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Perhaps you’ve heard by now (or perhaps you knew first, because you took the thing yourself) that there was a printing issue with some test forms during the June 6 SAT administration. Some test booklets told students that they would have 25 minutes section 8 or 9, even though those are always 20-minute sections. Some proctors gave students 25 minutes; others gave them 20 minutes. This was a widespread issue: all students in the United States are affected.

College Board has issued a statement that they will be able to produce valid and reliable scores for all June 6 test takers, even without sections 8 and 9, so they’re just going to do that. If you took the June 6 SAT, your reading and math scores will be based only on your performance on the two 25-minute sections. Your writing score will still be based on your essay and both multiple choice writing sections.

I’m sure some people, whose energy flagged towards the end of the test, will be thrilled at this revelation. Others who might have felt they did their best on those sections will be upset. Nobody will ever know how they did on those sections. College Board will probably take some heat in the press.

I can’t help but pile on a little bit. In their statement, College Board says the following:

Q: How is it possible to not score a whole section and still have valid scores?

To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.

We have deliberately constructed both the Reading and the Math Tests to include three equal sections with roughly the same level of difficulty. If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.

That’s some pretty next-level spin, there. How they can boast that their test is so reliable because they “deliberately constructed both the Reading and the Math Tests to include three equal sections,” even as the new SAT will unceremoniously do away with that structure, is beyond me. Are we to believe that power outages will never occur again after March 2016? Are school-based test administrations suddenly going to become less “fragile” next year? Or should we conclude that the new SAT is inherently less robust than the current test?

Anyway, if you’ve been affected by this, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Did you think you nailed sections 8 and 9? Are you relieved because you think you bombed them?

You can redeem them if you wish, either for a PWN the SAT sticker or for DonorsChoose.org gift cards.

As you may or may not know, I donate 10% of the royalties I receive from book sales to educational charities. I spread it around to a few different charities, but most of that money goes to DonorsChoose.org, because I think it’s a really cool organization that addresses a really pressing need.

One of my favorite things to do every month is choose classrooms to donate to, but I’ve always thought that it would be cool if I could involve you guys, the users of this site and the readers of my books, in the process. When you redeem your quiz points for gift cards, I make the donation, but you get to decide where it goes.

Anyway, you can use the form below to redeem quiz points you’ve earned for stuff. Going forward, I may add more rewards if this ends up being a feature people like.

Oh—last thing! If you redeem points for a sticker, I need your shipping address to mail it. If you redeem points for a gift card, it’ll go to the email address I have for you. Therefore, before you redeem points, click here to make sure the right information is in your account profile.


 

Your points balance is:

Sticker

I'll send you this sticker in the mail (as long as you live in the USA). Make sure I have your shipping address; update your profile before you redeem!

20 points

Login to redeem

$10 DonorsChoose.org Gift Card

Help a classroom in need by making a donation to DonorsChoose.org! Your gift card will be delivered to your email. It may take up to 24 hours for it to arrive.

50 points

Login to redeem

$30 DonorsChoose.org Gift Card

Help a classroom in need by making a donation to DonorsChoose.org! Your gift card will be delivered to your email. It may take up to 24 hours for it to arrive.

120 points

Login to redeem

 

You don’t need to find this post again to redeem points—you can always do so by clicking stats in the upper right hand corner of the page when you’re logged in, and then going to the “Points and Rewards” tab.

A few updates you might be interested in.

First, if you like discounted digital SAT prep books, then you’re in luck! For the next week—11/17 through 11/24—there will be crazy promotional prices on the digital versions of the Math Guide and Essay Guide. (Why? No particular reason—it’s just something I figured out how to do, so I’m doing it.) Anyway, for the entire week, the Math Guide will cost $1.99, down from $13.99. The Essay Guide will be a “Kindle Countdown Deal,” which means it will start at $0.99 and gradually get more expensive until it gets back up to its normal price of $8.99.

