Five Strategies For Success On The SAT: How to Improve Your SAT Score



It’s that time of year again. SAT prep crunch time!

We know how hard you’ve been working—how many practice tests you’ve been taking and strategies you’ve been mastering (if not, it’s not too late)—here are some tips on how to improve your SAT score:

Tip #1: Full Test Tip: Strategize Your Guesses.

A reminder just in case you aren’t aware: answer every single question. Of course, first and foremost, if you are stumped on a problem, you’ll want to eliminate any answer choices that are wrong. For example, on the reading section, you will want to watch out for answer choices that are either too extreme or too general. On the math section, you will want to look for apparent outliers that are too big or too small. Once you’ve done your eliminations, it’s time to take your best strategic guess. When you get to the end of the section, you’ll want to fill in all of your skipped blanks, and we recommend doing this with the same letter for each skipped answer.

Tip #2: Reading Section Tip: Read Strategically.

You get points for ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS, not reading the passage. Just because you get these points does NOT mean you can skip over the passage entirely and go straight to the questions. This means read strategically. You do this by first making a quick 15-second assessment of all reading section passages. Does that passage about neuroscience make you want to crawl under the table? Save it for last. Do you loathe 18th-century fictional prose? Skip it, and return later. Tackle the passages that look the easiest or most interesting first. Also, SKIM. Read for the main idea, and go straight to the questions. Don’t forget to “tag up” your passage by underlining main ideas and key phrases as you go.

Tip #3: Writing and Language Section Tip: Internalize the Story.

Again, always read for the main idea. When students get to the SAT writing section, they often become hyper-focused grammar warriors, zeroing in on those commas and conjunctions and forgetting what the passages are actually about. On the writing section, in addition to knowing all of your grammar rules (drill these), you must be aware of what you are reading. You must understand the chronological flow of events so that you don’t lose time on the “Expression of Ideas” questions–(i.e., questions that ask about sentence/paragraph order and the passage as a whole). You don’t want to get to these questions and realize you have no idea what the passage is about. Be sure that you follow the logical progression of the story as you go; this will save you time.

Tip #4: Math Section: Use Logic When You Aren’t Using a Calculator.

Several of our students get nervous about the “no-calculator” section. Instead, view this as the “no complicated arithmetic” section. If you find yourself doing crazy lengthy computations, you are likely over-complicating things. What are they asking for? Use logic, and revisit the question. Can I estimate or eliminate? Look at the answer choices. Usually, you will see some that stick out as wholly wrong choices (e.g., way too big/way too small). If you are plugging in answer choices to solve a problem (an essential strategy), it’s best to start with answer choice C and work your way up or down based on whether or not a choice is too high or low when you plug it in.

All of this said, on the “calculators allowed” section, remember to use your calculator, especially when it comes to graphing/function problems. The exam graders won’t see your brilliant scratch pages of formula solving. They will only look at your answers, so use the method that is fastest for you.

Tip #5: Essay Section Tip: Read and Analyze.

Whereas on the SAT reading section, you are focusing on strategically nailing those answers, on the essay section, you are focusing on reading! Sounds crazy, right? The SAT essay section is all about analyzing a reading passage. You will be reading an author’s argument and explaining how this particular person structured said argument. You will not be making judgment calls on whether or not someone’s writing/argument is good or bad. The essay section is not about your personal opinion. Your essay is not an argumentative essay, in which you criticize how the author of the passage structured her argument. Assume that the author did a good job. Focus on the HOW.

Pamela Donnelly is a 20-year educator, Ivy League graduate, and founder of the comprehensive Ed-tech platform GATE College System, a program co-developed by 15+ Ivy League educators that is equalizing access to college prep resources for underprivilege