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Princeton Review Co-Founder Preps Students on Taking SAT

Candace Braun

Last Wednesday students gathered at Princeton High School to learn what every junior has on his or her mind this time of year: how to ace the SAT.

Adam Robinson, author of The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT, as well as co-founder of the Princeton Review, spoke with students about how to change their attitude on test taking, and went over mistakes that can often lower their scores.

"Taking a test well is like learning to do anything well; it's a performance skill," he said, calling the standardized achievement test, or SAT, the "terminator."

The author of nine books on the SAT, including the New York Times bestseller, Cracking the SAT, Mr. Robinson said that the biggest problem students face is trying to use the same test-taking skills that they use for tests in school.

"This isn't like any other test you would take," he said, adding in high school the more difficult questions are worth more points, so it's important to get those right. However, the opposite holds for the SAT, since all the questions are worth the same amount.

Students tend to race through the easy questions and spend more time on the hard ones. This is the wrong thing to do, said Mr. Robinson, as they risk making careless mistakes on the easier questions and losing credit for them.

Unlike a school test, the SAT doesn't give "partial credit" for someone who has done the work right, but has gotten the answer wrong: "The SAT doesn't care how smart you are; you're just wrong."

Test-takers need to spend time making sure the answers to the easy questions are right, and skip the hard questions, he said: "That's the hardest thing to do...but you have to train yourself to do it."

As an example, Mr. Robinson mentioned a friend who was very knowledgeable on many subjects, but didn't win when he went on Jeopardy. He had the knowledge, but he didn't know how to adapt it to the right format to win the money.

Approximately 70 percent of the questions on the math section are at the seventh and eighth grade level, said Mr. Robinson: "If you take pains to answer the easy and middle-range questions...you can get a 600 [out of 800]."

Recognizing Differences

Males and females approach test-taking differently, according to Mr. Robinson: girls perform better on high school and college exams than on standardized tests.

He said that girls are more conscientious and tend to study more, and have a harder time skipping over a question on the test than boys do.

"The key to these tests is knowing what questions not to bother with. They don't teach you that in school," he said.

Male students are also more willing to take short cuts to find the right answer, while females are more focused on "the right way" to solve the problem.

One of the biggest blunders that students make is rushing through the test, then going back over the answers once they've finished: "You need to develop the ability to catch your errors in the process," he said, telling students to use their "spidey sense," or sixth sense, to know early on that they've made a mistake.

He added that the mistake most frequently made on the math portion of the test is reading the question wrong.

Mr. Robinson gave students some simple advice on how to get a high score on the essay part on the verbal section of the SAT: write as much as possible.

"The longer your essay, the higher the score... you have to write fast," he said.

The essay, which students are given 25 minutes to complete, is graded by two teachers, who use a "holistic" or fast-grading system, where much of the consideration goes to the length, he said.

Mr. Robinson also told students that the question often pertains to taking a side on a very general issue. Avoid using the word "I," or discussing personal examples, even if the essay says to do so, he said, recommending that students try to pull examples from a well known piece of literature that they have read in school.

Finally, don't think too long or hard about the issue; go with the first argument that comes to your head, said Mr. Robinson: "The longer you think about something the more you change your opinion... you don't have time to do that on the SAT."

A rated chess master, Mr. Robinson devised and perfected the Joe Bloggs approach to beating standardized tests in 1980, as well as numerous other core Princeton Review techniques. A freelance author of many books on the SAT and other similar standardized tests, he has collaborated with the Princeton Review to develop a number of its courses.

More information on Mr. Robinson and his SAT books is available at http://www.rocketreview.com.

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