### If you're taking the January SAT tomorrow...

Get a good night's sleep tonight, eat a good breakfast tomorrow, and walk in there with your head held high. You've worked hard, now reap the rewards.

### Why it's important to check your work

Sometimes, you make mistakes. I don't care who you are, what your GPA is, or what your SAT scores are. Sometimes, you make mistakes. If you're the kind of student who is able to finish sections before time is called, it's pure hubris not to use that opportunity to check your work.

An anecdote: yesterday morning, I did a bunch of work typing up an explanation for the Q&A page, but then accidentally closed my browser and lost all my work before posting it. I was late for a train, so I didn't have time to retype it all. I figured that once I got to campus—school has started again for me, too—I'd have a chance to retype it. And I did.

For the first time that I'm aware of, I posted an incorrect answer on my Q&A. And it's not that I didn't know how to do the question. I did all the "hard" math correctly. But when it came time to add 1 + 5 + 10 + 10 + 5 + 1, I got 22 instead of 32. And I posted that. It was up for about 18 hours before I woke up today, half-dazed, and muttered wait...22 isn't a power of 2! (The super-fast solution I hinted at in that post is that the number of subsets of a set with n elements is 2n.) I got out of bed, changed one digit in a post, and went back to bed.

So what's the point? I'm good at math. I'm sure-footed, especially when it comes to SAT-style problems. I don't second guess myself. The fact that you're reading this means that I have a reputation for being an authority on the topic. And still, I managed to make a very silly mental math error, the kind that costs people dearly on tests. And I posted it without checking my work. It was the first time in nearly a year of running the Q&A, so it doesn't happen often, but I made a silly mistake and didn't catch it. Sometimes, everyone makes mistakes.

Maybe some readers saw that I did all the work right, and just assumed it was a typo. That's generous, and I thank them. But you know who won't be as generous? You know who doesn't care whether you did all the work right? You guessed it: the SAT. So do as I say, not as I failed to do yesterday.

Check your work if you have time.

### An alternative Math Guide study plan

I designed the Math Guide to be read (and worked through) cover-to-cover alongside the Blue Book, but it's never been my philosophy that test prep is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. You don't have to work through the book linearly to have a successful experience with it. Jump all over the place, if that suits you. Like so:
1. Take Blue Book Practice Test #1. Correct and score it. That score is your baseline.
1. In the breakdown in the back of my book for Test #1 (sample of Test #3's page here), highlight every question you got wrong, and write down the techniques and relevant page numbers.
2. Work through every chapter (sample chapter) that you've written down more than once.
3. Do the short drills at the end of each chapter. Use my handwritten solutions to understand any mistakes you make.
4. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Go back to the Blue Book now, and redo every question in the test you got wrong, making efforts to apply the concepts you read about in the book. New techniques won't be easy or feel natural the first time, but if you want to change your scores, you're going to have to change your approach.
2. Read the Strategies chapter in my book. It'll give you something as you do all the actual math work. You need to know how the test is designed, and how to use that to your advantage, and how not to fall into some of the most common traps.
3. Take Blue Book Practice Test #4. Yes, I know this is out of order. Only tests #1-3 have fully accurate scoring tables, so save #2 and #3 for the end of your prep. For this test, record your score as the exact middle of the range of scores you get from the scoring table. Repeat steps A-D for Test #4.

### Want an 800 in writing?

I'm compelled, as I was when I wrote a similar post about the math section, to begin by saying this: If you're striving for an 800 as a means to an end (admission to the school of your choice, etc.) you should know that close is probably good enough. An 800 is unlikely to open any doors that a score in the high 700s would not. I can relate to anyone who wants to hit 800 just to say she did it—I was that kind of student in high school, too—but it would be irresponsible of me to begin this post with anything other than a disclaimer that if you're doing this for anything other than the thrill of the chase, you might look back at this time and think that you could have been spending this time doing something that might have brought you more personal satisfaction.

Phew! Now that we've got that over with, are you ready for a list of bullet points?!

