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5 New Ways to Prep for the SAT (Or Any Other Standardized Test)!

1. Listen to Music

Not all music starts and ends with “Baby, baby, baby, yea.”  There are a number of bands out there with serious lyrical and storytelling chops.  Take, for instance, The Decemberists.  They blend storytelling and an impressive vocabulary to make for unique lyrics that can teach you a thing or two.  Here’s a link to The Infanta, an example of the band’s lyrics at full throttle.    When you listen to this song, you’re taking in colorful, varied language.  Rather than simply reading the words from a page, you’re experiencing aurally the use of language to beautifully create a story.  In doing so, you can build comprehension skills in the process.  Songs don’t have the luxury of 300 pages of text.  They’re concise and exacting with their language.  Good lyricists put the onus on the listener to understand the references and allusions made in their songs.  This makes for active listeners who actually get something out of the music aside from a good beat.

The truth is, you might deplore that kind of sound.  Luckily, we’re in an age where every genre and subgenre has talented lyricists who also put out catchy songs.  Whether it’s hyper-literate hip hop from Lupe Fiasco, alternative music from The Shins, or the old school lyrical masterpieces of Bob Dylan, thought-provoking lyrics are everywhere.  Spend some time with a good album and see what you can learn.

2. Write something

Writing often gets a bad rap in high school.  Barring the occasional creative assignment or two, the typical high schooler is asked to pump out dozens of bland, cookie-cutter essays on their way to graduation.  While the skills of writing a well-structured essay are vital, they’re not everything.  What often gets overlooked in the steadfast allegiance to essay structure is the skill of infusing your writing with personality and energy.  Find your voice.  The SAT asks for you to spontaneously write on a subject in a condensed time period.  You won’t have any notes or templates with you.  All you’ll have is your knowledge and your voice.

So write for fun.  Write about things that interest you.  Did you watch an amazing movie?  Write a review of it.  Watch an awful movie?  Write a review of it.  Did you just beat a game?  Write a walkthrough on how in the world you slew the dragon at the end of Level 7.  In love?  Write a love letter (you don’t have to send it).  Every day presents us with new opportunities to write.  Take a chance and write something you love.

3. Play Cards

One thing I’ve always loved is a good card game.  Sitting at the table playing a game of Hearts or Pitch with friends and family is a great way to pass the time.  Of course, the best part of any card game is camaraderie you feel laughing and spending time with good people.  The second best part is winning.  To win, you’ll need strategy and a working knowledge of probability.

What are the odds of a randomly chosen card from a deck being an ace?  1/13.  What about the ace of hearts?  1/52.  How about the odds of getting two cards that are both 10s?  (4/52) x (3/51) = 1/221.  When you can figure out these problems in a card game you’re actually preparing yourself for questions on the SAT.  Card games are filled with chances to employ probability to better your chances of winning.  It’s also true that any SAT Math section is filled with mini logic puzzles.  Sure, you need to know some math facts, but those who truly succeed in the math sections attack the problems strategically.  Most any card game you play is the same way.  You’re constantly figuring out what the most logical play is given the circumstances by analyzing the information available to you.  By practicing these skills in card games, you’re actually learning how to break down and solve problems in the SAT.

4. Define It

This tip is admittedly not so glamorous, but it gets results. If you hear a word you don’t know, look it up.  In college, I got into the habit of writing words I didn’t know in the corners of my notes.  At the earliest convenience that day, I would look them up.  I could hop onto a computer and look up the words to add them to my vocabulary.  An even easier approach for those with smart phones or iPods is to throw on a dictionary app.  This simple, free app, will provide instant answers to any vocabulary questions you may have.  By making this a pattern in your day-to-day life, you’ll begin to build your vocabulary in an organic way.  You’ll be taking words that you actually hear in real life and absorbing their meanings rather than letting them skim over the top of your head.  More importantly, it’s a step toward being engaged in language that you hear.  Instead of tuning out when something sounds too complicated, you’ll be paying more attention.  Difficult passages and highfalutin speakers won’t scare you off, but rather draw you in as you take on an active learning role.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Math

Math is everywhere!  No, really.  It’s common to skip past opportunities to hone your math skills in the real world.  Technology has made it even easier to bypass math in the day to day.  But the truth is, you’re doing yourself a disservice when you go straight to your tip calculator or click “Convert” without a moment’s thought.  This isn’t about going out of your way to do math as much as it’s about being open to it.  If you’re baking cookies and the recipe serves 24, but you only need to serve 16, do the conversions yourself.  Work with the fractions and determine the proportions you need for each ingredient.  If you run cross country and you’re concerned with finishing time, evaluate your speed in different legs of the course.  Use that information to alter your pace at optimal times.   Doing research for your first car?  Take a look at differences in gas mileage and figure out how much money that amounts to at the end of the year.  And last but not least, figure out the tip without your phone.  It’s simple once you get used to it and you might even impress the people at your table.  If you let yourself use math instead of running away from it, you’ll become fluent in its language and more capable come test time.


Nick M. is one of Top Test Prep’s leading SAT and SSAT instructors. His students consistently get in touch with us to express their appreciation for his innovative teaching approaches, and we’ve seen their hard work pay off in great score increases! We’re excited he was able to share his insights into the SAT with you!

To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

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