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How to Do Well on the SAT

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young female student writing in her desk in a room full of students.

How to Do Well on the SAT

How does one do well on the SAT? The SAT, or Scholastic Assessment Test, is one of the most prominent standardized tests used by colleges and universities across the United States to evaluate the academic readiness of prospective students. A high score on this exam can significantly bolster a student’s college application, potentially opening doors to esteemed institutions and scholarship opportunities.

While the SAT might initially seem daunting, with the right preparation and understanding of its format, students can strategize and hone their skills to optimize their performance. In this guide, we’ll delve into proven techniques and tips that have helped countless students excel on this critical examination, demystifying the test and setting you on a path to SAT success.

Is It Possible to Get a Good Score on the SAT Without Putting in Much Effort?

Both the ACT and the SAT are crucial exams many students will encounter. Some students may avoid preparation, thinking these exams are just like any other standardized test.

However, those who skip studying for the SAT or ACT rarely achieve high scores. For most high school students, expecting a high score without preparation is unrealistic. Considering that SAT and ACT scores significantly impact college admissions, it’s advisable to invest effort in preparing for these challenging exams. They might not offer traditional returns, but they can greatly influence a student’s college education and admission chances.

Writing in a desk in a classroom.

There’s a notable correlation between SAT or ACT scores and available scholarship funds at many colleges. Since 2011, colleges have been mandated to feature a ‘net cost calculator’ on their websites, and the College Board’s site also offers this tool. By entering your SAT or ACT scores, you can estimate potential scholarship awards. Would you put in some extra effort to boost your SAT score by a hundred points if it might save you thousands on college fees?

While a small fraction of students might naturally excel in these tests without prior preparation, this doesn’t hold for the majority. Proper study and preparation can expand college choices and increase opportunities for financial aid.

Consider this: If you could potentially save thousands annually with just a few hours of preparation, wouldn’t you take the chance? Even if you believe you can achieve a satisfactory score without studying, reflecting on the broader implications is essential.

Achieving a high score on the SAT is a critical step in the admissions process. There are many straightforward ways to maximize your potential. Here are some general tips on how to excel:

  • One strategy is to concentrate your test preparation on areas of the material with which you struggle the most.
  • On test day, ensure you’re well-rested and have eaten a proper meal. Utilize test-taking strategies to manage your time effectively and progress through the exam, capitalizing on your strengths.
  • If your scores aren’t where you’d like them to be, don’t get discouraged. Once you’ve identified the types of questions that challenge you, focus your energy on improving in these specific areas.
  • Consider investing in a test preparation book or borrowing one from the library. Dedicate 20 minutes each night to practice questions similar to those you’ve previously answered incorrectly.
  • Set achievable goals. You might have a specific score in mind, but it’s also essential to set immediate, attainable objectives. If you’re practicing with 20 questions, for instance, aim to answer 15 correctly. Once achieved, increase your goal to 17.
  • Instead of memorizing every word in your prep book, focus on mastering prefixes and suffixes. This approach will enhance your ability to understand a broader range of vocabulary.
  • If the essay section is challenging, practice by setting a timer and attempting to draft an outline in under five minutes.
  • If self-study isn’t your strength, think about enrolling in a test-prep class. Your school’s guidance counselor can provide insights into available courses. If financially feasible, sign up for college admissions services or explore firms specializing in test preparation for potential private tutors.
  • For those on a tight budget, forming a study group can be an effective alternative. Use a test-prep book as a guide, or ask a teacher if they could occasionally lead sessions. Even those in formal test prep courses can benefit from supplementary group study.
  • Memorize the general instructions for the test. While it’s vital to follow the SAT’s initial instructions, reading them during the test can be time-consuming. Familiarizing yourself with them in advance can save precious minutes on exam day.
  • Regularly take mock exams. The SAT format remains consistent, so practicing the entire test under real conditions is invaluable. Simulate a test environment by ensuring silence and eliminating distractions. Many test-prep books offer practice tests, and while additional tests are available online, some may require a fee.
  • If staying focused for the test’s duration is challenging, consider asking a parent or friend to supervise and time your practice session.

How to Excel in the SAT Math Section?

The SAT Math Test comprises four subtests: The Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math.

Remember that the third and fourth sections of the SAT are the math segments.

For the first 25 minutes of the SAT Math section, the use of a calculator is NOT allowed. However, you’re free to use your calculator during the subsequent 55-minute math section.

Ready to kick-start your SAT preparation? Here’s some advice to help you tackle the SAT Math test like a pro:

Take a Mock Exam

An effective strategy is to take a sample test that provides an answer sheet. Time yourself and afterward, assess your performance. Identify areas of struggle to tailor your study plan.

Memorize Formulas and Math Facts

Familiarize yourself with the concepts covered in the SAT Math section. If you memorize formulas and facts, you’ll more readily identify solutions. For instance, when encountering “parallel lines” on the XY coordinate plane, remember that “no solution” and “identical slope” are frequent answers. Recognizing potential solutions can speed up your progress.

Unidentified woman taking a test in a room.

Practice and Review

Familiarize yourself with different types of SAT Math questions. Practice is key. If you answer incorrectly while practicing, review the explanation and try again with the newfound knowledge.

Employ Various Strategies

If you can’t solve a question with familiar math, try techniques like picking numbers or backsolving. Picking numbers involves substituting variables with real numbers fitting the given conditions. With backsolving, you reverse-engineer the solution by plugging the answer choices into the original problem. Relying on these techniques can be a time-saver and might earn you extra points during the test.