I think the Math Guide deal works for the whole world, although I can only guarantee that it’s going to work in the US. The Essay Guide deal is only for US customers. This is all a function of the stores the books are in (Google Play and Kindle, respectively). If you’re outside the US and the discounts don’t work, well, I’m sorry. I can’t help. :/

Second, just for fun, I’m going to print a limited sticker run featuring the image at the top of this post, which an old friend made for me. If you’d be interested in a sticker, fill out the form below. The first 100 responses will get a 3.5″ square sticker in the mail. Sorry, international friends—this is only for folks in the US, (unless you want a sticker bad enough to pay for international postage.)

(Update 11/25/14: If you requested a sticker, you should get it in a few days.)

The-force-will-be-with-you-always-gif

First of all, I just want to wish those of you who are taking the May SAT tomorrow the very best of luck. Here’s hoping you PWN it into oblivion. If you’re looking for a few day-before-the-test things to read, here are some links:

qa searchSecond, I want to remind those of you who are regular users of the Q&A to search before you ask! On the day before the SAT I always get tons of questions, many of which have been answered before. Because the day before the SAT is also a pretty busy day for me in my regular tutoring role, it’s hard for me to get to them all—I’m  out for much of the day. So…yeah. If you’re submitting Q&A questions today, search before you ask. You might get your answer instantly instead of having to wait until late tonight!

hashl-be837a8d379ff168c9c2a9da17a69408Finally, I want to invite y’all to try this new thing I’m trying called #Learn (pronounced “hash learn”). I think it’s cool—it’s kinda like Twitter for SAT questions. I (and other tutors) can post questions, and you can attempt them, repost them, add your own solutions, etc. It’s in very limited Beta right now, so I only have a few invites. If you’re one of the first 25 people to click here and sign up, you’ll get into the Beta. I’m interested in what you think—whether you think it’s a cool tool I should make time to use every day, etc.

14408678325_p563GI’ve been getting a lot of questions in my email about the different membership levels available when you sign up as a member of this site, so I figured a short post might help clear some things up.

Changing levels

If you already own one or both of my books, or if you buy them, just forward me your receipt or some other proof of your purchase and I will email you a discount code to access the appropriate membership level for free. For example, if you buy the Essay Guide for your Kindle, just forward me the receipt you receive from Amazon, and I will send you back a discount code for Essay Guide Owners status.

If you’re currently signed up for a Free Membership and then get the books, you don’t have to lose your quiz stats. You can easily change levels without creating a new account. Simply click here (or click “Account” on the top right of the screen).

If you live in a place where you can’t purchase my books, and you would like to just purchase access to these features, you may do so. Please note, however, that you are not purchasing a book if you purchase an increased access level. For example, if you purchase Math Guide Owners access, you get access to those bonus features, not a book. I do not currently sell the books on this site; I only link to other sellers like Amazon and Google Play.

Privileges

For your reference, here’s the current rundown of what the different membership privileges actually are. I’ll keep adding to this list as the site matures. (Note: you can read and comment on blog posts without becoming a member of this site at all.)
 

Free membership

 

Essay Guide Owner

  • Everything included in Free membership, plus
  • Submit essays to be scored in the Essay Guide Owners Area
  • Read and comment on other peoples’ submitted essays
 

Math Guide Owner

 

 Full Subscriber

  • All of the above

 

One of the things that makes me puff up with pride when I think about everything PWN the SAT has become is that I’m able to donate 10% of the royalties I receive from book salesto charity. My favorite charity, where I send most of that money, is DonorsChoose.org. If you aren’t familiar, DonorsChoose.org is a site where public school teachers can post requests for classroom projects that need funding, and donors can choose—hence the name—which projects to support. You can read more about how it works here.

Anyway, at the end of every month I spend some time choosing classroom projects to donate to, and then I make some donations. You can see the kinds of projects I like, and classrooms I’ve previously supported, by clicking here. You can see some more awesome thank you notes like the one in this post in a Facebook gallery here.

