TUN sits down with Dr. Lauri Benton, senior director of counselor engagement at The College Board, to discuss how you can achieve a great score on the SAT.
TUN: Dr. Benton, thanks so much for joining us.
DR. BENTON: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited about the conversation.
TUN: For the ambitious freshmen and sophomores out there, what should students be doing early on in their high school careers to prepare for the SAT?
DR. BENTON: We know, regardless of the situation, this year presents lots of challenges for students and families. It’s important to just put things in perspective at this point.
We know that students are in school in various models, whether it’s hybrid, face-to-face or all virtual. But, we know it’s important for students to really pay attention to the courses that they’re in.
Basically, students have been preparing for the SAT since Day One of school. All of the projects and events that they’ve participated in, as well as the questions that they’ve answered in class, have all set the foundation for their success on the SAT.
Because we know that the SAT is based on the skills that students are learning in class, we redesigned the SAT a few years ago to better reflect what kids are learning in the classroom. That is really what they need to be successful in college.
So, the best prep is for students to do their homework, take those challenging courses, prepare for tests and quizzes, ask lots of questions to their teachers and work in groups with their peers. That is how students can build that foundation necessary to be successful on the SAT.
In addition, students can begin preparing for their future as early or earlier than eighth grade. It’s not necessary to take separate steps. It’s embedded in their everyday learning environment by taking advantage of opportunities related to the SAT suite of assessment.
So, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. If you’re paying attention and doing that homework, which is sometimes not fun but is helpful for you to be able to gain those skills, that ultimately will best prepare you for the SAT.
TUN: There are tons of resources available online for students to help them prepare for the SAT for free or very cheap. What are the best resources that students can use?
DR. BENTON: Well, I’m a mother, so free is good for me.
When you’re talking about preparing for the SAT, you get no better than Khan Academy. We have partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, personalized practice to all students.
In addition to “free,” I think “personalized practice” is key here. Students can log in and connect their account to Khan Academy resources for official SAT practice.
They can take a full-length practice test. Or, if they’ve had the opportunity to take the PSAT, they can link their PSAT scores and it will create a personalized practice plan for them based on what they need, based on what their strengths and weaknesses are.
It’s not just a one-size-fits-all kind of practice experience. Instead, it is something that’s meaningful to them, effective and efficient.
Free and personalized are two aspects, and Khan Academy, I think, is the best way for students to start this process.
TUN: Do you have any tips to help students use that online resource? How can they get the most out of Khan Academy?
DR. BENTON: First of all, this conversation we’re having right now is important so that students know that there are free support resources out there.
I would ask students and families to look at cb.org so that they can link up with the Khan Academy resource.
It’s important that students have a plan and stay on track. That’s the best way that they can effectively use these resources. Anything that we’re doing as far as college preparation and planning has to have some level of framework and consistency.
As I said, students are doing what they need to do. If you’re doing everything you need to do in class every day, that’s one step of it. The next step is having a plan about how I’m going to involve myself in practicing and making sure that I am developing and acknowledging those skills that are necessary for college.
One of the things that is important to realize also is that there are regular steps that all students have to take. They have to start researching colleges and opportunities. They need to make sure that they’re practicing for the SAT or another admissions exam. They also need to make sure they complete the FAFSA. There are some core activities that students must do.
We created College Board Opportunity Scholarships, which follow six main steps that students must complete. So, it’s important for students to utilize that. They have a chance to earn scholarship dollars by following the steps that all students must do.
The College Board Opportunity Scholarships are open to all juniors and seniors attending high school in the United States, Puerto Rico and all U.S. territories. All students need to do is sign up and build a college list, practice for the SAT and complete the FAFSA. Each step qualifies them for scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000.
TUN: How much time should students be spending every day or every week preparing for the SAT? Does that depend on the student?
DR. BENTON: I think it depends on the student. Again, we don’t want to overwhelm students. Sometimes, we as parents and adults create a frenzy around this process. It adds undue stress. Times right now are stressful enough, and that’s not what we want to do.
In moderation, we want to make sure that, at least, students say, “You know what, I want to spend an hour every week or I want to spend two hours every week (preparing for the SAT).”
But, they don’t need to beat themselves up and put themselves in a situation where they are overly anxious about this. They’re going to end up where they need to be. There is a college, a program, for every student.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. One hour for you. You get an hour. You get an hour. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Think about what your goals are. Think about the time that you have available to dedicate. If you want to do it in a group setting, you can get together with friends. You can have a study group using Khan Academy. Whatever works best.
But, definitely make sure that they put some time in. That’s essential for them to make progress.
TUN: Do you have any tips or strategies that students can consider or use while they’re taking the actual test?
DR. BENTON: Absolutely. I think the main thing is to remember that there are no trick questions on the SAT. We want students to be able to demonstrate what they’ve learned in class and not focus on obscure vocabulary words or math that they’ll never use again.
We eliminated that. We eliminated the penalty for guessing so that students can put their best foot forward on the redesigned SAT. With the redesign that happened a few years ago, the new SAT is comprised of reading, writing, language and a math test. It focuses, again, on those skills that students are learning in high school and those skills that matter most for college readiness.
For a few helpful hints on what to expect on actual test day, students can actually head to the College Board checklist. That will also update them on the latest information about test center closures, should they need that due to COVID-19.
It’s a good idea to follow the College Board on Instagram and Twitter for those sample test questions and other timely support as well.
TUN: How many times would you recommend that students take the SAT?
DR. BENTON: Research shows that students from all backgrounds can take steps to strengthen their skills, improve their test scores and increase their likelihood of earning a degree. There’s also evidence that retaking the SAT may be an effective strategy. Students who retake the SAT usually get a higher score the second time around.
We know that, in these challenging times, students may or may not have that second opportunity. That’s why I really encourage students to go to Khan Academy. Use that full-length practice test, because they’ll get a flow and understanding about what the SAT is asking and the information that they’ll be providing. That way, when students have an opportunity to sit for the exam, they will be able to put their best foot forward and feel comfortable and confident in the responses and the experiences they have with the SAT.
TUN: Thanks, Dr. Benton, for taking the time to join us today.
DR. BENTON: Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.
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Jackson Schroeder is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School. He is originally from Savannah, Georgia. Jackson has covered a wide range of topics, including sustainability, technology, sports, culture, travel, and music. He plays bass and guitar, and enjoys playing and listening to live music in his free time.