Category Archives: Test Prep

Test Prep Triage And Time Management

In World War I, French doctors had to come up with a  new system to deal with the unprecedented numbers of casualties that resulted from the ceaseless stutter of machine guns and explosion of shells characterizing trench warfare.  Working in aid stations behind the lines, they divided the battlefield wounded into three categories:

  • Those likely to live, regardless of the care they received
  • Those likely to die, regardless of the care they received
  • Those for whom immediate care might mean life instead of death

They called this system “triage,” which came from the French verb trier: to separate, sort and select.  Facing thousands of wounded and having very little time to do their jobs, the doctors concentrated their life-saving efforts on the men in the third category, leaving those in the second to die.  It was a cruel system resulting from a cruel war.

Although an admittance test such as the SAT or the GRE can’t really be compared to war, you can learn a lot from war’s necessities.  When you sit down with your test booklet or face your computer screen, you’ll have too little time to deal with too many questions.  You’re going to need to sort the questions into three categories:

  • Those you can do in a breeze and almost certainly get right
  • Those that will probably stump you no matter how much time you spend on them
  • Those that you will probably solve if you take a little more time

Test prep triage will require you actually to spend most of your time on questions in the first category.  Even the easiest math problems won’t solve themselves.  If you try to rush through them, you’re very likely to make a careless mistake and turn a sure survivor into a wrong answer.  Missing questions you should have gotten right is not only heartbreaking, it’s the surest way to blow your score.

You’ll need to devote the rest of your effort to the questions in the third category.  Based on an accurate assessment of your strengths and the results of practice tests, you’re going to have to decide, and decide quickly, which ones these are.  If you pace yourself properly and keep your nerve, you’ll probably get these more difficult questions right.

How about the questions in the second category?  How much time should you spend on them?  The answer is: zero time – not even an extra three seconds.  Taking time away from the questions in categories #1 and #3 is like giving precious and very limited blood plasma to the mortally wounded – and if you do that, you’ll really blow your score.  Even though it might distress you to do so, you have to let these questions “die.”

Some people have a very hard time with that.  A while ago, I had a returning student, John, who needed to score a 700 on the math section of the GRE in order to be admitted to engineering school.  On the GRE, the more questions you answer correctly, the harder the questions get – and vice-versa.  That’s called a CAT, or a Computer Adaptive Test.  Supposedly, in the questions the computer chooses for you, it adapts the test to your level of ability.  What it really means, though, is that you have to adapt to the computer.  You can’t go back to answer skipped questions.  And so with each question that pops up on the screen, you have to ask yourself: can I do this?  And if I can, how much time will it take?  On the math section, you’ll have an average of about 96 seconds for each question.  If you feel compelled to take significantly more time than that  – perhaps as much as two or three minutes – you’ll be robbing yourself of precious time that you’ll need for the later (and perhaps more solvable) problems.

John, a bright and a highly motivated executive in a big corporation – and something of a perfectionist – did feel compelled to take too much time answering the most difficult problems.  He doesn’t like to give up, and he found it very hard to click past the problems that he felt he might be able to do.  He spent way too much time on them.  He wound up doing the worst thing possible on this kind of test: he ran out of time and didn’t finish, leaving potentially easier problems unanswered.  He never even got the chance to see what they would be.  And so he bombed the test (by his standards), scoring a 620.

Now, John is nothing if not tenacious and adaptable.  We talked about his test.  I told him that he needed to take it again, and he did.  The second time around, he paced himself impeccably.  He didn’t need to skip many questions, as he had worked very hard to master the material and is really very bright.  On this attempt, he even finished with a little time to spare.  At the end of the test, the computer instantly flashed out his score: a 780.  He could hardly believe that, and he waited until he received official notice from the Educational Testing Service before telling me the great news.  In one of the ironies of employing the best test-taking techniques, by giving up a little of his perfectionism, John racked up a nearly perfect result.

