Many high school students who do great in school often struggle with standardized tests. Why? Smart students often possess attributes that are actually detrimental to scoring well on tests such as the SAT.
1. Being Overconfident The number one reason students who normally do well academically struggle on their first administration of the SAT is overconfidence. Throughout their academic careers, academically successful students have always been “smart”. They get near-perfect scores on high school math exams and write essays with insights that receive public praise from their English teacher. So why would the SAT be any different? But it is exactly this mentality that often causes students to fall prey to the traps of the SAT. The SAT is designed to reward students who think critically about each question. Students who are overconfident often choose “trap” answers because they didn’t take the time to fully work out a problem, which can cause their scores to nosedive.
2. Arguing with the Test Academically successful students are good at arguing their point of view. But nothing could be more detrimental to a student’s SAT Reading score than trying to defend incorrect answer choices. The SAT Reading section is made up primarily of Passage-Based Reading questions that require students to make reasonable inferences about a passage in order to answer a series of associated questions. But an inference on an open-ended high school English exam and an inference on the SAT are two very different things. In high school, smart students can often get away with answers that are not 100% correct simply by providing a compelling argument for their answer. However, the SAT Reading section is graded by a machine, not an English teacher. There is one and only one correct answer, and no partial credit. When students begin to try to justify why incorrect answer choices could possibly be correct, they are sure to miss many questions.
3. Not Being an Avid Reader Often times students who get the highest grades in school aren’t the most avid readers. They read the bare minimum to do well (i.e. Sparknotes), and not much more. Between honors/AP classes and extracurricular activities, they simply don’t have the time to read more than is necessary. Unfortunately, this puts students who prioritize pragmatism at a major disadvantage compared to students who have been avid readers since they were young. The SAT requires you to read and process lots of dense information in a short period of time, which may be difficult if students are not used to doing this on a regular basis.
4. Not Coming Prepared Academically successful students often roll out of bed the morning of their SAT exam, and take the test blind. The philosophy is: “I don’t know what questions will be on the test, so how can I study for it?”. But in reality, there is so much students can do to prepare for the SAT, even without knowledge of exactly what questions will appear on the test. Students can prepare the examples they will use in their SAT Essay before ever seeing the topic, learn the fifteen SAT grammar rules that appear on the exam, memorize the most common SAT vocabulary words, learn how to use the multiple-choice nature of the exam to avoid having to do algebra on the SAT Math section, and more. Students spend 4,000+ hours in a high school classroom working toward a GPA, but only 4 hours taking the SAT. But when it comes to college admissions, a student’s GPA and SAT score are weighted roughly the same. So it would be absurd not to spend a few more hours preparing for the SAT in order to even things out. Yet, most smart students neglect SAT preparation.
5. Not Practicing Many academically successful students are good at new endeavors the first time they try them. Their natural talents have taken them to a level that far exceeds their classmates, so why shouldn’t their innate skills translate to the SAT as well? While natural talent may take you far, the best way for students to raise their SAT scores is to practice on SAT questions. But students should not just practice with any third-party SAT questions. Instead, students should practice with real SAT questions produced by the College Board, the company that publishes the SAT.