But the point of this post is not just to brag—I’m posting because I want your help! I know many of you live near schools where teachers use DonorsChoose.org, and I bet some of you even attend schools where there are DonorsChoose.org projects that need funding. So I’m asking you to help me choose the projects I fund each month. All you need to do is go to DonorsChoose.org, find your favorite project, and copy/paste its URL in the form below. I won’t be able to donate to every single project that you suggest, but I will give to as many as I can.

Thanks. Seriously.

(If the form above isn’t loading or displaying properly, click here.)

Leah has been a loyal reader of PWNtheSAT.com for some time, and sent me this post the day after she took the November SAT. I like it! I think it touches on something many of you can relate to: the anxiety on the night before the SAT that you should be doing something even though that really great SAT tutor on the Internet told you that the best thing you can do for yourself is chill. At the very least, I figure a few of you might be consoled in these final hours leading up to the December test that you’re not the only one feeling “guilt from not feeling stressed and stress from not feeling guilt.” (I love that line.) But I’m writing too much. This was supposed to be a quick intro. Take it away, Leah.

It’s Friday (or Saturday) night. You’ve been prepping assiduously for the last few months. Tomorrow’s the big day, and you don’t know if you’re bored, excited, or scared. Probably all three. You’ve heard the test day tips time and time again. Wake up. Dress comfortably. Eat breakfast. Grab your pencils, calculator, ID, and ticket. Get out there and PWN that thing. Before you can get to the test itself, though, you still need to survive something equally, if not more, daunting: the night before, after you’ve eaten a nutritious dinner, packed what you need, and done everything else you can think of.

The thoughts eat you alive: What if my alarm doesn’t wake me? What if I do wake up but don’t remember all the obscure vocabulary words I felt the need to memorize? What if I do remember them and remember to do all I’ve learned but still don’t meet my goal score? Who will solace me when these what ifs inevitably become my reality? Remember, this is the night before. The odds are small that some comforting philosophical realization will find its way into your head in the mere hours you have left. You can’t beat them, whoever “they” are, but you can remember to control what you can control. For everything you can’t, there are distractions.

What happened to work for me, which is likely very different from what might happen to work for you, was finding some distraction at the intersection of having fun and prepping last minute. I knew that if I were to have pure fun I’d feel guilty and that if I were to study as though I hadn’t for the last few months I’d feel stressed. Watching SpongeBob left me feeling neither. I watched the episodes “Skill Crane” and “Band Geeks” and watched them critically, both easing and heightening my excitement. Were I to receive an essay prompt on the role of persistence in creating desired outcomes, which both episodes consider on an unexpectedly profound level, I would cite with ease not a pretentious novel but a children’s cartoon. If such an essay prompt never found my desk, that would be okay, too, because I had relaxed by watching a children’s cartoon.Of course, watching SpongeBob is not the only way to alleviate guilt from not feeling stressed and stress from not feeling guilt. There are other diversions completely unrelated to prep—though probably at least loosely related to fun—and these are yours and yours only. They could be anything from reading to talking to drawing to painting to I-don’t-know-what-else. You know you. Do what makes you you for a while, not what makes you a version of yourself that scores less than you’re capable of. And then go to sleep.

Leah scored a 2330 on the November SAT. She did indeed end up writing about SpongeBob in her essay.

I don’t know you, but I kinda know you. I know that, generally speaking, you’re a motivated kid. That’s why you’re sitting here reading a blog about the SAT. You know what you want and you’re trying to figure out how to get it. And you know that between you and your goal, there’s this test. Whether you consider it a stupid hoop you’re forced to jump through like a trained dog, or another interesting challenge in your young academic career doesn’t matter much. Either way, you want to do your best.

I also know that the SAT probably isn’t the first big challenge you’ve ever faced. You might be an athlete, or a musician. You might compete Quiz Bowl, or speech and debate. You might just be able to do this gross thing. And if you’re any good, it’s taken work to get that way. You might have been able to coast by on innate ability when you were a bit younger, but if you play a varsity sport, or compete on a regional or state level in any of those other activities, you and the people you compete with practice constantly.