• You need to know all the common rules like the back of your hand. This should go without saying, but you absolutely must be able to spot a dangling modifier, a run-on, or a comparison error in your sleep. In fact, you should know everything on this page, and all the pages it links to. Want it all broken down even finer? Get Erica's book.
• Learn from every mistake. Some questions are trickier than others, but if you're shooting for perfection then there's no such thing as a bogus question. Every mistake is an opportunity not to make a similar mistake. Don't get mad, get even.
• Remember that the SAT loves to introduce new problems in the answer choices. In the Sentence Improvement section, one of the easiest ways to miss a question is to pick a choice that fixes the original problem, but introduces a new one (often a run-on). Make sure you read the sentence again with your choice inserted before moving on.
• Leave no blanks. I advocate guessing in most cases, but especially in this one. If you're even thinking about 800, then you should be able to correctly eliminate AT LEAST one incorrect choice on even the hardest problems. What's more, if you've got a realistic shot at 800, then you won't be missing enough to cost yourself points. A blank, in that case, is just as bad as an incorrect guess—so at least give yourself the chance at getting the question right.
• The essay is important. Look, I know as well as anyone that it's no fun to write a practice essay. And I've worked with enough students to know that no matter how many times I tell them to do a WHOLE test before I see them again, I've got maybe a 50/50 chance of them writing an essay. Practicing the essay is no fun. But if you don't do it, then you're putting yourself in the unfortunate position of sitting in your exam room at 8 AM with sweaty palms and no idea what to write. Or hand cramps and not enough time/space to fit in everything you want to say. You need to practice writing concise, convincing arguments in 25 minutes. If you don't, you won't.
• The essay is not that important. You can get a 9 on your essay and still hit 800 with a perfect performance on the multiple choice section. So don't obsess over scoring a 12. I've read essays I thought were awful that got 12s, and I've read essays I thought were great that didn't get 12s. You're at the mercy of nameless, faceless, overworked graders. If you can consistently write essays that score 10 or better, focus your energies on grammar rules and try to ace the multiple choice.
• Don't neglect the paragraph improvement section. It's only 6 questions per test, so it's easy to brush off preparing for this section. If you're shooting for 800, though, then you can't afford to be caught flat-footed. Remember that "in context" means you're looking for sentences that make sense in the paragraph, and that transition nicely from the sentence before them, and into the sentence after them.
• Don't sweat idioms. Seriously, there are an incredible number of idioms that the SAT could test, but unlike vocabulary words which appear over and over again, there's not much of a pattern to the idioms that are tested. That's the bad news. The good news is that idiom questions are rare (usually 1 to 3 per test) and that you'll often be able to get them by ear. Don't become obsessed with idioms, because you'll drive yourself crazy and start thinking all kinds of perfectly constructed phrases "sound funny." Even if you miss an idiom question or two, you can still get an 800; the writing section is forgiving like that. So try to relax about idioms. If you want to do something productive that might have the happy side effect of making you better at spotting idiom errors, read lots of sophisticated writing; you might be exposed to a few idioms you haven't seen before. And hey, you might also pick up some good vocabulary along the way. Reading is a good thing.
...Am I missing anything?

### Weekend Essay Challenge - The Grapes of Wrath edition

By popular demand, here's another essay challenge. By my own personal financial constraints, I can only award ONE winner this time. Let's get right into it, shall we?

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

Assignment: Should the needs of the many outweigh the desires of a powerful few? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Submit your essays as comments below. To be considered, they must be submitted before 12:01 AM EST Tuesday morning. I'm looking for clear, concise writing in SAT essay format. Which means I need to be able to believe that what you submit could fit on 2 pages, hand-written, and that you did it in 25 minutes. I will send the winner a free copy of the PWN the SAT Math Guide. You cannot be anonymous to win.

Please note: I will score every essay and try to give a few notes about each one, but there can only be one winner, even if two essays get the same score. It's possible, for example, that I award two essays a score of 11, which is the highest score. I will pick which one I personally like better to be the winner. That's just the way it's gotta be.

Good luck!

UPDATE: I'm really happy with the quality of the responses I've been getting with these contests. Congrats to Jaclyn, who won this round, and thanks to all submitters. Keep your eye out for more contests in the future!

### Some Essay DOs and DON'Ts

 Source.
Read enough SAT essays, and patterns begin to emerge. Some of them are good (I mostly still love seeing The Great Gatsby used as an example even though I've seen it a million times, as long as it's appropriate for the prompt) and some not so much. Here's a hodgepodge of common things you should or should not do, based on what I have seen people do over and over again. In my examples, I'll pretend I'm writing an essay with the prompt from my recent contest.

• DO write a clear and concise intro that states your position, mentions your examples, and gets out of the way.
When achievements are accomplished dishonestly, their value is diminished. Too often, people choose to cut corners to reach their goals, cheapening their success. Disgraced baseball star Barry Bonds and author James Frey are two examples of people who accomplished great things dishonestly, and whose achievements were diminished when their dishonesty came to light.
• DON'T ponder over the definitions of words, or different philosophies related to the subject. And please do not start your essay with "In life." Just get to the point.
In life, there are good achievements and bad achievements. When achievements are good they are achieved by honest means, but sometimes achievements are achieved dishonestly and are therefore bad. What is an achievement? It is when a goal is completed.
• DON'T claim that your examples are proof of anything. You are making an argument, not constructing a rigorous logical proof.
The Great Gatsby and my personal experience prove that achievements are worthless if they are not accomplished honestly.
• DO choose examples that fit the prompt, and about which you are knowledgeable.
By the numbers, Barry Bonds is one of Major League Baseball's all-time greats, but his dishonesty has cast a pall over his 21-year career. He holds the record for most home runs hit over a career, and the single-season home run record, which he set in 2001 when he hit a whopping 73. But when allegations surfaced that Bonds had taken performance enhancing drugs in the process of reaching these milestones, fans were appalled. Many called for the his exclusion from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. He was dragged through protracted legal proceedings that lasted years and years; he barely avoided a prison sentence after he was convicted of obstruction of justice. Baseball experts generally agree that with his raw talent, Bonds would have been an elite player for many years. Because of his dishonesty and corner-cutting, though, Bonds' name will forever be associated in baseball lore with dishonesty, not greatness.

### And...we're back

Things have been quiet here, but blowing up over at the Q&A site. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten how to write longer posts. I was just on vacation. I'm back now. And I promise to stop peppering you with posts about my book. After this one.

While I was gone, some cool things happened that I'd like to bring to your attention.
That's all. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled tomfoolery now.