The Showcase Magazine - Articles

A holiday gift for high school juniors and parents: free test-taking tips to

help set a course for the next 12 months


by Erik R. Slagle



If you’re the parent of a high school junior, you don’t need to be told that your son or daughter is wading into one of the most stressful periods of their young lives. Without a plan, it could last well into the coming year. But get a handle on just one piece of the college admissions process, and watch how quickly things start to crystallize. Stress subsides, deadlines come into focus, and you realize that by this time next year, students will have their applications ready to go – all they have to do is click “send” and then wait for acceptances to start rolling in.

The holidays are a time to put all that aside and focus on the people you love, and on the traditions and activities that make this calendar page so magical. But all of a sudden, PSAT scores arrive and there’s a number to worry about. Don’t let that number – good, bad, or otherwise – creep into this season. If “test prep stress” is on your mind, or on the minds of your kids, these “College Bound” tips are my gift to you. (Sorry, no gift receipt.)

  1. There’s a margin for error on the SAT, and it’s bigger than you’d think. In school, a 60 or 70 isn’t something to aim for. But if your target scores are around 1200-1250, for example, answering only 60 or 70% of the questions correctly can get you there! Even for students with higher targets – say, 1400 – there’s a margin for error of 20-25%. Once again, for the people in the back: you can miss a good portion of the questions and still get a great score!
  2. There are only four things to memorize for the Math section of the SAT: the Quadratic Equation, the Standard Equation of a Circle, the Slope-Intercept Form of a line, and how to calculate percent change. The first two may only impact 1-2 questions on any given test, so they’re not the most critical pieces. The second two are more important, but also more likely something students have learned by now. (If they need a refresher on any or all of these concepts, drop me a line!)
  3. You can always expect the same three categories of passages on the Reading section: Literature, Social Sciences (including History), and Natural Science. Knowing where you’re strongest and weakest can help you prioritize your practice exercises and maximize your score on Test Day. Understanding the chronological ordering of most questions and how to re-order questions on your own is also a game-changer.
  4. While “grammar rules” seems like an endless list of possible error types in the Writing and Language section, improving your score starts with recognizing and practicing for the most commonly-tested mistakes: comma and semi-colon use, verb tense, and subject-verb agreement. Being able to spot particular parts of speech like pronouns and prepositions also plays a major role.

This list just scratches the surfaces of the little tricks and strategies you can use to see a significant boost in your test scores. Enjoy the holidays, and then start 2020 with a deeper dive into effective, efficient prep that can lead to the test scores your target schools are looking for. Season’s Greetings!