You’re competing on a national level when you take the SAT. People from all over the country will contribute to your eventual percentile ranking. And then some of those same people will apply to the same schools as you. And I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that even if your friends are not doing so, many of those kids you’re competing against are taking the SAT very seriously.

You needn’t panic. But you should make it a point not to take days off. Even if you only have 10 minutes to study some vocab words, make sure you do a tiny bit of SAT work every single day. In the long run, those short practice sessions add up to serious practice time. Here are some little things you can do in under 30 minutes that, in the long run, might pay off big for you:

  • Learn 10 vocabulary words.
  • Read something written for adults, like a NY Times op ed, and discuss it with an adult. Focus on the writer’s argument, and how she makes it. For example, does she begin by telling you what the people she disagrees with think, or does she get right into her own beliefs? What rhetorical strategies does she employ to make her point?
  • Read the wikipedia page for a book you read a while back, or a historical event you’ve learned about in the past, and brush up on the details so that it might be a useful piece of evidence to cite on your essay.
  • Write a practice essay, and ask a teacher, parent, or friend to critique it for you. The 4 prompts from the most recent test administration can be found here.
  • Do one whole section of a practice test, and correct it. Note that the value of a practice section is realized in going over it later, so if all you have time for today is taking a section, make it a priority to go over that section in agonizing detail tomorrow.
  • Read a few posts on this one awesome SAT blog you know.
  • Try one of my diagnostic drills. They’re meant to help you identify weak areas and refer you to the concepts and techniques you should study to turn them into strengths!

Back when Hurricane Sandy pummeled the east coast, I offered to give people who donated to the Red Cross a free copy of my Math Guide. The offer generated a few bucks for charity, and I got to give away some books to people with generous hearts. I was pretty happy with how it worked.

I don’t spend a great deal of time talking about why I started this site because I don’t want to bore you, but a large part of my motivation was that I believe in a level playing field. I don’t think access to good test prep—a proxy for access to education in general—should be limited by geography or wealth. The Internet provides an opportunity to mitigate both barriers, and 2+ years and thousands of posts later, here we are.

But by the time students want or need access to good SAT prep, they’ve already completed the lion’s share of their primary education. I do SAT prep because that’s what I’m good at, but inequality in education spans all grade levels, and I’ve been thinking a lot about ways I can leverage this site to make a difference for students long before they start thinking about the SAT.

Last month, I decided that I’d start donating 10% of the royalties I receive from Math Guide sales to education-related charities. One charity I really like is DonorsChoose.org, because it lets me decide which classrooms to donate to. (I favor projects involving early math education in low-income public schools.) Today, I’ve decided to take things a step further.

If you (or your parents) donate $50 or more to a project on the PWN the SAT DonorsChoose.org Giving Page, I’ll give you a free copy of the Math Guide (US residents only). To participate, simply make your donation at the link above, then forward your receipt and your shipping address to mike@pwnthesat.com.

The January SAT marks the beginning of the year’s most frenzied test prep season. Seriously, between now and May, it gets real. Because so many will be ramping up their efforts in the coming weeks, I thought it’d be useful to put together a few thoughts on what not to do.

Bad Idea #1: Rapid-fire practice tests

This is one of the biggest mistakes kids make, and it can be a costly one, both in time and in study resources. It’s important to take practice tests in the course of your prep in the same way that it’s important to weigh yourself once in a while if you’re trying to lose weight—You need to see where you stand, but you’re not actually losing weight by weighing yourself. All the important stuff happens between weigh-ins.

If you spend too much time taking tests and not enough time reviewing those tests and learning new techniques and concepts to help you avoid making the same mistakes again, then you’re spinning your wheels. You’re also using up a lot of precious time, and if you really go overboard, you run the risk of running out of official College Board tests to take*.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of mine about how to take a practice test:

Do not simply grumble about your score and then take another test. Taking the test helps you build stamina, but reviewing the test is how you actually learn. A good rule of thumb is that you should take at least as long to review the test as it took you to take it in the first place. Go back and look at all your mistakes, and think them through until you’d be able to explain them to a total SAT neophyte.

