Not so Nostalgic for the Standardized Test of Yore

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No longer are your parents waking you up to study or take a test.

In the twilight region of your brain, there is buried a memory. It probably goes something like this: against your will, you woke up very early one Saturday morning to crowd into a room of similarly groggy teenagers. A vaguely authoritarian figure handed out number two pencils and yelled “start” and “stop” at 30-minute intervals.

You emerged from the experience frazzled, probably wondering why you had to take a stupid test that didn’t test what you really knew but seemed intent on tricking you. A few weeks later you got a score and then went on your way, a sour taste in your mouth whenever anyone uttered the letters—SAT.

Now, what seems a lifetime later, another very similar test stands between you and your academic career: the GRE. Like the SAT, you will have reading passages, big vocabulary words, and, of course, answer choices that are designed to trick you. Unlike the SAT, you may have a very different attitude towards education. No longer are your parents waking you up to take a test or telling you when to study (or at least I hope not); you are in charge, and you are set on doing very well on the GRE.

Much of that success depends not just on the size of your vocabulary or your knowledge of integer properties, but on how well you understand how the test is designed. Below are some points to keep in mind.

1. The SAT and the GRE are not exactly the same

The information above may lead you to think that the GRE and the SAT are exactly the same. First off, the GRE is much more difficult (makes sense since it tests knowledge in grad school bound students). And students often find themselves confused with the different scoring. The GRE score range is from 130 to 170 on a math and a verbal section (the GRE doesn’t have a writing section—though, like the SAT, it does have an essay).

 2. Understand why the right answer is right and the wrong answer is wrong

For SAT test takers there is a tendency to want to argue with the answers, especially on the dreaded SAT reading passages. The key is to not fight the correct answer but understand why the test writers consider the right answer and why your original answer is considered incorrect.

3. You must learn vocabulary

In high school you were probably loath (which means reluctant) to study vocabulary. For the GRE, you have to turn your initial revulsion to all things multisyllabic into an all-consuming passion. Think of a GRE word list as your ticket to a good score.

4. How did you do before?

If you did well on the SAT, you should do quite well on the GRE. There is no SAT to GRE score conversion, but unless you spent college unlearning your math and reading skills, your good SAT score should translate into a good GRE score.

If the SATs did you in and sent you sailing in a different direction in life, don’t despair. That’s what this post is for: to galvanize you to approach GRE studying differently from how you approached SAT studying. An average SAT score doesn’t have to translate into a mediocre GRE score. You can overcome the past. So get cracking on those vocabulary flashcards!

grad 5 Fatal Flaws

MagooshThis post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh, a leader in GRE prep. For help with GRE vocabulary, check out our free flashcards and Vocab Wednesday videos on the Magoosh GRE Blog.

Related Resources:

• GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep
• Why You Don’t Need a Perfect GRE Score
• GRE vs. GMAT: Trends

I Stink At SAT Math: What Next?

Looking for more SAT tips? Check out our SAT blog posts.

Help! I Stink at SAT Math!

It’s pretty much inevitable that at some point during your SAT, you’re going to look at a problem and think, “Nope. Not happening.”

Or maybe it will be a few moments after, which can be even more frustrating—you work through what seems like the best way to attack a problem, but then after a good minute or so of work you’re still nowhere near an answer and don’t know what you’re even trying to do anymore.

What you do at that point is key, because the SAT is timed, after all. Every moment you spend looking blankly at a question is a moment gone to waste.

That’s part of why SAT math isn’t really like the rest of the math you do in school. One of the most important skills in the math section is knowing when to guess. That’s one thing you don’t really get from math class.

The principle is pretty simple: if you’re just starting to answer a question and you don’t know what to do, spend ~15 seconds exploring (don’t worry too much about the exact time, but realize this step has to be quick). Rework any equations you have. Label any measurements of a figure that you can infer. Write out the first elements in a series or look for other patterns.

