Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    International Office Director

Real SAT Stories: Second Guessing on the SAT

Karl Schellscheidt

eprep test prep video Preparing for the SAT requires practice and practice tests should always be completed under “simulated” conditions. It’s not enough to merely master the subject material given the number of extraneous variables at work on test day. In previous posts on ePrep, I’ve discussed the need to simulate the test environment by practicing at your kitchen table or high school desk instead of while lying on your bed. I’ve noted how the noise, temperature, and other distractions within your SAT test classroom are outside of your control. The devil is in the details. Join me in this Real SAT Story as I relate how allowing too much time for second guessing proved to be the undoing of a former student.

Simulate Conditions Completely (transcript)

I want to share a story with you about a girl who I tutored years ago, back when the SAT only had two parts: a math and a verbal. I got a call from the girl’s mother saying, “My child is doing really well in school. She is a straight A student but her SAT scores don’t reflect how well she does in school. Her SAT scores are surprisingly low. Can you meet with her and tell us what you think?”

I agreed to meet with the girl. I started our session the way I begin every session — I sat her down with the College Board practice book and said “I am going to give you exactly thirty minutes. Do the best you can.” I left the room and returned exactly thirty minutes later. Upon my return, I asked her how it went. She said, “I think I did pretty well.” I looked at her materials and quickly realized that she had filled in two of the answer keys. Puzzled, I said “I don’t understand what’s going on here.” She said “I finished the first test so fast that I just went on to the next test and I did two full half-an-hour tests in the half-an-hour you gave me.” I thought, “wow!” that is pretty impressive; she managed to finish two tests in one half-hour period.

We checked all of her answers. She had skipped only a couple out of the roughly forty questions; every one she answered was correct. I was shocked and said, “That’s really amazing. You did a great job.” I smiled and said, “I have no idea what your mom is talking about. She told me that your SAT’s don’t seem to reflect your grades in school.”

We kept practicing nonetheless; her mother insisted. Week after week it went on — I would give her thirty minutes and she would complete two full practice sections. No joke, the girl didn’t get one question wrong during the six weeks we worked together. Occasionally there were one or two questions that she skipped over and we went over those and straightened out what the issues were. I had a conversation with her mother right before the girl went in to take the SAT’s and I said “I believe she is going to do well; I view her more as a colleague than I do as a student.

The girl went in and tried her best and I got a call from them a few weeks after when she had got the results back and she scored four hundred points lower than we thought she would. We were expecting a sixteen hundred and I think her score was some place in the twelve hundreds. I couldn’t figure out why she did so poorly after having practiced with the college boards tests under what I thought were simulated conditions. I thought about it for a while and I said “You know the one thing that I didn’t do was hold her to the time.” When you go into a real SAT if there is twenty-five or thirty-five minutes for a section you have to take the full minutes; you can’t just move on to the next section when you are done.

I thought to myself maybe the fact that I kept letting her go to the next section and go on her own pace was the thing that undone her in the end. What I did was I agreed to tutor her a few more times before the next test and I held her to the time. I said to her “You need to get used to taking a full half-an-hour for a test so if you finish in twelve or fourteen minutes stop when you are done; you need to sit here and wait for the full thirty minutes.” I had suspected that she would finish the test in twelve minutes on the real test and then have fifteen or so minutes with nothing to do. I think what she wound up doing during that time was going back and re-thinking things and changing answers and just messing up the whole test.

I held her to the time and I said “You need to find a way to deal with finishing your test early whether it’s putting your head down or you reviewing; whatever you want to do let’s find a way to get this done. What she wound up doing is putting her head down and relaxing with the time she had left over (not going back as she had done on the real test day and essentially messing up the test for herself.) We practiced for a few weeks and she went in and got in the fifteen hundreds which is a score that I expected. I was hoping for a sixteen hundred which would have been a perfect score at the time but she scored pretty close to it.

The moral of the story is when you are preparing for the SAT’s you want to take practice tests under simulated conditions. What that means for most people is stopping yourself when your time is up because I think that most of us would like to have a few extra minutes. But if you are one of those people out there who can work incredibly quickly and get through the test in half the time you also need to give yourself the full amount of time. Learn how to deal with that amount of time so when you get in there on test day you’ve learned how to deal with that time and you don’t wind up doing stuff that will mess up your score. Hopefully this story will help you out and help you maximize your SAT score.

Karl Schellscheidt
ePrep, Inc.

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