PREPARING FOR THE SAT AND PSAT
In the left margin, please find numerous subpages that focus on particular English Language Arts skills tested on the SAT and PSAT. The exams assess critical reading strategies, grammatical knowledge, and writing skills.
Below, please find suggestions and materials to better prepare yourself for the exams.
SAT CRITICAL READING SECTION STRATEGIES:
SAT Vocabulary Development: Latin & Greek Root Words
The SAT will present a series of sentence completion questions, where test-takers must select an appropriate word(s) to complete a sentence. Studying SAT word lists is beneficial; however, one cannot know which words will be on the test. Learning root words is the best method to know or guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. Please see main section called "Vocabulary," on the left margin. That page will take you to several large groups of root words and SAT vocab words posted on Quizlet.com
- Read the sentence. Before glancing at the word options, determine what kind of meaning needs to go into the blank. Consider the following: Positive/Negative Word Test (word connotations); Opposition/Contrast, Size (smaller, bigger, etc.). Look at the words: If an answer choice has that meaning, it is probably correct; otherwise, use this strategy to rule out answers that couldn't work.
- If you don't know what some of the words mean, generate similar words and/or look for familiar words inside the larger word. For example: Palliative. Perhaps you remember the word "pall." Pall is a negative word. Another example: Jocularity. Consider similar or similar-sounding words: Jock, Joke, Jocular, Joking. The connotations of the generated words should get you to a rough understanding of "jocularity."
- Latin/Greek Root Words: Remember that words can often be broken down into smaller units of meaning. Taken "ingenuous." IN = in plus GEN = birth. An ingenuous person is in a birth-like state: They are innocent and naive. Simply recognizing a small unit of meaning within a word can help predict its meaning, whether its positive or negative, or simply whether it might be a possibility.
- MARK YOUR TEXT. You are analyzing the writing of another person. All writers have a purpose. Look for that purpose. Underline key words or phrases that clearly identify the writer's purpose and attitude. Simply put, a writer can choose only details (called selection of detail) or words (called diction) in crafting his or her work. A writer's choices reveals his intent. Read actively to recognize the writer's purpose by marking the passage as you read.
- Focus on Structure: The opening paragraph should clearly present the writer's opinion, or thesis. The paragraphs that follow develop that thesis. Each body paragraph should present a supporting opinion (the topic sentence), followed by evidence and examples, ending with a conclusion that supports the thesis. By definition, a paragraph is a group of sentences about one idea. As you read each paragraph, consider HOW that paragraph helps support the idea presented at the beginning.
- Active reading best prepares you to answer the questions. However, do NOT rely on your memories. In answering each question, go back to the passage and reread any cited lines, not just that one line, but the sentence above and the sentence below. In choosing an answer, one should be able to underline a phrase or a sentence that serves as direct evidence for the answer-selection. Remember, this is a reading comprehension test: There are no tricks. The questions are designed to see how well test-takers understand the writer's position.
SAT WRITING SECTION STRATEGIES
Know Your Grammar
Have you been working out of a grammar book the past five years? If not, then you need to review the rules of language. The SAT and PSAT test students on their ability to recognize sentences that correctly use the rules of Standard English. The more difficult sentences sound right, but can you recognize the technical mistakes?
Test-takers need to know the following:
- Parts of Speech (noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition)
- Sentence Structure (Simple, Compound, Complex, Compound-Complex)
- Sentence Elements (Participial Phrases, Appositive Phrases, Absolute Phrases, Prepositional Phrases, Infinitive Phrases, Adjective Clauses & Phrases, Adverb Clauses & Phrases)
- Rules of Punctuation, especially commas, semi-colons, and colons
Please visit links under Literary Tools>Sentence Structure for subpages on most of the elements indicated above. A simple online search should reveal scores of pages on each elements posted by various high schools, colleges, and universities.
Writing Complex and Compound-Complex Sentences
Nearly all the sentences used in the SAT and PSAT writing sections are complex or compound-complex. It would greatly benefit test-takers to practice writing these types of sentences. Familiarity with how to use the necessary sentence elements will help students better recognize errors in these sentences.
Students who can write well are better able to recognize sentence errors. It might seem odd at first, but practicing to write your own effective sentences better prepares you to recognize errors in sample problems. First, you can intuitively understand how it should be done; second, you can explain in words what the problem is.
I recommend learning and knowing the following:
- Prepositional Phrase
- Participial Phrase
- Appositive Phrase
- Absolute Phrase
- Adjective Clause
- Adverb Clause
- Infinitive Phrase
- Complex Sentence, including punctuation
- Compound-Complex Sentence, including punctuation
Pages on each of these terms may be found on this webpage under the following links: Literary Tools>Sentence Structure (then see the sublinks).
****IMPORTANT: Learn to recognize the "base sentence." This is the foundational statement to which other details have been added. In the following examples, I have underlined the base sentence:
- Howard Gardner, an observer of Chinese elementary education, has questioned the view that requiring young children to copy models prevents them from becoming a creative artist later in life. (Appositive, Adjective Clause)
- Conflicts between land developers and conversationists have repeatedly arose, causing Congress to reconsider legislation that prohibits building within habitats of endangered species. (Prepositional Phrase, Participial Phrase)
Diagnose the Problem
After studying the necessary rules of grammar and learning how to write complex and compound-complex sentences correctly, students are better able to tackle the SAT Writing Section.
In reading a sentence, students should look for grammatical errors. Diagnose the problem first. What--if anything--is wrong with the sentence? Give a name to the problem and know how to fix it. THEN look at the answer choices. Glance for a choice that fixes the problem. Immediately, one should be able to rule out two or three choices. Of the remaining choices, only one fixes the problem without causing other problems.
The SAT and PSAT test only a handful of grammatical rules. Sub-pages on these rules appear to your right. Please review each page, which explains the problem, provides an overview of the rule, and then presents example problems taken from a number of released SAT and PSAT's.
Know what to look for!
WARNING: Many of the most difficult problems are poorly worded sentences that have no grammatical errors or smoothly worded sentences that contain technical errors. In other words, the test-writers create sentences that, when read, deceive. Don't rely on your "ear" to diagnose problems: Know the rules of grammar.
Related to that point: For a sentence to be wrong, a grammatical rule has been broken. The sentence could be worded differently, but does it HAVE to be?
The simplest is always the best: If two answers seem possible, the simplest response with the least wording is always best. It's called "an economy of words." That is, we shouldn't use more words than are necessary.