Bad Idea #2: Heavy reliance on cool calculator tricks

Some of the more expensive calculators out there can solve algebraic equations for x. This is, admittedly, a pretty cool trick, but I’ve found that students with calculators like this tend to think it gives them a bigger advantage than it really does. And sometimes, that turns the calculator into a disadvantage.

If your calculator is on the College Board’s acceptable calculator list, that means the SAT folks don’t think it’s got too much firepower. This should tell you something.

The “solve” command is cool, but really, the SAT doesn’t ask you to simply solve algebraic equations for one variable all that often. Rather, it’ll ask you to solve for one variable in terms of another, or figure out which two algebraic expressions are equivalent to each other using some simple set of rules, like exponent rules, or factoring the difference of two squares.

Students with these high-octane calculators spend an inordinate amount of time trying to wrestle SAT algebra into a form that they can feed into their “solve” functions. If you find yourself doing that, then you might be using your calculator to your detriment.

SAT algebra is not generally time-consuming—do it by hand. Limit your calculator use to graphing the occasional function, and speeding up your arithmetic.

Bad Idea #3: Gimmicky testing strategies

I’ve heard them all. Start at the end of math sections section to give yourself more time on the hard questions.  Don’t read the reading passages. Always make up essay examples. Wait until you’re done with a section to bubble your answers. These are gimmicks, and whether or not you know someone who knows someone who did them and got a 2400, they’re bad ideas and they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’ll address them in turn.

Starting at the end of a math section is probably the worst of them all. Each question is worth the same amount of points. It follows from this that the hardest questions are the least important. If you start at the end and then have to rush through the easy questions (or don’t finish the easy questions) then you have cost yourself dearly.

It’s true that there are people who can answer reading comp questions without reading the passages and score really well, but here’s the part of the story you never hear: those people are preternaturally good standardized test takers and they’d do just as well or better if they did read the passage. They didn’t go from a 550 reading the passages to a 750 skipping them. They started at close to 800, and then found they could stay at 750 without reading the passages. If you’re trying to improve your reading score, don’t give up on reading the passages. That’s where all the answers are.

The same is true of people who get their jollies by making up essay examples and getting high scores. They’re great writers already! It’s not like they were writing crappy essays until they began making up examples. Fabrication is not the path to success—it’s a parlor trick for show-offs. You should only invent evidence to support your argument if you can come up with nothing else.

And to the last point about batch-bubbling. There is actually a major test prep provider that advocates it. In real life! So this might not just be something your bonehead friend came up with. Your bonehead friend might have actually been advised to do this. Anyway, here’s why it’s a terrible idea: not every proctor will give you regular time warnings, and you don’t want a surprise section end to result in an incomplete bubbling job. Proctors will not give you time at the end to go back and bubble things you didn’t have a chance to bubble during the section’s official time.

Bad Idea #4: Kitchen sink SAT prep

Hopefully you’re familiar with the phrase “everything but the kitchen sink.” I’m planning a longer post about this, but for now let’s just define “kitchen sink prep” as discursive, panicked prep that forgets how circumscribed the content of the SAT really is, and therefore involves a lot of studying of things that will never be (or are incredibly unlikely to be) useful on Test Day. The SAT does not test you on how many formulas you can memorize, or how many special cases you know. There are very few things you should try to remember that aren’t given to you in the beginning of every math section. (Things to memorize include Pythagorean triples, slope-intercept form of a line, the average table.) Don’t study for a test that you’re not actually going to take.

A quick example: I was asked a question recently about a very special case of a very rare form of question: an average speed question. There is a special formula that one could employ for a very particular kind of average speed question in which an object makes two trips of the same distance at different speeds. But it’s complicated and not intuitive, and it won’t help you solve the more general average speed question where the object travels different distances. Please note that I’m not saying this formula is never useful in life, and that it doesn’t have important implications for math outside the bounds of the SAT. I’m just saying its SAT prep value is dubious at best.

