How to make a big improvement to your SAT score … This is always a hard question to answer: Are you a student who is looking to go from 1400 to a 1600, or the more typical student who is looking to go from 1000 to 1200? Depending you your answer, you will need a specific strategy.
Since the ranges are so different, I can’t possibly give you just one. Instead, I’m going to answer this question both for mid-scores (900-1100) and high scorers (1300 and above). Those in between those scores can mix advice from both.
Mid-range SAT Scorers
Oftentimes a mid-score results from lack of familiarity with the test. If this is the case, crack open an SAT book and take a practice test. Sure it might be unpleasant, like jumping into an unheated swimming pool at 6 a.m. in the morning. But you’ll get a sense very quickly what the test is like and the areas of the test you need to work on.
Hard work—and I know this sounds generic—alone can result in a 200-point increase. This means taking a practice test once a week and reviewing the mistakes. This means learning the basic strategies and reviewing math and grammar. The Redesigned SAT is like a big math final you have to take for three years of math. Studying—more so than the old test—will make a difference.
Let’s say you’ve been prepping for a bit and you’ve plateaued. This happens for any number of reasons. The key is you figure why you aren’t improving. It might be a specific section that is weighing. Typically, Critical Reading is the culprit. Many students simply don’t want to put in the time studying vocabulary (understandable, but there really is only one way to learn the meaning of words like recondite).
Other problems are easier to fix: learn to read a passage actively and learn to avoid the temptation of diving into the answer choices as soon as you read a question. Though it will take more effort, going back to the passage and finding the supporting evidence to the question, then putting the answer into your own words, will make you better at critical reading. Your problem might careless mistakes in math because you are rushing through the section—only to finish with 7 minutes to go.
Basically, you’ll have to be a detective, figure out what you are doing wrong, and make the adjustments—both minor and major—so you can get out of that rut and boost your score by 200 points.
High SAT Scorers
There is really only one scenario here: you are already very good at the SAT, but you want to get close to perfection. The key is becoming an expert at figuring out why you missed what you missed. That might sound easy. “Uh, I made a careless error” or “I didn’t read the right part of the passage”.
These “epiphanies”, however, are hardly useful. Instead, you need to be as specific as possible, by putting yourself inside your head the moment the mistake occurred: what exactly were you thinking when you picked the wrong answer and what was the chain of thoughts that led to this mistake. Here is an example:
I read the question too fast so that I was looking for the value of ‘y’, which is given in the problem, instead of ‘x’. When I realized my mistake, I sped up and then forgot to remember that the question was asking what is the value of ‘z’. Next time, when there are that many variables involved, I’m going to underline the actual question. Also, when I realize that I’ve misinterpreted the problem, I’m not going to speed up and make up for lost time, since I usually finish with about seven of eight minutes to go.
Notice how this student isn’t only aware of the mistake he but also anticipates what he’ll do next time around so he won’t make a similar mistake. I have lot more confidence in him than in the student who says, “I won’t make a careless error next time”.
In a reading passage context, this self-awareness might look something like this:
On the harder questions, I always narrow down between two answer choices. I tend to gravitate towards one that has a phrase that clearly matches the text and answer the question. But I’ll overlook the part of the answer choice that uses a vague word or two that isn’t really accurate. The right answer, on the other hand, will use a couple of vocabulary words that throw me off and will be stated in a less-than-ideal way. Still, the answer is accurate. In future, I will be more vigilant about the “fishy” word or two in the wrong answer choice.
At first you might want to write this out because, generally, writing forces you to think at a deeper level. A good way to organize this might be:
- Why I missed the question? (Remember the chain of thought that leads you to the incorrect answer?
- Why the correct answer is the correct one and why the answer I chose is incorrect?
- What I will do differently next time?
Really understanding why you missed a question and making those slight modifications is what separates the truly great from the merely good.