And if, after exploring, you don’t know what to do next, don’t go back to square one and re-live your frustration. Instead, look first at whether there are any answer choices you can definitely rule out. Then circle the question in your test book, select a your best guess the answer sheet (this is why ruling out any answer choices you can is so important), and move on to the next question. Remember that every question in a section is worth the same, so it’s key that you give yourself enough time to get right every question that you can get right. Only after you’ve done that should you resume chewing your pencil and loathing that roadblock question.

As a side note, though, if you find yourself getting stuck on SAT math questions often but, at the same time, really think you know all the material that you need to for the test, then you might want to take a stab at the ACT instead. There’s a huge overlap between the tests, but there’s also a pretty subtle difference in SAT vs ACT math: the ACT tends to be a little bit more straightforward, so knowing the material is enough to answer most questions—it’s less often that you need to figure out subtle twists like what the SAT might throw at you.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

MagooshThis post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep. For more SAT resources, check out Magoosh SAT vocabulary flashcards and the Magoosh SAT Blog!

Related Resources:

• Writing an Interesting SAT Essay in 25 Minutes
• Getting Ready to Apply to College Series
• GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep

What Score Do You Need on the TOEFL?

If you’re an international student applying to the U.S., you’ve probably asked yourself this question: what TOEFL score do I need to get in? You might have heard that making it to the 100’s will guarantee you admission, but you’ve also had friends who reached that score and were turned down from schools. Confused yet? We’d be too!

But before you give up hope, our friends at Magoosh TOEFL have good news for you! They’ve just released a new infographic that shows what TOEFL sores you’ll need to get into top graduate schools in the U.S. It’s based off their research on the minimum scores required at top schools as well as what other students at those schools score on average. That means you now have a place to start and a goal to aim for when you decide to take the TOEFL. Cue sigh of relief!

TOEFL Scores Infographic


What if I Need to Retake the SAT?

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SAT: Take 2 (or 3 or 4)

Some treat taking the SAT over again as though it were the same thing as walking down the aisle to take one’s marriage vows for the second time. If stigma should be attached anywhere, it should be on not re-taking the SAT—a second time, third time, and a fourth time. I’m not saying become an SAT test-taking junkie. Rather, you should feel utterly at ease with retaking the SAT. Here’s why!

1. Colleges only see the scores you decide to send them

The colleges aren’t like Big Brother (the all-knowing presence from Orwell’s 1984). That is, they won’t know your scores unless you submit them. You have the option of doing so, for free, during the test. However, you can also send them any time after the test (for a small fee). Unless, you send a specific college your score report, it will never know what you got.

2. You can send your best score in any one section

You can pick and choose your best performance, section-wise, from any test. So your total score can come from as many as three different tests.

Let’s say you scored 750 in math and were surprised at how well you did. However, you bombed the verbal because you didn’t study vocab. For the next test, you go into agro vocab mode and you end up with an amazing 680 on verbal (but you end up doing not so well on math and writing). On a third take you could just focus on the writing section and essay so as to get your best score. If you don’t do so well on the third test, take it again.

3. Knowing that you can retake the SAT multiple times should make it less stressful

All of this is good news because it makes taking the SAT much less stressful. So even if you think taking the test four times is ludicrous, because, hey, you have better things to do with your Saturday, that’s fine. Knowing that you can retake the test will, if nothing else, make the experience a little less stressful.

4. Just because you take the SAT again doesn’t mean you’ll do better

It’s important to note that taking the SAT again doesn’t mean you’re going to score better. Only retake the test if you feel you’ve prepped more than before and are going into the test with more knowledge and better strategies. You might also want to use different prep materials than you did the first time around. For suggestions, check out the Magoosh book reviews in our SAT eBook.

5. There is more to life than taking the SAT

For those of you at the very other end of the spectrum—those who know you can and should retake the test—don’t keep doing so just for those extra few points. There are other things that colleges look at—things you could be doing instead of learning more esoteric SAT vocabulary (do you really need to know the difference between the words “venal” and “venial”?). Volunteering at a hospital, working on that special talent, or studying for one of the SAT subject tests (I know—it’s hard to truly get away from the SAT) might make you seem a little more well-rounded.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

Magoosh SAT This post was written by Chris Lele, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on SAT prep, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.