Crush the SAT with these Brain Hacks

Crush the SAT
Crush the SAT
Jeff Ward

Jeff Ward

Principal Engineer, Woot Tutor & Woot Math

Crush the SAT with these Brain Hacks

Are you taking the SAT this summer? Are you worried about test anxiety? Or time management? Maybe you’re looking for tips for test taking? The good news is, you’re already armed with the most important weapon for success – your brain! You knew that, of course, but do you know why that is, and how you can best use it?
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Let Your Brain Work Its Magic

What’s the first thing you should do when presented with an SAT math question? Especially those long word problems. You may have heard some tips that suggest reading the answers first, or reading the last line of the question, or underlining key information in the question. All those things can be helpful, but be careful. You can easily get confused by focusing on one piece of information too quickly, without the context of the whole problem.

Before you jump into details, take just one second and glance over the whole problem. Glance at the answers. What is this problem looking for? A number? An equation? A longer sentence (don’t read them yet!) Glance at the figure. What information does it provide? A linear graph? A geometric figure? A table of data?

In that moment, your brain is instinctively gathering high-level clues, building the critical context to shape your thinking. This works because your brain is hard-wired to quickly recognize past experiences, preparing you for the task at hand. With these bits of context in your mind, go ahead and read the problem through, carefully and attentively. Feel free to mark important information or keywords along the way.

When you take time to glance at a problem, you are better equipped to recognize what’s important.

Achilles' Heel

Your Brain’s Achilles’ Heel

The enemy to your brain’s natural functioning is stress. During the SAT, you might be stressed if you feel like you aren’t ready, that time is running out, or start doubting your answers. You might be afraid that you aren’t going to get a certain score.

You start to sweat. You stop being able to focus. AHHH!

We’ve all been there, and it’s a terrible feeling. Stress shuts down your critical thinking and reasoning, and engages your fight-or-flight response. The more you focus on that anxiety, the more your brain shuts down. Having those thoughts is normal; you’re not alone.

The key is to recognize your doubts and fears, take a deep breath, and choose to shift your thinking to focus on the positive.


Your Secret Weapon: Confidence

The opposite of stress is that calm, cool confidence that comes from being prepared. The assurance of knowing you’re ready. The little voice that says, “You are going to crush this test!”
In fact, you are going to crush it! How do I know? Because you’re preparing right now! And think of this – you’ve been preparing in school for over 10 years! That’s thousands of hours across dozens of math topics. Your brain has a literal treasure trove of past experiences to build on.

Do you feel the confidence growing? You should! You’ve come a long way.

The preparation that you are doing right now is gold. Repeat after me, “Goodbye, stress. I am going to be ready, and I’m going to crush the SAT.”

The confidence that comes from being prepared – from doing the work to get ready – is gold.


Preparing for the SAT Math Test

One great way to prepare for the math SAT is to review the College Board website (the authors of the SAT.) They provide a sample math exam which is an ideal way to learn what to expect.

For example, the site shows the standard crib sheet that is provided during the SAT:

SAT Equation Reference

Awesome, that’s a dozen things you don’t need to memorize! They also note that some questions require fraction and decimal answer input, giving a few examples of each:

SAT Number Input Form

Simply knowing what to expect reduces the surprises and stress on test day.

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Don’t Go It Alone: SAT Bootcamp

It can be overwhelming to prepare for the SAT on your own. That is why Woot Tutor created an intensive, 4 week SAT Bootcamp. The course focuses on the math portion of the SAT. It provides live tutoring with an expert and feedback on daily math practice.

Your instructor will help you build your confidence, reviewing typical types of problems and brushing up on concepts that you might have forgotten. The course culminates with a full practice test and a 1-on-1 personalized plan for success. Since our tutoring platform is entirely online, it’s convenient and affordable. You can get the preparation you need right from your home!

If you’re taking the SAT this summer, sign up now for our Spring 2020 bootcamp!

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15 Tips for SAT TEST DAY

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Tom Fischaber

Tom Fischaber

VP Operations, Woot Tutor

15 Tips for SAT TEST DAY

The big day is here. It is normal at this point to have a flurry of emotions. You might be feeling nervous, excited, anxious, overwhelmed, or even afraid. The best way to deal with nerves is to have a plan. Here are 15 things to help ensure you are your best on test day.

Take care of yourself before the test

Try to rest and relax and get up at your normal time, if you can.
Get a little exercise if you can – to help you manage stress and promote a calm and clear mind.