Master Basic Calculations

Since one segment of the SAT doesn’t allow calculators, become confident in performing basic arithmetic tasks without one, such as multiplication, division, and graph plotting.

Male student writing in his notebook while looking at the laptop.

Minimize Careless Mistakes

To excel in the SAT or any standardized test, it’s vital to reduce silly mistakes. Being timed may increase the risk of these errors. While timing is essential, avoid letting it become a source of undue stress.

Practice for Speed

To get a high score, aim to complete the entire test. It’s advisable to allocate more time to the latter part of the section, where challenging questions tend to be. As you prepare for the SAT’s math sections, practice under timed conditions – around one to one and a half minutes per question. This practice will help optimize your efficiency during the actual test.

How to Excel in the SAT Reading Section?

Your performance in the SAT Reading Test greatly influences your score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing portion of the SAT. (The Writing Test accounts for the other half.) While the importance of the reading test cannot be overlooked, it’s by no means an unbeatable challenge. Unlike other sections, you don’t have to memorize formulas or specific grammar rules; you simply need to know how to tackle each reading passage effectively. Employing the right reading strategies can help you achieve a commendable score.

Female student writing an reading in a library.

Know What to Expect

You’ll be given sixty-five minutes to read five passages sourced from literature, history, social studies, and the natural sciences. Following this, you’ll answer a total of fifty-two questions related to these readings. Questions may ask you to determine the main idea of a passage, compare two passages, interpret data from a graph, discern word meanings based on context, and identify the reason behind a specific detail, among other tasks.

You Control the Order

Questions following a reading selection aren’t ranked by difficulty but appear in chronological order. Don’t hesitate to skip challenging questions initially. Consider varying strategies for answering questions out of sequence.

Focus on the Relevant

There’s no need to pore over every single word in the passage. Instead, skim through while maintaining comprehension. Oscillate between the passage and its related questions, zoning in on the necessary details without getting mired in minutiae.

studying and taking notes in a desk.

Stay True to the Text

Unlike in an English class where you might be asked to opine on a text using evidence, the SAT expects concrete answers. When you encounter questions with terms like ‘infer’, ‘imply’, or ‘suggest’, proceed with caution. While the answer might not be overtly stated, substantial textual evidence will support the correct choice.

Handle Dual Passages Wisely

At least once, you’ll be presented with two shorter texts on a shared topic. Address questions related to the first passage, then the second, and finally, tackle questions that encompass both. This sequence helps save time and minimizes confusion between the two passages.

Save Broad Questions for Later

Often, the initial question for a reading passage revolves around its primary theme, narrative perspective, or a notable shift in the text. It’s prudent to address these overarching questions after you’ve tackled the more specific ones. By then, you’ll have a clearer grasp of the passage’s dominant motifs.

How to Excel in the SAT Writing Section?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is taken by millions of students annually and plays a crucial role in the college admissions process.

Despite the evolving landscape of college admissions, many prestigious institutions still consider standardized test scores as a significant determinant, even if the emphasis on these scores varies among institutions.

However, rigorous preparation can turn the SAT’s challenges into opportunities for diligent students. Notably, significant score improvements are often more achievable for students starting with lower scores.

We’ll delve into the top five strategies to boost your score in the SAT Writing section.

Understand the SAT Writing Evaluation Criteria

To effectively enhance your SAT Writing score, familiarize yourself with the tested domains. According to the College Board, the Writing and Language section assesses your skills in five primary domains:

    • Evidence-Based Writing: Enhance how information and ideas are conveyed in passages.
    • Contextual Vocabulary: Improve word choice to align with a passage’s tone or style.
    • Analysis in History, Social Studies, and Science: Edit passages on these subjects for clarity and correctness.
    • Expression of Ideas: Focus on the organization of ideas, structural passage changes, and understanding the impact of a text’s structure.
    • Standard English Conventions: Brush up on fundamental grammar concepts like sentence structure, punctuation, and usage conventions.

Master the Format

The structure of the SAT Writing section can be disorienting, with passages on the left and questions on the right of the booklet. This layout demands frequent shifts in focus. Regular practice tests can familiarize you with this format, reducing potential confusion. Often, answering a question requires reading just one or two relevant sentences, especially for grammar-focused questions.

Sharpen Your Grammar Skills

Mastering essential grammar rules is a direct path to a better score. Prioritize the following areas:

      • Punctuation
      • Sentence Structure
      • Conventional Expression
      • Subject-Verb Agreement
      • Possessives

While there are many grammar rules tested on the SAT, the above areas account for roughly 80% of grammar-focused questions.

Optimize Your Time

Timing is crucial. With 25 minutes to tackle four passages and 44 multiple-choice questions, time management is paramount. Ideally, allocate eight minutes per passage, leaving a few minutes at the end for review. As you read, answer questions in tandem, given the side-by-side layout of passages and questions. If a question stumps you, make an educated guess and move on.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Taking practice tests is vital, but their real value lies in post-test analysis. Classify and understand your errors: Were they due to time constraints, repetitive mistakes in specific content areas, or simple oversights? Addressing these issues head-on paves the way for consistent improvement.

Preparing for the SAT is demanding, but most students get multiple shots at the test. Utilize the strategies mentioned above to hone your skills and maximize your scores across the SAT’s diverse yet crucial sections.

The SAT is an indispensable part of the college admissions process. To enhance your Ivy League application, consider seeking professional support for standardized tests. AdmissionSight, with over a decade of experience, has been aiding students in their SAT preparation. Set up an appointment with AdmissionSight today for your initial consultation.

 

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