Originally published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement
First a quick refresher on the exams – the SAT is required for undergraduate admissions at most colleges in the US and is an aptitude test with a section each on math, critical reasoning and writing. Each section is worth 800 points for a total maximum score of 2400. The SAT2 or SAT subject tests for undergraduate admissions are specific tests in a wide range of subjects and are required by a select set of colleges. The GMAT is a general entrance exam for business school in the US as well as many other countries and is scored out of 800 total points possible. The GRE is an exam required by most graduate schools in the US and other English speaking countries. It is scored on a 170 point scale.
With free time at hand over the summer vacations, many students are planning to buckle down and study for their standardized tests. Whether you are planning to take the SAT, SAT2, GMAT or GRE, you need to make the most of the summer break to study and crack these exams.
The reason you need to carve out special time to study for these exams is because each has a unique format. Even if you are a whiz in math or English language usage, you may still not score well on standardized tests if you do not understand their format and you have not practiced your abilities within the time constraints.
For any standardized test, most students I have known either join a course to study for the exam, or they invest in study materials available online or in bookstores. Mumbai boasts a huge range of preparation offerings. You can enroll with anyone from a private individual who only tutors in one section (e.g. critical reasoning), or you can find organizations that offer preparation on the full gamut of subjects in one course (e.g. Mitul Gada, who also writes a column for HT). The materials that are popular for SAT1 prep include the Princeton Review, Barron's, Collegeboard and McGraw Hill. One student shared that McGraw Hill was probably the least well known in India, but she found it the most helpful for the SAT, specifically citing its vocabulary lists and detailed chapter wise exercises. Also students recommend the ‘Vocabulary Cartoons Part I & II' and 'The Unofficial SAT Word Dictionary' by the New Monic Books publication. Finally, the best way to prepare for the SAT writing section is to practice writing the essays repeatedly. As one student explained “The more I wrote, the easier it became to come up with examples during the main exam.”
For all the exams the most important technique cited by all students are the practice tests. Some students take up to 40 practice tests, simulating early morning testing conditions without interruption to get a good idea of testing conditions. For the SAT, The College Board online course, with its timed online tests, gives a student a good idea of the actual test conditions. For the GRE, The Princeton Review and ETS have online practice tests. The GMAT practice tests are also available at The Princeton Review website and at www.mba.com
Whatever method you choose to prepare for standardized tests, the main point is that you should take them seriously. Universities often claim that the tests are not the only criteria by which they judge applicants. No doubt, this is the truth, but submitting a good score lays a solid foundation upon which the rest of your credentials can rest. So do your best!