Hoping to improve your SAT score? Read on for top tips from the Pros. If you hope to learn more about the structure and timing of the SAT, and browse upcoming test dates, connect with one of our SAT tutors now.
During The SAT
1. Slow down and work for accuracy. Speed kills on the SAT. You don’t get points for the number of questions you answer, you get points for the number of questions you answer correctly.
2. Read with your finger. Make reading physical; it’s a good way to keep your attention focused.
3. Write on the test booklet. They don’t give you much during the test, but they do give you a pencil and space to work. Use both with abandon. If your hand is not moving and writing things down as you try to solve the problem on paper, you are answering questions in your head, which leads to mental stress, inefficient work, and careless mistakes.
4. Don’t fall in love with answers. Wrong ones will often have elements that are tempting. Correct answers may be phrased in awkward ways even if they aren’t technically wrong. Go with the “look to hate it, not to love it” rule — If you can’t hate it, it’s probably the right answer.
5. Remember that one of the answers is always correct. On a multiple choice test, they give you the answers! If you can’t find the right answer, look to eliminate some wrong ones and guess.
6. Don’t waste time reading the instructions. You should familiarize yourself with them during prep and know them going in, so you don’t have to spend time on them on test day.
7. Read the questions carefully. Reading errors are the most common cause of wrong answers, even on the math.
8. During the test, don’t worry about your score. It is an output and a distraction. Focus on inputs, such as the way you are solving the problems. Get the inputs right and you will get the best score you can.
9. Use your breaks wisely. Walk around; do jumping jacks; reset your brain. It’s easier to take two 2-hour tests than one 4-hour test.
10. Bubble page by page. It’s more efficient and will often catch bubbling errors.
11. Recognize the ascending order of difficulty. Easy questions, in the earlier part of the section, have easy answers. Hard questions, in the later part of the section, have hard answers. Easy answers to hard questions are probably wrong.
12. Don’t leave blanks. There is no guessing penalty. With one minute to go, if you still have unanswered questions, stop everything you are doing and bubble in an answer to all remaining questions.
13. Use process of elimination. We can’t say this enough. There are three times the number of wrong answers as there are right answers. It’s easier to find the wrong ones; eliminating them will raise your score. You should always be able to eliminate at least one wrong answer, after which you have a much higher chance of guessing correctly.
14. Don’t second guess yourself. Your first answer is usually correct. A good way to track this and gain confidence is on practice tests. Notate the times that you change an answer and track the result.
15. It’s all in the attitude. The test makers are masters at intimidation, but there is nothing on this test that you do not know and there are no surprises. You know how to answer these questions. Don’t let them scare you into thinking a question is harder than it actually is.
16. Don’t worry about neatness when bubbling answers. The precious seconds you spend shading neatly within the bubbles can be spend on the next math or verbal question.
17. Don’t get stuck between two answer choices. Pick one and move on. Scratching your head is not going to make the right answer magically appear.
18. Don’t attempt to answer every question. Unless you are shooting for a perfect score, you do not need every question to hit your target score. Remember that speed kills on the SAT. Of course, before time runs out, bubble in any questions you didn’t get to. There is no guessing penalty on the SAT.
19. Keep your hand moving. You should always be reading with your finger or annotating the question and solving it on the paper. Constantly writing things down and moving your hand is a great way to focus your attention.
20. Don’t panic. The test is hard for everyone. If it seems hard, you’re not blowing it, you’re just taking the SAT.
21. If you’re a slow reader, skim the passages. You will only be tested on a small portion of the information in the passage, and you are going to go back to the passage to find evidence for every question anyway. Don’t get hung up on the details in your first read.
22. Summarize paragraphs as you read them. Be an active reader. Don’t let the words go in one eye and out the other. Paraphrase as you go to ensure that you understand what you are reading.
23. After you finish reading each passage, ask yourself: “what is the main idea of this passage?” You should be able to state it in ten words or less.
24. Read passage introductions carefully. They are your friend, and occasionally even sum up the main idea for you.
25. Answer every question in your own words before you look at the answers. The answer choices are designed to mislead. Articulating the correct answer first will make the dumb answer choices look even dumber and the correct ones stand out.
26. Find the evidence questions first. You don’t need comprehensive understanding of the passage to answer them, but answering them first will help build comprehensive understanding of the passage, which will help on other questions.
