So you want a better SAT score…
You’ve taken the SAT — or maybe even just a practice test — and you’re not so happy with your score. So what did you do? You Googled! Well…that’s not a bad start.
Unfortunately, the problem with asking Google how to raise your SAT score is that no matter how good you are at choosing search terms, improving your SAT score largely depends on who you are. Which Google doesn’t know (yet! 😮 )…you need a personalized approach.
Lucky for you, here at Magoosh we’re ready to guide you towards the study strategy that will be most effective for your unique test-taking skill set. So maybe Googling wasn’t so bad after all! 🙂
How much is it possible to raise your SAT Score?
The amount and rate at which you can raise your SAT score depends on how willing you are to change the way you study — and they way you take the test. Here are some general factors that will influence what kind of improvement you can expect to see:
- How much time you have to prepare (more = better).
- How much dedication you have to improving (again, more = better).
- The higher you’re already scoring, the less dramatic your improvement is likely to be.
- Writing scores typically improve faster than math scores, which improve faster than reading scores.
So let’s start talking numbers. For every 50 points you want to raise your score, you will need to pick up four extra questions (more or less) on a given section.
In the official SAT statistics published by ETS, the average combined improvement of test-takers is 60 to 70 points. That makes a 150-point improvement pretty darn good. A 300-point improvement is excellent. And improvements of 500 points are so rare that ETS often examines the answer sheets of students making a 500-point improvement for evidence of cheating…but we’ll talk more about your odds for a 500-point score improvement later.
How to Improve your SAT Score by 300 points
- Only use high quality study materials
- Stick to a study schedule
- Take practice tests
- Optimize your studying techniques
- Defeat your mental blocks
So your SAT goal is a 300-point overall score improvement — it can be done! On average, you’re trying to pick up 100 points in each section and make no mistake, this is going to take a lot of work.
Let’s say you’ve scored similarly across the board. In that case, you’ll want to focus on each SAT section more or less equally. However, if one of your sections was much weaker than the others, that’s definitely where you should direct more attention.
It’s time to take a look at some concrete strategies for how to improve your SAT score by 300 points. We’ll start with a few things that will benefit you across all parts of the exam, and then get more specialized in later sections of this post.
Strategy #1: Only Use High Quality Study Materials
Unfortunately, doing well on the SAT is not just about how much you know about Math, Reading, and Writing. Your final score will depend largely on how much you know about taking the SAT. This is an exam that follows some very specific sets of patterns. If you don’t know the tricks, you’re going to have some trouble. Luckily, how to take the SAT is a skill you can totally learn — but to do this, you MUST study with realistic SAT materials. If you don’t, you’ll develop bad habits and learn the wrong skills.
I (of course) recommend Magoosh’s SAT Prep. Our experts know the SAT inside and out, and they make sure that the difficulty and types of questions match those on the actual test. Plus, the materials are constantly being updated to match the newest versions of the SAT, and we’re a lot more affordable than the other test prep resources of our caliber.
If you choose to go with a different study resource, just be sure that whatever materials your using are extremely high quality. If you see bad reviews, or you’re not 100% sure about a company, don’t use their materials!
Strategy #2: Stick to a Study Schedule
It’s basically impossible to effectively study for the SAT without a schedule. There are a lot of areas to cover, and you need to break things up into bite-sized chunks, so that the information isn’t just going in one ear and out the other. Luckily, there are a lot of free SAT study schedules available to keep you on track. Just pick the schedule that best fits how much time you have before the exam, and follow it!
Strategy #3: Take Practice Tests
Taking the SAT is a lot like running a marathon. It’s long, and if you don’t train for it you might not make it to the end. The absolute best way to prepare for test day, is by realistically simulating what the test will be like (ideally more than once). Taking realistic practice tests will not only familiarize you with the format of the SAT, but also increase your stamina so you can make it through the big day. Our study schedules and list of free SAT resources include a number of realistic practice tests, but worst-case scenario, make sure that you at least take the Official SAT Practice Tests that are put out by the College Board — you can be confident that those tests are the real deal.