Eat a healthy breakfast

Your brain burns a lot of energy when you are working it hard, so make sure it is fueled up for the test. Also make sure you have had enough to drink, including caffeine if you normally drink caffeine, but maybe a little less than usual since you may be feeling nervous.


Be calm and confident

You got this!

This is easier said than done, but try to stay calm and confident and avoid anxious thoughts. You’re ready for this!


Pack and arrive early

Gather your things that you have packed the night before.

See Day Before the Test and packing list, here. Plan to arrive at the test site early. Remember to leave your cell phone at home. It is not allowed at the test site. No smart-watches, or mp3 players or anything else of the sort! Also no colored pens or highlighters.


Answer the easy questions first

Answer all the questions that are easy, and then return to ones you marked as hard. Every question on the SAT is worth the same amount. You do not receive extra points for more difficult questions. When you get to a question that is hard:

  • Mark any answers you know or think are wrong
  • Circle it to come back to later, and mark it as (H) hard
  • Move to the next question.

Getting to questions that you know how to do will boost your confidence, and help you get into a groove.

guess aggressively

Guess aggressively

The SAT does not penalize you for wrong answers, which means you should answer every question in every single section, even if it means randomly filling in bubbles at the end of the test. Be sure to budget your time to allow for guessing.

Guessing won’t hurt your score. In fact, if you leave blank bubbles on your SAT answer sheet, you are throwing away potential points. See our article on strategies for guessing.

process of elimination

Use the process of elimination

Rule out any answer that you know can’t be correct. Mark them out in your booklet. And if an answer seems less likely to you, make a note about that, too.

The SAT has only one correct answer for each question. You should be able to eliminate all the others. Even if you can only eliminate one possible answer, it will increase your chance of guessing the correct answer.

If you’re struggling with a question, try to figure out what answers can’t work rather than focusing on what answers can.

be neat

Be neat

Make sure you fill in the bubbles clearly and that they line up with the correct question.

Seriously. It pays to be careful and tidy. A machine is grading your answers. If you have stray marks or accidently get off by a number, you might get questions wrong that you answered correctly.


Budget your time

It’s easy to lose track of time so make sure to pay attention to how much time is allotted for each section, and how much time you have remaining. Ideally, you pace yourself so that you can:

1st ⇒ Answer easy questions
2nd ⇒ Answer hard questions, eliminate any wrong answers and then guess from remaining options
3rd ⇒ Check your work. Everyone makes careless mistakes.

first guess

Your first take is usually correct

Don’t change an answer unless you’re certain you’ve made an error.

take notes

Markup your test book

Write it in, mark it up, cross out answers that you know are wrong, and do scratch work on it. While you will want to be neat on the answer grid, you do not have to be neat in your test book.


Bring a watch

Don’t forget to bring your own watch to the testing center. There isn’t always a clock at the testing center that you can see.

Check your work

Check your work

When you have time at the end of a section, go back and check your answers. You will be tired, but do it anyway. Seriously. It is super easy to make careless mistakes, and the only way to catch them is to review your work.

One section at a time

One section at a time

The SAT is a series of short sections. Stay focused on the section you are working on.


Put your pencil down

It can be hard to relax during a big test. One thing that works for me when I start feeling anxious, is to do a mini meditation.

Stop. Put your pencil down. Close your eyes.
Take several deep breaths.
Imagine you are in a favorite, relaxing place, maybe the beach, with no worries in the world.
Focus only on breathing for 30 seconds.
Shake out your arms. Relax your shoulders.

After a mini meditation, you should feel more relaxed and able to focus.


What’s Next

After the test, it is helpful to know that you can cancel your score. If something does go wrong, there is a process to let the CollegeBoard know. You can read about the process, here.

Another helpful thing to remember is that you can always take the SAT again. From the research, we know that most students see a modest increase in their score when they take it a second or third time. If you use the time wisely before taking the SAT again, you are likely to see more than a modest increase.

The other thing to remember is that most colleges will only consider your highest score from a single day of testing. Some colleges use your “superscore”, which is your highest score on each section from different test dates.

If you decide to take the SAT a second time, we encourage you to make it worth the time and money. A wonderful free resource is Khan Academy’s SAT test prep, which will automatically tailor your practice to areas that you need improvement and provides full-length practice tests.

Starting at $195, Woot Tutor offers an SAT Bootcamp that is a 4 week intensive program. The bootcamp is designed to be engaging, effective and affordable. Learn more >>

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