As I write this, I am in “Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.” Being here reminds me of the old Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” (yes, kids, he had a singing career before he opened his chain of chicken restaurants…). This reminded me of advice I can give you for the upcoming first-ever administration of the new SAT, and the ACT that’s following not too far behind. The chorus or refrain (you know, the part that repeats) goes like:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away…
Know when to run…
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done…
Here’s a link to a YouTube Video of Kenny singing it for us…
Know When to Hold ‘Em:
If you have an idea that you can figure out a problem, but can’t get the right answer (for example, your answer doesn’t match any of the choices), and you can’t see any mistakes in your calculations, “put it on hold.” Circle the problem in your test booklet and fill in the answer choice that looks most likely to you. Many times the answer will pop into your head once you’ve moved on to another problem – it’s happened to me (“Oh, I used the wrong value, so that’s why it came out wrong!”) If it’s a harder problem at the end of a math section (remember, they’re arranged from easy to hard, so the hard ones are at the end) that you’re sure you can do, hold on and spend a little more time to finish it.
Know When to Fold ‘Em:
If you’ve spent more than about 90 seconds on a problem, and you’re still not sure how to solve it (you can’t figure out the math, aren’t sure about the grammar or punctuation rule, or none of the choices of the “command of evidence” question seem to support any answer to the preceding question), pick your favorite letter and move on. There’s NO penalty for guessing on the new SAT or on the ACT, so just “fold” and move on.
Know When to Walk Away:
Take your time on the passage reading questions – while pacing yourself may make you fear you’re wasting time, it’s better to understand the passage and get credit for the questions you actually understand, rather than rushing and making stupid mistakes.
Also “walk away” from using vocabulary words you really don’t know in an attempt to impress essay writers, or arguing a side of an issue for which you don’t have evidence, when you can argue the other side with convincing examples, even if you don’t believe the other side.
Know When to Run:
When you know you don’t know the answer, or simply don’t have time to figure out the right answer (say, there are two minutes left and you need to get through 10 questions), just eliminate the answers you KNOW are stupid (for example, an answer choice that gives you a negative number for the area of a geometric figure, two possible definitions of words that mean the same thing- they can’t BOTH be right, answers that go far beyond anything stated or implied in a reading passage, etc.) and GUESS!
Run away from taking controversial stands on your essays or trying anything really creative or unusual on your essay- be a sheep! The more you make the essay grader think about your essay, the more likely he or she is to catch errors in punctuation, spelling, etc. Having graded many SAT essays, I know that from experience.
You Never Count Your Money When You’re Sittin’ at the Table:
This particular line reminds me of a few pieces of advice. First of all – concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t panic and worry about how you’ll never get into the college you want, because this test is too hard, life in unfair, your mom always liked your older brother better, yadda yadda. Don’t worry about if you’re hungry, the kid next to you stuck his gum under the desk; someone smells bad, your evil ex-girlfriend keeps looking at you, or whatever. It’s just you and the test. Nothing else matters. All the other stuff will matter when you’re DONE WITH THE TEST.
Also, it’s best to make sure you don’t talk to yourself too loudly, if you tend to “think out loud” (hey, it’s often helpful), since you don’t want to be accused of cheating. So at least “count your money” silently. It’s also best not even to talk about the test during the breaks – you don’t have to be a jerk about it, but just tell your friends “Hey, I want to take a break for a second, and you know, I’m drawing a blank on that question right now.” Again, it’s best to err on the side of caution if you want things to go smoothly.
In the extremely unlikely case where there IS an irregularity, where you’re accused of cheating, writing after time was called, or whatever, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Don’t answer questions you don’t have to answer, and don’t discuss it with your friends, teachers, nosy neighbors, etc. Treat it like a criminal case, where even the most innocent answer you give will be twisted and used against you. And for goodness’ sake, DON’T CHEAT! The best defense against an accusation is being able to show that it’s false and based on a misunderstanding, but talking about it when you’re completely stressed out will NOT help you.
There’ll Be Time Enough for Countin’ When the Dealin’s Done:
You can talk about the test AFTER it’s over. Assuming things went smoothly, talk about it all you want with anyone you want. Start working on your college applications, homework, extracurriculars, career planning, and so on. Now’s the time to think about the future and the great job you did on the SAT or ACT. Hope this helps.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.