriggles, consider your simple approach carefully and swiftly, and only strike when you KNOW that the time is right.

If you guess, you are likely to be rewarded with the SAT’s thorny tail whip, knocking off a whole quarter of your hard-earned point. The wrong answers to this test have been designed to look appealing.

Delivering each of the ten sections in 10- to 15-minute segments, the SAT is really one big game to figure out what the test is truly asking, since it typically phrases a regular question in a way that requires an extra step in logic. The sections are math, writing and reading.

Although the test will be changing in 2016, I would still highly encourage you to understand the test’s fundamental reasoning in the SAT Black Book.

On the other hand, the ACT is a blunt and simple dragon with incredible amounts of stamina. I say simple not because it is easier; it just doesn’t try and trick you like the SAT.

Instead of delivering its blows in short sections like the SAT, this beast attacks in long, sweeping segments from 45 to 60 minutes each. The test has four sections: English, Math, Writing and Science.

The questions are actually fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of them, and many are simply tough. Unlike the SAT, you definitely want to guess on the ACT if you run out of time because there is no penalty for getting a wrong answer.

Now, the second piece of advice is to find the armor that is right for you. This covers everything from the helmet of basic prep, the gauntlets of Callouses de Pencil, the breastplate of alertness, and the greaves of evasion.

The helmet is self-explanatory: know that you are going into a four-hour test, not a 30-minute one. Realize that you are indeed going to need that admissions ticket that College Board keeps reminding you about. Find how you are going to manage your time with the dragon before he flies off to attack the town of Doog Serocs. (Who names a town Good Scores?)

The gauntlets of pencil callouses are testaments to your time of training your mind to think in terms of the test and increasing your test-taking stamina. (Seriously, once you turn the bubble page and figure out that you have six more sections on the SAT, tiredness stops in to say hi). The style of the gloves changes from person to person because everyone has different needs and drives for preparation.

The breastplate of rest will also differ based on how each person takes tests. For instance, I like to take it easy the night before to be fully engaged the next day. In addition, I have found (or created via placebo: I’m not really sure) attention triggers on my ears, neck and eyes on which I rub water. It really does depend on your method of keeping yourself ready, even if that involves bringing yourself back in from Frenzy World.

Which leads me to the next vital piece of gear you will need: the greaves of evasion. What are we evading? We are circumventing two things in particular: each dragon’s particular attacks and our own mental fragility. The former I’ve discussed above, but the latter is probably the most crucial.

It involves avoiding the cliffs of overconfidence, swamps of nervousness, and the lava pits of unawareness of the big picture. It is way too easy to find yourself saying, “Ha! With the amount of prep I’ve done, there is nothing that could surprise me!” As the saying goes, the bigger (in confidence) they are, the harder they fall.

It is so tempting to go to the other extreme and give up on yourself, thinking that you will never get your goal. Puh-lease. If you want a good score, do your utmost. The rest is not in your hands.

And it is so unconscious when you forget the overall purpose of these tests. Oh sure, it’s for college. What’s college for then? For the bettering of my intellect, heart and future? Why would I want that?

It is because the future is yours. It is your 20s for pete’s sake; the time in which you are indefatigable, unhindered and moldable. Let’s send it in the right direction with preparation in the head, heart and hands for the adult world, shall we?

Be confident in your goal, be nervous only enough to not be indifferent, and be aware of the long-term goal that you are striving for. And maybe get a Starbucks or something after the test.


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Sharon Rice