You can’t always do this well on these difficult tests.  But you can, and should, discipline yourself to practice test prep triage and to carefully manage your time if you want to achieve your highest possible score.

How the ACT is Scored

Before starting your prep for the ACT or any test really, you should set a target score.  Your target score is typically what you hope to achieve in order to qualify for scholarships or admissions to the colleges on your list.  Here is a granular look at how ACT scoring is built:

First, let’s define a few things: 

  1. Raw Score: Total number of correct questions in each subject.
  2. Subject/Scaled Score: There are 4 subjects scaled scores between 1-36.
  3. Grouped Score: STEM (Maths + Science) and ELA (English + Reading + Essay*).
  4. Composite Score: Average of all subjects (English + Math + Reading + Science) scaled score.
  5. Benchmark: The minimum college readiness assessment bearing college courses.

Next, let’s look at how scores are calculated: 

For Example if you take ACT sample test

  • English = 67/75
    • Raw Score = 67
    • Subject/ Scaled Score=31
  • Math = 54/60
    • Raw Score = 54
    • Subject/ Scaled Score=32
  • Reading = 33/40
    • Raw Score = 33
    • Subject/ Scaled Score=30
  • Science = 37/40
    • Raw Score = 37
    • Subject/ Scaled Score=33
  • Composite Score = (31+32+30+33)/4 = 31.5

Lastly, let’s see how the national population scores on average:

  • Benchmark (source: www.act.org.in):
    • English = 18
    • Math = 22
    • Reading = 22
    • Science = 23
    • STEM = 26
    • ELA = 20

That’s it!  Now you know the why behind ACT scoring.

How to Improve Your SAT Reading/Writing Section Score

For millions of students each year, the SAT is a defining feature of the college admissions process. While the importance of these scores varies from school to school, at many selective colleges, standardized test scores remain a determining factor. Raising your SAT score is indeed possible, and there are specific ways to achieve your standardized test goals. In fact, significant test score improvements can be achieved, especially by students who receive lower scores initially.

This section of the SAT can be confusing and complicated. You have to remember all the grammar rules you were able to avoid learning throughout your schooling. You have to identify subtle grammatical errors that are often committed by gifted writers.

Exam Details for SAT Writing

SAT SectionDuration (in min)QuestionContent/skill coveredQuestion type
Writing& Languages3544Grammar, vocabulary in context, and editing skillMultiple-choice

SAT Writing & Language Includes

  • Major professional fields, such as medicine, technology, or business.
  • Topics from history, anthropology, psychology, political science, or sociology.
  • Humanities trends in literature, drama, art, music, or dance.
  • Science passages will focus on Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.

Writing & Language: Skills Tested

  • Expression of Ideas (24 questions)
  • Standard English Conventions (20 questions)

Some tips for success on SAT Writing:

Focus on Using Grammar Rules to Answer the Questions:

Many of the SAT Writing sentences are lengthy or use uncommon phrases. The sentences might sound odd to your ear, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong. Similarly, some of the sentences contain grammar errors that are so common that these sentences are likely to sound fine to you.

Use Process of Elimination to Rule Out Answers:

For every SAT question, you should eliminate answer choices you know are wrong to help you pick the correct answer.

Given Two Grammatically Correct Answers, Pick the More Concise One:

The shortest answer will not always be right, but if you can narrow a question down to two choices that are both grammatically correct.

Watch for Consistency Issues:

Many of the grammar rules on SAT Writing are related to consistency. Generally, verb tense, subject, and person should remain consistent in a sentence.

Know that “Being” Is Almost Always Wrong:

While “being” can be used correctly, it is often an indication of a grammar error. The word “being” can signal wordiness, idiom, and fragment errors. Whenever you see the word “being” in a sentence improvement or identify the error question, you are likely to find a grammar error.

