In just three to four weeks, numerous high school students will take the P/SAT, eager to earn scores that will guarantee admission to the college of their choice.

With so much at stake, the importance of preparing for this all too important test is not lost on students and parents. In fact, every year many parents enroll their students in expensive SAT prep courses, hoping to give them a competitive edge. While not everyone can afford thousands of dollars to prepare for this test, knowing how the SAT is scored, as well as other tips and techniques for the various sections can assist in achieving above average results.

The SAT uses a multiple choice format, giving students a one in five chance of answering the questions correctly. To keep students from guessing and possibly artificially raising their score, the SAT gives one point for every correct answer and penalizes students one-fourth of a point for those answered incorrectly. Questions left unanswered are simply ignored.

To keep from falling victim to this system of scoring, students should determine the score they would like to earn before taking the SAT. Armed with this information, students should research how many questions they must answer in each section to attain their goal. Doing this changes the SAT from an overwhelming test that seems impossible, to one the student can manage given the time constraints.

Students should not only understand how to make the most of the scoring system of the SAT, but they must also have some knowledge about the individual sections. Knowing how the questions and answers are organized, along with tips like the following, will increase the chances that your student will earn a respectable score.

• Questions in the math and vocabulary sections go from easy to difficult.

• Words like “although” and “despite” indicate that half a sentence will be positive and the other half negative (vocabulary).

• Questions about the passages always give one correct answer and one trick answer. The trick answer usually comes before the correct answer (passage comprehension questions).

• Factor and simplify math problems containing x² after setting them equal to zero.

• Review 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 triangles.

• Use a semi-colon with the word “which” (grammar).

• Cross out prepositional phrases to help with subject/verb agreement (grammar).

While these helpful hints will prove useful for all students taking this infamous test, students should also look through books on the SAT, which offer these tips and more along with a few practice tests to get students ready for the real thing.

Also, beginning Sept. 26, The Successful Tutor will offer an affordable SAT Tips and Techniques Workshop for students looking to improve their score. During this workshop, students will set their SAT goals and apply these hints and others to maximize their potential.

For more information, contact Shauna Cahill, The Successful Tutor, at (480) 794-0177 or


Shauna Cahill is a tutor, college planner and teen confidence builder in the Ahwatukee Foothills area. Visit her Web site at

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