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Top “Survival Tips” For SAT Test Day

by Story2 Guest Author, on Feb 18, 2015 4:45:00 PM

For over a million students every year, their SAT test day is a gloomy one. The stress, pressure, anxiety, and butterflies prove to be all too much for most 16 year olds. However, here are three important tips that can help any student take back control of this important day.

1.  Show up early

For the past 11 years, I have owned and operated Tier One Tutors. One of the hallmark features of our private SAT tutoring program is that I personally visit every prospective student’s home and do a free consultation. Tier One Tutors operates in a 100-mile radius around Los Angeles. Although we have a huge team of tutors that live local to the areas we service, I am the only person on staff that does consultations. That means I spend a tremendous amount of time in my car. Over the years, I have had a lot of close calls when I nearly showed up late to appointments. The major lesson I have learned from these experiences is to show up early! I have made it a habit to show up around 30 minutes early to appointments so I won’t need to feel stressed while driving. I find that this strategy helps me to give better presentations, as well. The same lesson can help test-takers. By leaving 30 minutes earlier than you need to and arriving at the testing site early, it will eliminate a lot of your nerves on test day and help immensely with that nasty performance anxiety!

2.  Know the curve

The curve on the SAT is brutal. Let me explain: think about what it takes to be a “good” student in a class. Generally we view an “excellent” grade as an A, a “fine” grade as a B, a "not so great" grade as a C, etc. Further, in order to achieve an A in a class, we need to get a score of 90% or higher, to get a B we need 80% or higher, and so on.  Now if we were to apply that same logic to the SAT, we would understand why its grading curve is so important to understand. The top 10% of test-takers nationwide receive a score of approximately 1930 on the exam. A 1930 out of the possible 2400 points is a score of 80.4%. That means that scoring in the top ten percent is equivalent to getting a B- on the test! How about getting the national average of about 1530? That would be a 63% or a D-! Imagine if at your school, the AVERAGE student got a D- in each class. Practically speaking, this means students should NOT worry so much about getting questions wrong on the exam. Even students who are scoring in the top 10% are missing 20% of the points. The average student misses nearly 900 points on the SAT! If a student can keep this in mind during the test, it should help them stay calm when they hit a series of difficult questions.

3.  Make a review sheet

Many students make the error of cramming for hours and hours in the week, or weeks, before the exam. However, for better or for worse, the SAT is not an exam that lends itself to this style of studying. As a matter of fact, that last minute cramming can actually have two negative effects on a student. First, if a student performs poorly on those last practice questions, they can lose confidence – a surefire way to hurt their score. Second, it will just create more anxiety as they become tense over their practice questions. That is why we advise our private SAT tutoring students to create method review sheets for the 36 hours leading up to the exam. These sheets should be no larger than one 8.5"x11" page, double- sided. They should include important methods, tricks, and math rules you have struggled with and should include no practice problems or facts to memorize. The goal is only to review the most critical problem-solving strategies in the hours leading up to the test.

The name of the game for surviving the SAT is not to worry about eliminating stress, but to focus on ways to lighten the stress. This exam will be scary for students; the question is just how scary does it need to be? As you can see, applying a few simple tools will put the student back in the driver's seat on SAT test day.


Steve Dorfman is the owner of Tier One Tutors, a Southern California test prep and academic tutoring company. As a UCLA graduate, he relates to the competitive environment students are faced with, and as a father of two, he understands the constant worrying parents have about their kids’ education. To learn more, visit or email Dorfman at


Topics:college admission