Recently, someone asked an odd but strangely compelling question on Quora: “What is it like to take the SAT without any preparation?” As this question seems to focus more on feelings than consequences, you might as well ask what it’s like to do anything unprepared:
- You’ll feel anxious as the challenge of the task reveals itself.
- You’ll feel uncertain as you try to learn rules you could have mastered ahead of time.
- You’ll feel rushed as you struggle with pacing and time management.
- You’ll feel embarrassed for thinking you knew more about the task than you really did.
- You’ll feel foolish as you underperform compared to how you would do with preparation and practice.
- You’ll feel regret for wasting time and blowing an opportunity.
Imagine trying to sing a song you’ve never tried before in front of all your friends on karaoke night. Of all the emotions that would wash over you and your unfortunate audience, the only positive one would be relief when the song finally ended!
Some challenges in this world are worth facing even without preparation, but those are usually low stakes tasks and activities that are inherently fun. For example, bowling for the first time can turn into an endless stream of gutter balls and blown splits, but that awkwardness happens to be a big part of bowling’s charm. Neither trait applies to admissions tests like the SAT and ACT.
Obviously, many people do take the SAT or ACT (or sing karaoke) unprepared. Some may even do well. Beware the person who brags about acing a test with no prep or concern for outcomes. Chances are that individual spent a lifetime mastering the foundational skills these tasks reward. Strength in reading, writing, math, and test taking earned over a long period of time sets the stage for exam success even in the absence of familiarity with specific rules or question types. That doesn’t diminish the value of prep and practice.
Preparation helps everyone. If you are going to bother to take a test, why bother taking them unprepared? If you’re focused on your testing experience, the feeling of taking the SAT prepared is infinitely better than the alternative. Always prepare.