Most of the criticism levelled at the SAT can be summed up as follows: the test is incommensurate with, and therefore, does not fully measure, what students learn in the classroom. The need to have a test that is universally reflective of students’ scholastic experience, and thus more equitable, has been the purported motivation for test-makers to overhaul the test and offer a new version by March of 2016 (October 2015 for the PSAT). Whether or not the new SAT will fulfill its promise of fairness is irrelevant for students graduating in 2015 and 2016, however.
As it stands, the current test measures intellectual capacities and content knowledge that are quite unfamiliar to most US high school students. In order to succeed on the current SAT, students have to cultivate a whole new knowledge base, and, even more difficult, train their minds to think in completely new ways. Parents and students frequently want to know how a test-taker can achieve that elusive “2400”, especially given the afore-mentioned discrepancy between test and school curriculum. The answer is implied in the dilemma itself. I tell them: “Start preparing early.”
In order for students to train their minds to think in the ways required to excel on the SAT, they have to engage in a rigorous, extended apprenticeship, whereby they learn to be thoughtful, strategic and fearless problem solvers. Furthermore, in order to master the complete range of topics appearing on the test, students need time to systematically go through them all. I have watched incredibly bright, deserving students peak at 1700 because they only had two weeks to prepare. By contrast, I have had students move from 1600 to 2200 because the preparation period began five months in advance of the test. Despite the test’s many complexities, “tricks” and “traps”, a simple key to conquering the SAT is quite simple: begin early.