Average speed questions appear incredibly rarely on the SAT. (Despite this fact, most SAT prep books I’ve read really emphasize them, stressing their readers out for no good reason.) All you need to remember is this: [average speed] = [total distance traveled]/[total travel time]. Simple to remember, and easy to deploy. To memorize anything else is to misallocate your energies.

Bad Idea #4a: Vocabulary obsession

This is a common enough manifestation of kitchen sink prep that it deserves its own heading. Vocabulary is important, and if you want a high Critical Reading score and you don’t already have a prodigious vocabulary you’ll need to study some. But don’t go overboard. You don’t need to learn thousands of words. Here’s the most important excerpt from a longer post I’ve written on this topic.

I’ve spoken with too many kids lately who seem hell-bent on memorizing all the words in Barron’s 3500 Word Black Hole From Which No Light Escapes, and it breaks my heart. If you do that, you will memorize literally thousands of words you won’t need for the SAT, and you’ll use valuable time doing so that would be better spent practicing your reading comprehension, writing practice essays, drilling circle questions, or trying to count the number of hairs on your head.

Quality is far more important than quantity where SAT vocab is concerned. Rather than go nuts on vocab, learn a reasonable number of words from a well-curated list. The Direct Hits books (Volume 1, Volume 2) are great for that.

Bad Idea #5: Single-mindedness

Finally, don’t forget that the SAT is only one aspect of the college admissions process. A great score won’t guarantee you admission anywhere, and a score 20 points lower than a school’s middle 50% won’t necessarily keep you out. I obviously think SAT prep is important enough to have created this site and written an absurd amount about it, but sometimes I see people take it too far, at the expense of other important things.

If you ask me, this is probably because SAT scores are numbers, and other important things are less easy to quantify. It’s the same reason people chase money when they really crave happiness—money can be counted.

Don’t quit your varsity sport to study for the SAT. Don’t quit the school musical. Stay well-rounded. Being well-rounded matters.

* It’s hard to run out of College Board tests if you do prep the right way. There are 10 in the Blue Book (11 if you get the DVD version), 9 in the Online Course, and 4 more available for free download.

If you’ve ever chalked up a math error to “carelessness”(and let’s be honest—you have) then this post is for you. So often do I see students blame their mistakes on “carelessness,” in fact, that the poor word has lost its meaning in an SAT context. This post is an effort to restore its dignity.

Carelessness, in my experience, can mean one (or more than one) of the following:

  • Misreading the question
  • Misbubbling the answer
  • Arithmetic or simple algebra errors
  • Self-delusion

To avoid misreading the question, always give the question one final read before you bubble your answer to make sure you found the answer the test is actually asking for.

To avoid misbubbling, bubble sedulously, and then double check your bubbling. You should check once as you’re bubbling, and then if you have time at the end of a section, go back through and make sure your answer sheet reflects the answers you’ve circled in your test booklet. This, by the way, is one great reason to actually use bubble sheets when you take practice tests. Because everyone misbubbles once in a great while, and if it happens to you during a practice test, you’ll be that much more likely to be careful on the real thing.

As anyone who’s ever taken a math test knows, it’s very difficult to avoid the occasional arithmetic or algebra error. Sometimes, the mind meanders. It’s also, unfortunately, very difficult to catch an error when you go back and look over your work. You can be staring right at 10 ÷ 5 = 5, but if you just wrote it 2 minutes earlier, you might not see what’s wrong with it. So to avoid bungling your simple calculations, do the following:

  • Check simple arithmetic on your calculator. I know you’ve done 6 × 7 in your head a million times correctly. Just make sure.
  • Try to do as many problems as you can multiple ways. If you arrive at the same answer with algebra as you did by plugging in, you can be doubly sure you’re right. Of course, you’ll need to find a healthy, comfortable balance here between caution and speed. Pro-tip: it’s usually not a good idea to sacrifice accuracy for speed. Favor caution.

