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How To Score High On Your PSATs and SATs

By Justin Dolecki
The Princeton Review

The PSAT is a rite of passage for many high school sophomores and juniors. Like the SAT, the PSAT is a standardized test given to assess math, critical reading, and writing skills (how good of a job these tests do at assessing these skills is open for debate), but unlike the SAT, the PSAT isn’t used to evaluate candidacy for admission to college.

Order of Difficulty (OOD)

Each SAT section is divided into three levels of difficulty: easy, medium, and hard. The first third of each group are easy, the second third are of medium difficulty, and the last third are hard. (The only exception is the Reading Comprehension passages, which do not follow this order.) An easy question is one that almost everyone gets right. A hard question is a question that almost everyone gets wrong.

So, if a group has nine questions, the first three are easy, the second three are medium, and the last three are hard. Since easy, medium, and hard questions are worth the same amount, spend the majority of your time making sure you get the easy and medium questions right.

Process of Elimination (POE)

Instead of trying to find the right answer, try to find the wrong answers. By eliminating wrong answers, you greatly improve your chances of getting the question right because even if you can't narrow your choices to a single answer at the end, you will have only two or three to choose from instead of all five. Physically cross out the wrong answer choices in your test booklet, and then guess among whichever answer choices remain.

Only a quarter point is subtracted for every wrong answer, while a full point is added for every right answer. So, if you can eliminate at least one answer choice, guess among the two, three, or four remaining choices.

The Joe Bloggs Approach

Joe Bloggs is a fictional, average American student. On the SAT he scores exactly what the average American student scores: 500 on each section. So why is Joe Bloggs important? He's important because he's predictable. Joe gets all the easy questions right, half the medium ones right, and none of the hard questions.

When you are taking the SAT, think about how Joe Bloggs would answer an easy, medium, or hard question. Joe Bloggs always picks the answer that seems right. If you can narrow down the answer choices to two or three choices on an easy question, you should pick the answer that seems right — the Joe Bloggs answer. On hard questions, find the answer that seems right and eliminate it — that's the Joe Bloggs answer. If you can eliminate even one answer, you should guess and move on. Easy questions have easy answers, and hard questions have hard answers.

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