27. Find proof in the passage for every answer you pick. There will always be proof. If you can’t find proof for an answer choice, cross it off. It’s wrong.
28. Paraphrase the question. Often the questions aren’t actually questions. They are incomplete statements. Turn them into questions so that you can find answers.
29. Leave I, II, III and EXCEPT/LEAST/NOT questions for last. They ask you to do more work (which costs more time), but they give you the same number of points as easier questions.
30. Don’t over-annotate. You will only be tested on a small portion of the available information in the passage. Don’t spend time on information you don’t need.
31. Don’t make things up. Wrong answers will often include information that was never stated in the passage. Correct answers will always be paraphrases of information in the passage. If it wasn’t stated in the passage, it’s out of scope and it’s wrong.
32. If you are convinced that two answer choices are correct, paraphrase the answer choices too. You may have misread one. If not, look for information that is out of scope.
33. Eliminate answer choices that contain extreme language. Watch out for words like “always” and “never”.
34. Run your finger across each line while reading the passage. Don’t let your mind wander. This is especially important in reading passages where there is a lot of information that you have to critically process in a short time.
35. Read with extreme emphasis, as if you are dramatizing the text for a child. It will force you to interact with the passage in a qualitative way.
36. Use common sense. Many of the answer choices won’t make sense or represent things that a reasonable person would never say. These answer choices are most probably wrong and can be eliminated.
37. Read only what you need. You can always read more of the passage if you have to, but you never want to read more than you have to. If you think you’ve found the correct answer to a specific question addressing a specific part of the passage, you’ve probably done enough.
38. Read the underlined part of the question carefully and identify the error using grammar rules. Then immediately eliminate the answer choice that repeats the error.
39. The shorter answer is correct. If two answer choices are grammatically correct, the shorter one is the correct answer.
40. When you finish the section, double check all your “No Change” answers. Make sure you did not accidentally miss an error!
41. Check verb errors. To check verb errors, cross off prepositional phrases and re-unite the subject with the verb. This will make verb errors particularly clear.
42. There are only three things that go wrong with verbs: tense, agreement, or parallelism. If a verb is underlined, check these three things.
43. There are only three things that go wrong with pronouns: agreement, ambiguity, or case. If a pronoun is underlined, check these three things.
44. Copy editing questions can take longer. If you have trouble with time, leave these for last.
45. If you’re stuck between two answer choices, circle the question and walk away. Do two other questions then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.
46. Use process of elimination. Especially on charts and graph questions and geometry questions. Many of the answer choices simply won’t make sense.
47. Don’t spend too much time on any one question. They are all worth the same number of points. The average amount of time that it takes to get a question right is about 1:20. The average amount of time it takes to get a question wrong is 1:45. If you are up over two minutes, something has gone wrong. It’s time to get out.
48. Glance at the answers before you start the question. The answers are part of the question – they have lots of good information that you can use.
49. Check your work. The extra ten to fifteen seconds it takes is well worth it if you catch one or two errors and save one or two additional points that you didn’t need to miss.
50. If you’re not sure what to do, do something. Start annotating the prompt or looking over the answer choices. Sometimes the path will become clear once you start.
51. You should always be doing and not thinking. If you are not sure what to do for a particular question, move on to the next one instead of spending time racking your brain over it.
52. If you start a problem and get stuck or get a wrong answer, stop. You’re off track. Do two other questions, then come back and look at the problem with fresh eyes.
53. Park your thinking on the page. Solving problems in your head is more work and leads to fatigue and errors. Solving problems entirely on your calculator allows for no opportunity to go back and check your work. You need to be writing your work down on the page as you progress on the problem.
54. In this section, you need to spend time thinking. You are being judged in part on the quality of your thinking. Planning your essay while you are writing it will yield an incoherent and disorganized essay.
55. Make an outline, then stick to it. You are also being judged on the quality of your organization. Making a plan will free you up to focus on your writing.
56. Your essay must have a clear thesis.
57. Every paragraph must have a clear topic sentence that ties it to your thesis.
58. Focus on only one main point per paragraph. For a new point, start a new paragraph and add a new topic sentence.
59. Add transitions to your topic sentences to indicate the flow of your argument. Without these, your readers will get confused.
60. Argue from a position of strength. Ask yourself how the prompt applies to you, your studies, your school, or something else that you know well. You can be a lot more persuasive when you are talking about things you know well.