Read the Passage First for Improving Paragraphs Questions:

In the paragraph improvement subsection, you should quickly read the paragraph improvement passage before answering the questions. While reading, note any obvious errors and identify the main idea.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pick “No Error,” But Don’t Pick It Every Time:

On the improving sentences and identify the error questions, the sentence will be correct about 10%-20% of the time. Do not fear the “No Error” answer, but if more than 30% of your answers are “No Error,” you’ve definitely made mistakes and need to look at the sentences more closely.

Manage Your Time Well

Part of mastering the Writing and Language section of the SAT is knowing how quickly to move along. Pacing is key.

On this portion of the test there are four passages and 44 multiple-choice questions, and you’ll only have 25 minutes to complete them. Each of the passages is 400-450 words long, and you should aim to complete every passage and its questions with a few minutes remaining so that you can review your work.

To do this, you should spend eight minutes on each passage, leaving yourself three minutes to review at the end. After two passages, check the time. You should have just about 20 minutes remaining if you’re staying on pace. To stay on top of time, answer questions while you’re reading. Because passages and questions are arranged alongside, it’s easy to complete each question as you arrive to it in the text. Reading the passage first and then returning to answer questions is a waste of time in this case.

Understand Your Mistakes

Practice tests are your friend, but you won’t get the most out of them if you don’t assess your mistakes. After each practice test, go through your mistakes and categorize them. Were you rushed? Are you making repeated mistakes in the same content areas? Are you making careless errors?

By understanding your mistakes, you’ll be better able to avoid them in the future. Never walk away from a practice test without understanding what types of mistakes you made and what you can do to improve in those areas.

To Prepare smartly for the upcoming SAT August, download our free e-book “Smart and effective way SAT prep”.

To score high students can use Socrato to practice online and get insights beyond scores. Socrato’s Companion Series helps you get the most from your Official Study Guide.

What is on the SAT?

The SAT is a standardized test that assesses a student’s skills in four core areas: Reading, Writing & Language, and Math.  In the US, the Essay is no longer tested.

Exam Details

Table 1: Content and curriculum coverage of each subject of SAT.

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SAT Scoring System

Table 2: Table 2: SAT Scoring System.

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SAT Reading Includes

In this section, there will be four individual passages and one passage pair, which means there will be about 10-12 questions for each passage/passage pair. At least one of the passages will have graphics, such as tables, graphs, and charts accompanying it. Each passage, or passage pair set, will be at about 500 to 750 words.

There will be at least one passage from each of the following topics:

  • U.S. or world literature
  • U.S. founding document or a text inspired by one
  • Social science (such as economics, psychology, sociology, etc.)
  • Science (Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics)

Section 1-Reading: Skills Tested

  • Command of Evidence (10 Questions)
  • Words in Context (10 Questions)
  • Analysis in History/Social Science and Science (32 Questions)

SAT Writing & Language Includes

Like the Reading section, all questions in the SAT Writing and Language are based on passages. This section contains four passages with 11 questions following each passage. Passages will cover either Career, Social Studies, Humanities, or Science:

  • Major professional fields, such as medicine, technology, or business.
  • Topics from history, anthropology, psychology, political science, or sociology.
  • Humanities trends in literature, drama, art, music, or dance.
  • Science passages will focus on Earth science, biology, chemistry, or physics.

Section 2- Writing & Language: Skills Tested

  • Expression of Ideas (24 questions)
  • Standard English Conventions (20 questions)

SAT Math Includes

SAT Math is divided into two sections, depending on whether or not a calculator is allowed. During the first section, when you cannot use a calculator, you’ll have 25 minutes to answer 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions. For the second section, when you can use a calculator, you’ll have 55 minutes to answer 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 grid-ins, including an Extended Thinking problem.

Section 3- Math: Skills Tested

  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis (17 questions)
  • Passport to Advanced Math (16 questions)
  • Additional Topics in Math (6 questions)
  • Heart of Algebra (19 questions)