Students worry, prepare for AP exams and SAT dates

W. Bridge ('21) prepares for the upcoming SAT by seeking our resources in the ASD library.

Photographer: Rawan I.

W. Bridge (’21) prepares for the upcoming SAT by seeking our resources in the ASD library.

Ishwar K., Reporter

The role of standardized tests in undergraduate admissions is large. An SAT score of 1130 by one student at one school is exactly the same as that of another student at another school, but a 3.2 GPA can mean different things for different students and schools. These factors make standardized tests simple, relatively fair ways of measuring students’ academic skills.

Students, obviously, want to ace such tests to gain an edge over other students in university admissions. As half of our Class of 2019’s university matriculation was in the US, the two main American standardized tests — the variety of Advanced Placement exams and the SAT — are considered important. These exams are coming up!

AP

The Advanced Placement program is run by the College Board, an American not-for-profit organization. This program consists of 38 annual standardized exams written in May and their corresponding courses, commonly taught at high schools around the world. Many exam takers take the corresponding courses to prepare them, though one can take the exam without taking the corresponding course. The ASD mock exams, which are summative exams designed to prepare students for the May exams, are coming up in March and are a source of stress for some students.

C. Ruimi (’22) pores over study material.  Photographer: Omar A.

For you students taking one of these exams in May, my advice to you is simple:

The corresponding class is designed to prepare you for the exam. Success in the class is the best way forward. Take good notes. Do the homework. Read the textbook. Practice your skills. Study for tests. Ask your teachers for help. Learn from mistakes. Everything your parents, teachers, and counselors have bombarded you with for the past years all applies here. According to T. Xu (’21), an AP Scholar, “To get a 5, you just need to know the content really well.” A 5 is the highest score possible on the AP exams.

The AP Score Distributions for last year are here.

SAT

Everything in this section applies to the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and PSAT 8/9 as well.

The SAT’s style of questioning is quite different from that of a typical high school class. Xu said, “You just need to know how to take it.” This sentiment is common, as in many regular classes, students are expected to writing essays over two hours or two weeks rather than in 50 minutes. Additionally, multiple-choice questions are not often used in summative tests in most humanities class. These differences mean that the SAT tests different skills than a semester- or year-long course’s test does. Xu also claim that individual aptitudes and learning styles play a part. “Some people are just better at taking [the] SAT,” he suggested, “and some people are just bad at it.”

Furthermore, time pressure plays a role in making the SAT tests challenging. For the SAT’s Writing section, students are given 44 questions to answer in 35 minutes, allowing an average of 47.7 seconds per question. This is quite quick! For this reason, time management is an important part of SAT-taking strategy.

My advice to those taking the SAT:

Practice. There are books for this, training centers, etc. However, many good sources are free to and accessible by everyone.

For example, Khan Academy’s SAT practice. They connect to your College Board account, read your test scores, provide targeted SAT practice questions and tests, and let you know which specific skills need more work than the others. Another great example is the pencil-and-paper practice tests published by the College Board, the organization managing the SAT.

Additionally, taking the PSAT 8/9, 10, and PSAT/NMSQT can give you a great simulation of the SAT to let you know your weaknesses, strengths, etc.

Practicing gives you the intuition for the test-taking strategy and the familiarity with SAT’s style of questioning. R. Dronadula (’22) remarked that “prepping for [the SAT] in the months or weeks beforehand takes up far too much time,” but effective practice can be very time-efficient. According to this study, 20 hours of preparation is associated with an increase of 115 points, and just 6 hours of preparation is associated with an increase of 90 points. With two hours a week of practice, students can clock these hours in a matter of weeks.

I have personally used the Khan Academy practice, and it was enough to give me a great PSAT score. Any score you wish for can be obtained with enough practice.

In conclusion, the APs and SATs are coming up for many students, and they are a source of stress for many, but following these tips will help.

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