The January SAT exam is now history. It was given for the last time in January of 2017 and has been replaced by an August exam that will be administered each year on the last Saturday of that month. So now all eyes are on the March, May and June SAT exams, and a great New Year’s resolution for students is to start the preparations now!

Students should be thoroughly familiar with the format and content of the SAT exam well in advance of their test date. It is not a secret what the test looks like or what material will be covered on each test section. (For example, there is always one trigonometry question and all students need to remember is that Sine X = Cos Y.)

Students should also know, and understand, the directions for each test section in advance so they can use all of the allotted time to earn points rather than to figure out what they need to do. This is particularly important for the open-ended math questions where students have to solve questions that are not multiple-choice and then correctly bubble in their answers. Students need to know, for example, that if their answer is one and a half and they bubble in the four boxes to read 11/2 they will not get credit, as the computer will record it as eleven halves. (Correct answers are 1.5 or 3/2)

It’s vital for students to understand how this test is scored. For all test questions, students earn one point for each correct answer. There is no longer a point deduction for incorrect answers, so students should guess when in doubt. Since the multiple-choice questions have four options (A, B C and D), even random guessing will provide correct answers approximately 25 percent of the time.

Students should first focus on the easier questions, since an easy question counts just as much as a hard question. College Board does not want students to get a perfect score, so there are some questions on each section intended to frustrate students. When students face such a question, they should cross out any answer choices they do not like, take a good guess from the remaining choices, and move on.

Even though the essay section, which appears at the end of the exam, is optional, students should do it as it is required by many colleges. Students are presented with a passage of 650 to 750 words and are asked not whether they agree or disagree with the author’s point of view, but rather to explain how the author developed a persuasive argument.

The best practice material for students is the book, The Official SAT Study Guide by College Board. This company writes the actual SAT exams that students will face and the practice tests, directions, and box of math formulas in the book mirror exactly what students will face on the day of their test. Some of the tests in the book are exact exams that were recently administered.

*Susan Alaimo is the founder and director of SAT Smart in Hillsborough that has been offering PSAT, SAT, and ACT preparation courses, as well as private tutoring by Ivy League educated instructors, for 25 years. Visit www.SATsmart.com or call 908-369-5362.*