As for self-delusion, this is the toughest one to fix, because it’s denial of a problem. Many students brush off every question they miss: “Oh, that was easy. Careless mistake!” This is a natural reaction—a good solution can look really obvious once it’s laid out in front of you, especially by a good teacher.

But if this sounds like you, know that you do yourself a disservice when you assume that, since a solution is obvious once someone else shows you how to do it, a similar solution will be obvious to you next time you see a similar question. By characterizing a mistake as “careless,” you tell yourself you don’t need to learn anything new about questions like the one you missed. And if that’s not true, then that question type will keep forcing you to make “careless” errors until you address your underlying knowledge gap. It’s OK not to know how to do something, and admitting that you need to learn is the first step towards doing so.

To be safe, try never to characterize a mistake as “careless” unless you’ve got a demonstrable history of cutting through similar questions like butter. Don’t even let the word “careless” enter your vocabulary until you’ve done 4 or 5 practice tests.

okayguy

Early on a weekend morning?
All in one sitting?
Okay.

Practice tests are a necessary element of any SAT prep plan. The test itself is a harrowing and protracted experience, and if you haven’t put yourself through rigorous simulations a few times before you sit down for the real thing, you’ll be at a real disadvantage.

(Click here for links to free official practice tests.)

It’s important to note, though, that although practice tests are an important part of the prep experience, if you only take practice tests and do little else, your scores aren’t likely to improve much. Practice tests are, as students of philosophy are wont to say, necessary but not sufficient. But you knew that already.

Anyway, here’s how you take one. First, drag your lazy bones out of bed early on a weekend morning. Set your alarm to go off early enough that you’ll have time to eat breakfast, take a shower, and be fully alert by about 8:30, when you should start testing.

Your bedroom isn’t the worst place to practice, but if possible, get yourself to a public place that you can expect to be fairly quiet, but that will have some ambient noise—a public library is perfect. Part of the SAT experience is the fact that someone next to you might have the sniffles, or the hiccups, or…worse. A few minor distractions during your practice tests will help you to be better prepared when something noisy or smelly happens on test day.

Take the whole test in one sitting*. Yes, even the essay. And for Pete’s sake, actually bubble your answers on the bubble sheet, rather than just circling them in your book. Bubbling actually takes time, and if you’re shooting for accurate simulation, you should account for that time. As you work, make sure to circle any question you’re uncertain about on your answer sheet. That way, even if you get it right, you’ll remember that it’s something you should revisit.

No finishing early and moving on to the next section. If the section’s supposed to take 25 minutes, you work on it for 25 minutes Give yourself a 5-minute break after the 2nd section, the 4th section, and the 6th section. No finishing early and moving on to the next section.

Score that bad boy up. This might seem simple, but it’s actually a pretty important part of prepping for the SAT—to do as well as possible you need intimate knowledge of how the test is scored. Blue Book tests have a worksheet at the end to teach you how to do this.

Keep a record of all the questions you miss, or guess on and get right. Do your best to categorize them, so you can keep a tally of how many verb agreement mistakes you made, or how many right triangle questions stumped you. This way, each time you take a practice test you’ll be building a database of your weak areas, which you can then use to focus your prep.

Do not simply grumble about your score and then take another test. Taking the test helps you build stamina, but reviewing the test is how you actually learn. A good rule of thumb is that you should take at least as long to review the test as it took you to take it in the first place. Go back and look at all your mistakes, and think them through until you’d be able to explain them to a total SAT neophyte. If there are any questions that, despite your best efforts at review, you still don’t understand, ask someone for help.

* If you really want to go H.A.M., find an extra 25-minute section from another test (maybe your old PSAT practice book or something) to use to simulate the experimental section that all Blue Book tests are missing. So if, like Blue Book Test 1, your test is missing Section 4, give yourself an extra section to do between the Section 3 and Section 5.