61. Details, details, details. Use details to make your point. The more specifics you can muster the more you will sound like an expert.
62. Make sure you allow time for proofreading your essay. A good rule of thumb is to stop 2-3 minutes before time is up to re-read your essay for spelling mistakes and other glaring errors.
63. Use a high register. Use vocabulary words that you frequently encounter in your high school reading curriculum or in other parts of the test. Stay away from using colloquial or informal language in your essay.
64. Vary your sentence structure. Use commands, rhetorical questions, analogies, and other sophisticated rhetorical devices.
65. Focus on inputs, not on outputs. Simply doing questions looking for right answers will not make you better, in fact it will only reinforce existing habits. Focus on mastering techniques and turning them into habits.
66. If you want to change your score, you have to change the way you take the test. Figure out what you are going to do differently the next time around and then practice to make that a habit.
67. Take lots of practice tests, but practice for technique, not for results.
68. Start your prep early. This is a skill-based process. There is very little you can do in the week prior that will make a difference.
69. Don’t stress. Stress is a distraction. You know everything you need to know for this test.
70. Set score goals and again, start your prep early.
71. Create flashcards for triggers and techniques. Review them often.
72. Know your subject/verb agreement. This is a very simple and important mistake to avoid making on the test.
73. Know your special right triangles. They will be on every test.
74. Do high-quality practice with professionally-written, test-calibrated materials. Avoid low-quality materials. Ask an experienced tutor or test-taker, or do a Google search for recommended materials for the test.
75. Work on your weaknesses. You will get more positive reinforcement by doing the stuff you’re good at, but it won’t raise your score.
76. Track and characterize your errors. Devise strategies to address your common errors and turn those strategies into habits.
77. Take care of yourself. Don’t stress about the test until you get sick or become very anxious about the whole process. Eat a balanced diet, drink water, get lots of sleep, and maintain positive, supportive relationships in your life as you go through this process.
78. Read more nonfiction outside the classroom. This will increase your vocabulary and make you a better reader and writer.
79. Learn all your grammar rules. These will come in handy for all those process of elimination questions!
80. Set aside a designated time to study. The discipline will help you manage your time and work steadily towards test day.
81. Ask for help. Don’t hesitate to ask a parent, teacher, tutor, or friend to explain something you don’t understand on your practice materials. And if you need a break from prep, find someone to spend time with and recharge.
82. Practice under test-taking conditions. The more you do this, the less nervous you will be on test day, which will feel like just another practice test. The calmer you are, the fewer careless mistakes you will make.
83. Get a tutor. Experienced tutors have seen many students take the same test, and can very quickly diagnose the specific areas in which you need help and improve your scores in a targeted way. If you’re going to invest in a tutor, go for experience above anything else.
84. Improve your handwriting. Your handwriting needs to be easily legible to you when you are writing out your work under timed conditions.
85. Watch the news or read newspapers to improve your reading comprehension.
86. Register for several test dates. You don’t want to put all of your eggs on one test date, and you can always cancel if you don’t need the extra dates.
87. Get some rest. Give yourself a full 8 hours of restful, quiet sleep the night before.
88. Exercise. Spend some time exercising in the lead up to the test to improve your energy and calm your mind for test day.
89. Shut down your electronics at least a half hour before bed. Use a reliable alarm clock and have a back up.
90. Pack everything you will need on test day so that you’re not scrambling in the morning.
91. Bring snacks. You will get hungry during breaks, and hunger will affect your performance during the test. Snack on something healthy like fruit or a granola bar.
92. Get there early. Plan on arriving well before the test is supposed to start so that you have one less thing that could possibly go wrong, and so you have time to familiarize yourself with the surroundings of the test center before you start.
93. Eat a healthy breakfast. This will give you the energy you need for the long test.
94. Bring a watch to the test center.
95. Use the bathroom before the test starts!
After The Test
96. Call your tutor to discuss the test. Your tutor will have better perspective on the test than you and should have heard about the test from other students.
97. Do not make any rash decisions until you see your scores.
98. Do not burn your books until you see your scores.
99. Go to the movies and take the night off, you’ve earned it.
100. Forget the SAT ever existed. You are done!
If you’re preparing to take the SAT and are looking for some additional help, check out our professional SAT tutors who are available for 100% online tutoring sessions right now.
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