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    All About the SAT

    What to do before you grab your No. 2 pencils.

    Interview by LaTonya Taylor

    Got questions about the SAT? We've got answers. Pastor and author James Stobaugh is an SAT expert with more than 30 years of experience preparing students to do their best on this important test. He's also the author of The SAT & College Preparation Course for the Christian Student (Great Expectations Book Company). We asked Dr. Stobaugh to answer common questions about the SAT—what it is, why it matters so much, and the best ways to prepare.

    Why is the SAT so important?

    Dr. Stobaugh: Because each high school is different, with different grading systems and curriculum programs, admissions offices need an objective way to measure students' potential. Standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT provide that objective measuring tool. They allow admissions professionals to compare students from different backgrounds and different types of schools—public schools, private schools, and kids whose parents homeschool them. The test is the primary way American universities determine admission and financial aid, so it weighs pretty heavily. The SAT I Reasoning Test is one of the most important elements of your admission application.

    The SAT II is an achievement test, similar to the Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, which are based on a specific subject area like history, philosophy or a foreign language. As you apply to colleges, you can take these tests to demonstrate your strength in a certain subject. You can also earn college credits based on your scores.

    Can you study for the SAT?

    Dr. Stobaugh: You can, but test preparation is different for the SAT than for other tests. Some tests are based on learning a certain body of information. If you've learned the information, you'll probably do well. The SAT is different. It's a skill-based aptitude test similar to the IQ test. Because of that, I recommend preparing for the test well in advance. I don't recommend devoting every day to SAT preparation, but I think it's wise to spend about three years—9th grade to 11th grade—doing some sort of occasional SAT preparation.

    How do you recommend that students prepare for the SAT?

    Dr. Stobaugh: I really believe it takes from one to three years to prepare for the test. That kind of preparation is what I offer in my book. But whether or not a student buys my book, I think it's good to have some kind of organized plan that includes an aggressive reading program, since 80 percent of the SAT verbal section is reading. Reading about 25 books a year, especially the classics, is great preparation. I find that students who read a lot of good, solid literature usually do well. People who use their minds in challenging subjects usually do well—for example, musicians and debate students tend to score highly. And some studies show that students with a strong religious faith and a strong prayer life often perform well, too.

    What should students do if the test is coming up soon, and they don't have years to prepare?

    Dr. Stobaugh: I recommend taking a lot of practice tests, especially if you only have a few weeks to prepare for the test. These sample tests are good preparation. You can find sample tests in books from the College Board at major bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble. (Editor's note: SAT prep books and practice tests are also available on the College Board website, www.collegeboard.com.)

    Most of all, don't panic. That doesn't help at all. Through my experience as an SAT coach, I've discovered that your state of mind and heart affects your score. Again, students who have a strong prayer life and a focused walk with God benefit greatly from the way their faith helps them deal with stress. As a result, they often do better.

    Many teachers and guidance counselors say the best way to prepare for the SAT is to do your best in school—that strong students generally score well. What's your thought about that advice?

    Dr. Stobaugh: I think that's good advice. The student who works hard building good discipline, good reading habits, and good thinking habits is likely to score well. But, in my opinion, it's still important to have a study plan that prepares you for the SAT.

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