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How to Prepare for the SAT English Exam

Updated on April 30, 2012
Is this how you feel about the SAT?
Is this how you feel about the SAT? | Source

Have you taken the SAT yet?

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Are you feeling nervous about taking the SAT English exam? Do you fear the vocabulary section like you fear the unexpected zit on the day of your prom?

As if the stress from your normal school course load isn't enough, now you have to prepare for the SAT English exam, also known as the Critical Reading Section.

As a former SAT instructor and tutor, I can attest that the SAT English exam is really not that hard to prepare for. The test is not meant to be tricky! While it may seem impossible to completely feel prepared for a test that is more unpredictable than Justin Bieber's next hit single, you just have to know what to focus on and how to take the test!

After a quick review from me, and a LOT of effort from you, the English SAT will soon be nothing but another personal victory.

So don't have a panic attack just yet! Take a deep breath and let's start planning this test. You're going to do a great job!

First of all, I'm not here to teach you how to write or explain some vocabulary words to you. I'm definitely not going to tell you what's on the test either! That's what the Dictionary app on your smartphone is for! Instead, I'm going to walk you through some important test taking skills. Skills that you are going to use as a weapon to arm yourself with when you're sitting in front of the most important test of your high school life.

Since the English SAT is the least coach-able subject (compared to math), don't expect to have your parents fork out a thousand dollars from test prep courses and miraculously ace the SAT exam. The SAT instructors are paid to coach, motivate, and show you HOW to take the test, not show you what's on the test!

What does the SAT test?

The SAT doesn’t test logic or abstract reasoning. The questions on the SAT requires you to be at a level where you will have a good chance of success with the university classes.

Recommended SAT Books for More Help!

What is being tested on SAT English?

In order to prepare for the SAT Reasoning, you need to know what's being tested and how the scores are calculated. Would you go on a blind date with someone that your friend is setting you up with? Probably not. You would want to learn everything about that person, right? Right.

The SAT is divided into ten sections, each of which tests one of three subject skills: Critical Reading, Mathematics or Writing.

Critical Reading is comprised of sentence completions, and questions about reading passages.

  • Sentence completions generally test the your vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure and organization by requiring you to select one or two words that best complete a given sentence. Note: These questions go in the order of difficulty.
  • The majority of the questions on critical reading requires you to read passages on excerpts on humanities, physical sciences, or personal narratives and answer questions based on the passage. You may also have to compare two related passages. Note: Questions DO NOT go in the order of difficulty.

Experimental Section

Every SAT also contains a 25-minute "experimental" section that may be in any of the three major subject areas. The experimental section is used for future administrations of the SAT and does not count toward the final score, but is impossible to distinguish from the graded sections of the exam.


How to Study for Critical Reading Section

It's all about the Vocabulary!

You will encounter vocabulary words that you've never seen before. How would it be possible to memorize hundreds, if not thousands of vocabulary words in several months?

  • You have got to learn the common prefixes and suffixes! This is important for several reasons. Most of the English words can be understood in context without an exact definition. By studying the most prominent prefixes, roots, and suffixes, you can really build a large vocabulary. Second, you can make an educated guess if you've never seen the word before. It can help you decipher new words based on the word parts.
  • In order to increase your vocabulary, you need to read as much as you can. If you have been reading habitually throughout high school, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. However if you are not a good reader or if English is your second language, you might want to brush up in learning as much vocabulary words as possible.
  • Start studying the vocabulary words that are available in Test Prep books from Kaplan or Princeton reviews, or from sample old tests. Many words are recycled throughout the years, so the more practice vocabulary words that you familiarize yourself with, the better off you will be!

Important Website

SAT College Board

  • Register for your test online. You can access your scores online for FREE after the test.
  • Free sample tests
  • Learn more about the test
  • Important phone numbers and registration fees

How to Score Higher on the Sentence Completion

Each question has one or two blanks, and you have to fit the right word in to make a complete sentence that flows. The following is a strategic sequence you should take when answering these type of questions.

