Have you had stagnant SAT scores after a few retakes? Don’t know what to do to improve them? I was able to boost my score 110 points in two weeks from a 1280 to a 1390—so score improvement is possible. Note that it’s usually easier to improve your score dramatically when it falls on the lower spectrum, but if you’re scoring in the 1400 range and want to be in the 1500s, this article will still be helpful to you. We’ll go over each section of the test as well as some proven study methods and helpful prep books. These tips should help improve your scores and make your studying more effective!
The must-know basics of the SAT
In order to master the SAT, you must understand it through and through. Some basics you should know are the timing of each section. You have 65 minutes to complete 52 reading questions that are split into five passages; 35 minutes to complete 44 grammar questions that are split into four passages; 25 minutes to answer 20 math questions without a calculator; and 55 minutes to do 38 math questions with a calculator. However, when you’re practicing, you should time yourself five minutes less than what you actually have—this will ensure time doesn’t creep up on you during the real test. In your mind, you have 60 minutes for reading, 30 minutes for grammar, 20 minutes for math without a calculator, and 50 minutes for math with a calculator. The SAT is essentially a race against time; you need to know the concepts and know them well enough to complete each section on time. Now let’s talk about how to improve your score for each section.
Related: Understanding Standardized Tests and Scores
The Reading section
Let’s start with the Reading section. There are two main tactics that I’ve come across while studying that seem effective to improve your test prep.
- Method 1: If you’re having trouble comprehending the passages, try just reading the first and last paragraphs, and read only the first and last sentences of each of the paragraphs. Then go to the questions and answer the main idea questions. For line-specific questions, go back to the passage and read the paragraph the line is in. This way, you don’t need to worry about understanding the passages completely, and you can focus on the parts of the passages necessary to answering the questions instead.
- Method 2: If you understand the passages but don’t finish in the allotted time, or it takes too long to read and answer questions, try reading the questions first and circling important words that are relevant to the passage. When you read the passage, look for and circle those same words. This way, when you read, you’re more focused on what to look for. To increase your reading speed, time yourself reading passages from the New York Times or LA Times, specifically science passages or history passages, as they’ll be the most challenging to adapt to speed reading.
Some helpful prep books I recommend for English and Reading SAT prep are Erica L. Meltzer’s The Complete Guide to SAT Reading and Barron's SAT Study Guide Premium. When it comes to reading, applying different tactics and seeing what works for you is best. All of the answers are in the passage—you just have to look for them the right way. If you’re getting a specific type of question wrong every time, try a different tactic or refer to a prep book to fix your mistakes. If you’re struggling with a specific type of passage, practice those types of passages on Khan Academy over and over again.
Related: 3 Awesome (and Free) SAT Prep Resources
The Writing section
The Writing section is known as the easiest section on the SAT for some. However, others find this section frustrating. It’s all grammar; you don’t actually have to read the paragraphs, and I suggest you don’t read them—unless you have to. First, you have to understand and know how to apply grammar rules. If you struggle with that, I highly recommend getting a College Panda writing book, as it teaches you all the grammar rules and gives you extensive practice. Completing this book alone should really help increase your grammar score. For punctuation or simple grammar questions, just focus on the underlined portion and don’t get distracted on everything else around it. For sentence structure, word usage, or remove/add questions, you must read the paragraph or the surrounding sentences. If you’re getting a specific grammar rule wrong, aggressively practice that skill when you’re studying.
The Math section
The SAT Math section has a set type of question just with different numbers and different words. Math is pure practice, so put simply: learn the concepts through a test prep book. I recommend College Panda’s math guide or PWN the SAT: Math Guide. These books go over the concepts and give you adequate practice. Once you finish at least one of these resources, practice on Khan Academy. Doing this will increase your SAT scores dramatically. There’s no way you won’t get better if you consistently practice. Additionally, after each practice test, write down every single question you got wrong, why you got it wrong, and how to solve it. This decreases the chance of you getting the same question wrong on another test. If you notice that you’re getting the same type of question wrong over and over again, review that concept more than any other.
Related: Tackling the Hardest SAT Math Problems
Bringing it all together
The brain is a muscle: you have to train it hard, give it rest days, and practice in all types of conditions. I strongly recommend starting your SAT prep by taking a practice test and taking them as often as you can. Between practice tests, review every single question. For Reading and grammar, write down the general concept of what you got wrong or the type of question, plus how to avoid the mistake in the future. For Math, write down the specific question and the solution to it as well so you know how to solve it in the future.
Be sure you give your brain rest days: every two weeks, do some light studying. Light studying means reviewing your mistakes and doing a couple practice questions of your choosing. Personally, I like to practice my strongest subject on rest days, but it's up to you. When you do practice exercises in a prep book, do it wherever you do your schoolwork. However, when you do practice tests, take them somewhere far away from your study place, because your brain will take the test more seriously if it’s not your regular, comfortable study place. By simply practicing consistently for a couple weeks, you can raise your SAT scores to where your prospective colleges want them.
Are your SAT scores low because of anxiety issues? No problem! We have advice to help you deal with testing anxiety too.