Official Free SAT Prep: Know What To Use and What to Ignore

You may remember that it was big news when the College Board announced that they were partnering with Khan Academy to offer free prep for the new SAT. It seemed a pretty straightforward choice for the College Board: simultaneously take a good swing at some of those giant prep companies who profit from the College Board's product and offer preparation and access to students whose families don't have private tutoring or prep courses in the budget. 

Failure to examine the College Board's relationship with Khan Academy may leave many students far less prepared than they would have otherwise been before their partnership.

What You Need To Consider to Get The Most Out of Khan SAT Prep--and How to Supplement It

The Good

  • Khan has a really nice, big bank of practice problems that we can presume have been given the stamp of approval by the College Board. Practice is good, and they offer an awful lot of materials from which to practice. Use their practice questions.
  • They also were the original keepers of the Official SAT Practice Tests (although these days they're all over the internet and you can even just snag all 6 real SATs from my free practice test page for your convenience). 
  • By advocating preparation in some way, the College Board has tacitly admitted that test prep works to raise scores! Hooray! Vindication!

The Problematic 

  • The College Board is not going to help students "crack" or "ace" its tests, even if it's saying it wants to help students. I don't doubt the intention is to assist students, but the intention at Khan is clearly not to help those students who want to dramatically improve their SAT scores. In fact, they've been known in the past to squelch strategies that are particularly effective because they have a curve to preserve--they can't help everyone max out their scores because they would have to recenter the test. 
  • Not teaching students how to truly ace the SAT was probably made easier for the College Board to navigate because it's pretty clear that the "prep" for the test is actually just Sal solving some problems. I don't want to be disrespectful, but let me be clear: it is abundantly obvious that Sal does not teach live high school students how to prepare for the SAT every day. The College Board was at no risk of Sal giving away the farm. The video "lesson" for any given math concept is a single video of Sal working through that problem. I genuinely wish this were not the case, but it is. If you don't learn everything you need to know about functions for the SAT in those two problems Sal works out, you'd need to start googling through Khan Academy proper to figure out what it is you're missing--and you'd need to do that for many, many questions and watch many, many videos of Sal's virtual cursor writing out problems under voiceover narration. 

So what do you do? 

To his credit, Khan doesn't go in for all these bogus "guessing strategies" that a) don't help many students and b) engender major anxiety. After all, it's pretty stressful to be told that you need strategies for answering a question; that implies you don't know what you're doing and aren't prepared.

Avoid test preparation that is couched in guessing strategies, back solving, and plugging in. 

Instead, develop your connoisseurship of the new SAT. 

Learn the test from an outsider's perspective, and study with three things in mind: 

1. What you need to know. Did you miss a question because you actually didn't know the rule, formula, or vocabulary word? You can't answer questions about things you don't know, so the first list you need to create is everything you actually need to learn and memorize. 

2. How they ask the questions. Sometimes you know everything needed to answer a question, but the way the question is presented gets you off track. Sometimes that means the test maker has used geometry to measure a shape you've never seen before; sometimes they distract you with an extra element that you wouldn't know to examine if you're not familiar with the test. Either way, you'll want a separate list for these questions so you can study the way the test is put together. 

3. Track your human errors! Always forget to distribute the negative sign? Have trouble with comma rules? When you make the same mistakes over and over, don't just gripe and wish you hadn't. Write it down to train yourself to pay attention to those mistakes before they happen. 

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