  1. Read the sentence and understand it.
  2. Then put in your own words to complete the sentence.
  3. After that, look at the multiple choice and find a similar word.
  4. Reread it again to make sure it flows.
  5. You can also eliminate the words that you know for sure will not make sense.

How to Prepare for Reading Passage

Reading comprehension (Critical reading) tests your critical reading skills. You will need to be able to answer questions based on the information given in a reading passage.

The reading comprehension subject is least coach-able for SAT tutors. It's not like they can provide an equation for you to simply plug in. However, there is a technique to reading better, analyzing question stems/ answer choices, and researching the passage better.

Active reading during SAT test

More study tips on SAT English

  • Process of Elimination. This is one of the oldest tips in the book, but it works! It's easier to cross off the answers that you know are wrong.
  • Answer only if you can. Since you are penalized ¼ point when you get an answer wrong on the SAT test, do not answer a question unless you can use a process of elimination to get rid of a few choice.
  • Go with your first choice. Don't second guess yourself. The right answer is usually the the first one that you chose based on your instinct.

Start studying if you want to improve your SAT score!
Start studying if you want to improve your SAT score! | Source

To improve your score, keep in mind that the the answers are all in the passage. The people who write the SAT tests are not trying to trick you! You just need to dissect what you've just read and find the answers. Here are tips to improving your score:

  • Upon reading the passage you need to identify the main idea and understand author's tone.
  • As you read, make mental or written notes of the critical points in each paragraph. Yes, you can write on the test booklet.
  • Improving your speed reading skills will help your score too, but it's best to understand the passage rather ten skimming through it.
  • Do not skim. Some tutors will give you the advice of skimming the passages. This might work if you want an average score. But you want a high score right? The majority of the questions will rely on your ability to see the whole picture.
  • The questions are in chronological order. Some questions require you to go to a specific line from the passage. I tell my students to go backwards and read the questions first to get the gist what is being asked. Then read the passage, write brief notes, and answer the questions.
  • Learn how to read actively. Take a minute to watch the video on the side. This is not an easy skill to develop, but with practice, you can improve your ability to read actively.
  • Practice, practice, and practice! There are plenty of practice tests out there!

There aren't any miracle short cuts that you can take. You have to put the time and effort in to doing these practice tests! I cannot stress this hard enough!

A lot of my previous students complained that the reason they have a hard time studying the sample passages is because they're boring. Really? Reality check! Not every single course in college is going to be as interesting as you think. You're still going to have to fulfill their writing and English requirement. Even as a science major, I had to suffer through 5 quarters of Humanities, one of the toughest writing series in the state. You thought Shakespeare was hard to decipher? We had to write long papers on the entire bible.

My point is, you need to change your attitude and just do as many practice tests as possible. You'll feel smarter with each accomplishment, and you'll improve your scores drastically!

After reading this article, do you feel more confident?

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Wrapping it up!

Now that you've learned some of the studying tips and methods to prepare for the SAT English exam, get to work! Stay motivated by studying with a friend. In fact, forward this article to your study partners. You will do a great job! Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or leave a comment below!


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    • Turtlewoman profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Lam 

      7 years ago from California

      I wish your daughter the best of luck! Thank you for voting!

    • stayingalivemoma profile image

      Valerie Washington 

      7 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

      My daughter is preparing for this right now as she is a senior in high school. Bookmarked and voted up all the way!!

    • Turtlewoman profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Lam 

      7 years ago from California

      Hi Vinaya, thanks for sharing information about your country's education requirements. The SAT is a strict requirement here in the US. There are actually different versions now.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      I have not attended SAT exam because it is not mandatory in my country. But when a student wants to apply for an American Education, he/she is required to sit for the test. Lots of students in my country take SAT exams.

      This is a wonderful guide for the college students.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub, lots of useful information. Thanks for the free site you mentioned.

    • alliemacb profile image


      7 years ago from Scotland

      Great hub. Full of useful advice on tackling the exam. Voted up and useful.


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