If you’re a high school sophomore or junior, the SAT is probably on your mind.
Getting an adequate SAT score is simply the benchmark for getting into certain colleges, and getting a great SAT score will boost your chances even more.
But getting a good score is easier said than done. You might be wondering (as I was), how do I practice? Do I need to get a tutor? Is vocabulary important?
Keep reading to get your questions answered! I’ve got strategies, experience-based advice, and resources for you to really maximize your SAT score.
Understand The Test Structure
You can’t take a test without knowing what you’re being tested on.
You must be familiar with the 4 sections in the SAT: Reading, Writing, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator allowed). There is also the optional Essay, which is required for some colleges.
The Reading section has 52 passage-based reading comprehension questions, with 65 minutes to complete it. It includes:
- 1 literature passage
- 2 history/social science passages
- 2 science passages
The Writing section has 44 questions in 35 minutes. It’s not exclusively grammar-based (though grammar takes up a large percentage) and includes questions based on word choice, passage organization, etc.
The Math (no calculator) section has 20 questions in 25 minutes; the last 5 questions are free-response questions. The Math (calculator) section has 38 questions in 55 minutes; the last 8 questions are free-response questions.
The SAT Math sections include concepts up to Geometry and Algebra II, which means you should have taken those classes before you take the SAT. If not, there are many resources where you can learn important concepts by yourself.
The Essay is optional, but because many colleges require it for college admissions, most students take it. You write a 4-5 paragraph essay in 50 minutes, analyzing an author’s argument based on a given passage (pointing out how the author argued it, not whether you agree or not). Make sure to research some examples!
Set a Goal Score
The new SAT (as of 2020) is out of 1600– 800 for Reading & Writing and 800 for both Math sections.
Many colleges have a “benchmark” or “minimum” SAT score that most of their accepted students have, though it ranges from different scores. The average scores for typical colleges are around 1300+, while Ivy Leagues can get as high as 1550+.
By setting a goal score, you can encourage yourself (or your subconscious) to keep practicing and improving your current score.
Your goal score will likely change after more and more practice. If you’ve left yourself enough time, you might be able to see yourself reaching your goal again and again just in practice tests!
Creating schedules is a great way to make sure you’re staying on top of yourself and on a steady path to reaching your goal.
If you’re using Khan Academy, make sure to use its Practice Schedule option to create a personalized study schedule.
If you’re studying by yourself (aka no Khan Academy), create a schedule in a notebook or ! If you’re a bullet-journalist, you can create elaborate spreads in your bullet journal to keep track of each practice session.
In your schedule, give yourself a daily/weekly goal for the number of questions/sections/tests you complete. Make sure it corresponds with the amount of practice you want to do to reach your goal score!
If you have a lot of time before your test, opt for 1 full practice test every one or two weeks and a few practice problems every day.
If you’re cramming, try to do a full practice test every 2-3 days and practice problems on the days you’re not doing a full test.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Practicing is so important. Just knowing the basic formulas and grammar rules isn’t going to help you ace the SAT.
You must familiarize yourself with the questions the SAT gives you.
The SAT can be, well, annoying. It takes concepts all high school students have studied and possibly understand really well and twist them into complex questions so you’re undecided between 2 answer choices.
But by practicing often, you can more readily identify what kind of trick a certain question is pulling and get past it.
Practicing is also important to get used to the type of text the SAT gives you in the Reading sections.
Many historical/social science passages in the Reading section are old – anywhere from a decade to a century ago. This means the language in those passages can be extremely awkward for modern students like us. Practice analyzing them so you’re not stumped on the test!
Get Test Prep Books
Test prep books are crucial for studying for the SAT, because you can find tons of high-quality practice tests in them with detailed answer explanations.
As I established before, practicing is literally 100% essential when you’re prepping for the SAT. And high-quality questions are important in that you’re practicing in the right way.
The SAT isn’t just a typical multiple-choice test. It has complicated questions you need to analyze. So you need to make sure you’re practicing with equally complicated questions!
The most credible test prep book is the Official SAT Study Guide from The College Board. Who better to get help from than the creator of the test? It includes
- 1300 pages
- descriptions of the test sections
- sample questions for each “topic”
- tips for the essay
- 8 official practice tests
There are also many other books from different authors, such as the Princeton Review Premium SAT Prep book.
If you’re looking for more targeted practice for individual sections, you can also find those online. A popular author for these types of practice books is the College Panda; you can find books for Math, Writing, and the Essay on Amazon.
Keep Track of Mistakes
Depending on your learning style, you may or may not need to keep a “Mistakes” notebook.
When you first start prepping for the SAT and start taking practice tests, mistakes are unavoidable. But you need to make sure that you’re understanding those mistakes and know exactly what you did wrong so you don’t do it next time!
Some students take a test, get their score, and just go on to the next test. You’re not going to learn anything from doing that!
After each practice test is scored, go back through each of the questions you missed (and all the questions you may have marked as a little confusing) and check it with the answer.
Read the answer explanations and make sure you understand them. Then, if you feel the need to, write down the mistake you made in a “Mistakes” notebook! This way, you’re solidifying the new knowledge in your mind and giving it a physical home so you can check back on it later.
Increase Your Vocabulary
While there isn’t a vocabulary section on the SAT, it’s actually embedded in the Reading and Writing sections (surprise, another College Board trick!).
Some questions may ask you what type of purpose a certain word in its context serves (in creating a vibe, emphasizing an argument, etc).
Other questions might ask you what synonym works best in the context of the passage (based on literal meaning, usage, or even just flow).
Whatever the case, not knowing what the word or words even mean is the worst thing that can happen.
This is why you need to make sure you’re constantly building up your vocabulary and practicing with them so you don’t draw blanks during the test.
Of course, there are some resources online to help you with this so you don’t have to flip through every page in a dictionary:
Make sure you’re practicing consistently so you can really memorize the words!
Getting a good score on the SAT is not impossible if you study effectively! Try to implement all of these strategies to ensure the best results 🙂
Have you taken the SAT before? If so, how did you prepare for it?
If not, what steps are you going to take to prepare?