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SAT Reading and Writing Test Day Cheat Sheet

For anyone who has spent time preparing for the SAT, or even just cracked open a prep book a week before the test, it almost goes without saying that all the preparation in the world isn’t enough to completely extinguish test-day jitters, especially when it comes to the SAT Reading and Writing sections. Of course, you should trust your instincts, your work ethic, and your hours of practice. But still, you ask, what if all this fails? What’s plan b? For one, relax. But also! Remember these tips. . . .

What I am providing you are distillations of the advice we give students in our SAT Critical Reading, Writing, and Essay classes. This is not to say that you can read this list of advice and be prepared to walk out of the test room with a perfect score, but if you are feeling frazzled and don’t know how to collect your thoughts, then these little nuggets should come in handy.

SAT Reading Test Day Cheat Sheet

  • Read the passage FIRST to get the general idea and tone (~3 minutes MAX).

  • Immediately cross out any answers that include even ONE WORD that makes it wrong.

  • Read AT LEAST one sentence before and one sentence after when solving any line reference question.

  • Treat all questions as having ONE PARAGRAPH that justifies the answer, even if they have no line reference.

  • Look for evidence/justification of a question in part of passage based on question # (questions are in chronological order of passage content).

  • Think of your own answer to a question before reading the actual answers, especially for the vocab questions.

  • Use the author’s main idea and tone to narrow down to the correct answer.

  • Circle questions that take longer than a minute to solve and return to them later while still answering questions in that passage.

  • Take at least 30 seconds to 1 minute to digest the information in a graphic; these questions should be easy if you don’t rush! (This is the one time when slowing down, slightly, is really important.)

  • When in doubt, go for the least extreme, least specific answer.

  • When in doubt, go for the literal, superficial, and maybe “too obvious” answer.

  • Don’t change an answer unless you have a concrete reason as to why another answer is MORE CORRECT.

SAT Writing Test Day Cheat Sheet

  • For grammar questions, the shortest answer is USUALLY the best.

  • For verb questions, cross out phrases or clauses between subject and verb (assume College Board is trying to trick you into connecting the wrong noun with the verb).

  • For pronoun questions, if a regular noun is an answer choice, that probably is the right answer (SAT likes clarifying ambiguous pronouns).

  • For comparison questions, make sure both sides of the comparison are matching.

  • For parallelism questions, make sure all items in the list or parallel parts of the sentence are matching.

  • For comma questions, don’t add commas for “pauses” unless there is a concrete rule (this usually means you DON’T NEED commas to separate prepositional phrases).

  • For other punctuation, remember . . .

    • Dashes = super commas + colons.

    • Semicolons = periods.

    • Colons require a sentence before (like a period) and then anything can come after them, including a full sentence, a phrase, or a word.

  • For paragraph questions, find OBVIOUS, LITERAL word links between topic sentences and support sentences when adding either or rearranging order.

  • For transition questions, if two answers mean the same general relationship (support, contrast, or cause/effect), then both are incorrect and you should look elsewhere.

SAT Essay Test Day Cheat Sheet

  • The SAT gives you the article’s thesis at the end in the prompt box; read this BEFORE reading the article.

  • Choose three obvious methods of persuasion from the article as your three body paragraphs and quickly move on to writing the essay. (Example: emotionally charged diction, eye-catching statistics, and a personal anecdote.)

  • Don’t say the author uses “pathos, logos, and ethos” in your thesis; instead, say what LITERAL things the author does/says/uses in the article that relate to these appeals.

  • Include more analysis than evidence in your body paragraphs; think of it as a 3-1 ratio of 3 sentences of analysis for each 1 sentence of evidence/quoting/paraphrasing article.

  • Write at least 2 pages or ~500 words.

  • Write short introductions and conclusions and devote most time/space to long body paragraphs.

  • When in doubt, keep writing, even if it doesn’t sound perfect; words on the page are much more likely to get a higher score than ZERO words.

Okay, are you feeling pumped? Scared? Somewhere in between? Well, that’s understandable. Just remember, solve one question at a time, and if you get stuck, that doesn’t mean the entire test is over. In fact, the SAT is not ordered like other tests from easy to hard, so you will definitely find easier questions after hard ones. Just keep things light and simple, and with the right preparation, you should be fine -- don’t overthink and second guess yourself!

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Need some last-minute advice on how to prepare for the upcoming November SAT? Planning on taking the December SAT later this year, or maybe hoping to work on long-term preparation? We have you covered with different kinds of SAT test prep, including 1-1 tutoring, CRAM classes, semester-long classes, and winter break classes. Check out our schedules or set up a FREE consultation with one of our directors!


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