The second edition of the Math Guide is now, at long last, available. To commemorate its release, I’ve got a pretty cool idea for a contest: We’re going to have a race to see whose high school PWNs the hardest.

Here’s the deal

The first high school that’s able to rally 25 students to fill out the form below wins, and ALL 25 of those entrants will receive a free copy of the book. Other schools that make respectable showings will get discount codes (see rules below). If you want to win, you’ll need to enlist your friends (or frenemies, or whatever).

You’re going to need your high school’s CEEB code (the same 6-digit code you need to register for the SAT—look it up here). I’m going to use CEEB codes to track how many entrants each school has.


UPDATE: WOW. That was fast. I was expecting this to go on for a few days but one school in California had 25 entries in under 1 hour! I seriously in my wildest dreams didn’t think this contest would be over so quickly. Thanks for your enthusiasm, guys!

I’ll be in touch with everybody soon about prizes. Watch your email.

Full contest rules

All the usual contest rules apply, but I need to add a few more.

  • When the contest is over, I will announce it on this page. I will also be in touch with winners via email to coordinate shipping of the books.
  • The contest ends when the first school hits 25 entrants. Since I can’t monitor this every second, the form will probably remain available for a while after the contest ends.
  • If you’re the 26th person from the winning school, that stinks! If one of the winners doesn’t respond to my email after a week, though, then I’ll send you their book. Otherwise, you’ll get a 50% off discount code.
  • You must provide a valid email address that you check regularly. If I email you to tell you that you won, and you don’t respond after 1 week, I’ll give your book to someone else.
  • You cannot enter on your friends’ behalf. They’ve gotta do it themselves.
  • Honorable mentions:
    • If a school has between 5 and 9 entries (inclusive) when the winning school hits 25, entrants from that school will receive a discount code (valid for 2 weeks) to buy the book for 33% off.
    • If a school has 10 or more entries when the winning school hits 25, entrants from that school will receive a discount code (valid for 2 weeks) to buy the book for 50% off.

First of all, I know a bunch of people got their December SAT scores back this morning. If you’re one of them, here’s to hoping they’ve made you jolly!

For the next 10 days, I’m going to give away one Math Guide a day by random drawing. To enter, just fill out the form below (or click here to open the form in a new window).

Yeah. It really is that simple.

This giveaway is now over, but stay tuned for more opportunities to win copies of the Math Guide in the New Year!

My apartment is thankfully unscathed, but my city took a beating yesterday, and the town I grew up in is 100% without power. I hope, if you live in Sandy’s path, that you and your family are doing well. But of course, not everyone is, and some people have lost a whole lot.

I will send a free Math Guide to the first 32 people (US residents only) who donate $31.42 or more to the Red Cross after reading this post.

To get your free book, you must follow these directions EXACTLY:
  1. Go to the Red Cross donation page
  2. Donate $31.42 or more
  3. Check the box next to “Make This Donation In Honor Of” and type whatever you want in the box below. You could make it “in honor of” PWN the SAT if you want, but you could also make it in honor of your grandmother. The important thing is that you generate an E-Card. Keep reading.
  4. Select E-Card
  5. In the Recipient Email Addresses box, type “mike@pwnthesat.com”
  6. In the E-Card Subject box, type “MATH GUIDE”
  7. In the E-Card Message box, type your COMPLETE mailing address (and if you want confirmation that I got your E-Card, your email address)
  8. In the Send E-Card On box, enter today’s date
  9. Complete the transaction by entering your billing info and stuff
  10. Feel good about helping others, and enjoy your Math Guide!

Please note that I’m doing this because I think it’d be really cool for us to generate more than $1,000 in relief funds. I am not doing this because I want to take on a whole bunch of administrative work. I’ve spelled out the directions pretty clearly here, so please follow them closely.

Once I get 32 emails (if I get 32 emails) I’ll update this post to let you know that I’m done giving away books, but it’s still a really nice thing to do to give money to charity, even if I can’t reward you for it directly.