Juniors who are taking the SAT in January have the first opportunity of the year to order Question and Answer Service from the College Board. This service is only offered three times a year – January, May and October – and is a tremendous study aid. You are taking the test so early in the season because you intend to learn from your mistakes and do better when you retake the SAT in May and in the fall, right? That should be your plan. Any student who plans to take the SAT mid-junior year in order to be done with it is making a mistake. Think about it: How would you fare competing at this time of year against seniors in, say, English composition or math? Probably not so well – and for a good reason; they are a year older, wiser, more experienced, more mature (yes!), and better educated than you are.
Use that simple arithmetic to your advantage by leveraging this early season test experience to hone your test-taking skills and lower your stress in the real test environment. Think of the January SAT as a terrific practice test. If you order Question and Answer Service ($18 from the College Board) before your test date, you will get it the soonest, about 5-8 weeks after you take the test. You'll get a fresh copy of the actual test you took (including all the possible essay questions) and an annotated copy of your answer sheet, comparable to the score report you received from the PSAT.
How can you best benefit from your Question and Answer Service results? Note the questions you got wrong and then retry them in the test booklet, without first verifying what your answer was before or what the correct answer is. You might have a clue what you chose before, but this still gives you the opportunity to rethink your answer. Then check the answer key to confirm. Do you find any trends in your errors? If you consistently make mistakes in author's tone or vocabulary in context questions on Critical Reading, or Sentence Completion questions that are labelled Easy or Medium (1, 2 or 3 in difficulty out of 5), then bone up on the skills you need to effectively attack these kinds of questions. If you are missing idioms or run on sentences, review your grammar basics. In math, focus first on making fewer careless mistakes on the easy questions; easy answers are worth just as much as hard ones! Then address any weak math knowledge or technique areas. You should know all the formulas given at the front of the math sections by heart, for starters. Build your skills in areas you are found lacking using this great tool, and see your scores improve in May.
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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.