Strategy #4: Optimize your Studying Techniques
Most high schoolers have a super demanding schedule. Whether it’s sports practice or band practice, homework or friends (or you know, occasionally sleep), you probably just don’t have that much extra time to study for the SAT. So you better make the time you do spend studying count for as much as it possibly can.
At this point, the most efficient way for you to improve will be to identify and understand your weaknesses — and learn from them. Your goal is to find the areas where you have the most room for improvement and really go after those.
Don’t just buy an SAT book and read it cover to cover. That’ll be a drag, and also a waste of your time, I promise.
Here’s how to study smart:
- Take a practice test. As you go through it, mark every question that you don’t feel super sure about.
- After the test, grade yourself. Then go back and review every you marked — even if you got them right — AND every incorrect question.
- As you review, write down the general idea of each question, why you missed it, and how you could have gotten it correct.
If you do this, you will start to see patterns in what kinds of questions you’re missing…and learn how to stop missing them! This is the key to improving your SAT score.
Strategy #5: Defeat Your Mental Blocks
It can feel like a lot is riding on this test, which is pretty scary. And while some of us work better under pressure, most people will not find *fear* to be the optimal mindset for taking a timed-test. So what do you do?
To ward off fear and stress, work on developing a more positive attitude towards the SAT. It sounds corny, but learn to treat every mistake as a learning opportunity. After all, every time you make a mistake it gives you a tiny clue on how you can improve.
Of course, you’re still allowed to stress, just not so much that it gets in the way. The SAT can be intimidating, but once you understand that you can do well on it if you study, it can start to look a bit more like an opportunity to show everyone what that you have what it takes to work hard. And that’s cool.
How to Improve your SAT score by 500 points
As I’m sure you realize, 500 points is a lot. Spread over the three sections that’s about 170 points per section, which would be an impressive overall improvement, let alone an improvement per section.
Whether it is realistic (or even possible) for you to improve your SAT score by 500 points depends enormously on several factors:
- What score are you starting from?
- Have you done test prep already?
- How much time are you able to commit to studying?
If you scored very low in every section, you didn’t do any sort of preparation before taking the SAT, and you’re willing to commit 3 to 6 month to consistently studying with some sort of test prep program or class — then it might be possible for you to see something in the ballpark of a 500 point improvement on your next SAT.
My advice is to just focus on making progress, rather than on getting a specific score. If you follow all the advice in this article, your SAT score will improve…maybe a lot!
How can you improve your SAT reading score?
There are many areas that students tend struggle with on the SAT reading section…which means you’re about to get a lot of advice. So, to avoid confusion, I’m going to break down the SAT Reading strategies into two categories: How to Study Better and How to Work Faster. That way you can focus on the area you’re having the most trouble in.
How to Study Better:
Beyond the strategies we’ve covered already (better study materials, defeating mental blocks, etc.), the best tip I can give you for the SAT Reading section is to read more!
I can hear you rolling your eyes already, but stay with me. Students who score poorly on the SAT Reading section typically aren’t comfortable with the types of reading passages that appear on the SAT. This can all change if you start actively reading the kinds of non-fiction that the College Board likes.
I would suggest reading The New Yorker magazine and Scientific American on a weekly basis. If you stick to this schedule, you will not only seriously improve your critical reading skills, but you’ll also learn a lot of cool stuff!
How to Work Faster:
1) Always practice with a timer.
This one is pretty straightforward. It goes back to our idea of studying with realistic materials; this is a timed test, so you need to study using time limits, or at least keeping track of how fast you’re going.
2) Skip hard questions (but guess)!
Unlike SAT Math, the reading passage questions aren’t arranged in order of difficulty. Since easy questions are worth exactly the same number of points as hard questions, you don’t want to get bogged down with the hard stuff and end up running out of time before you get to some questions that you could have breezed right through. If you can’t answer a question within 30 seconds, skip it.
The redesigned SAT no longer has a wrong answer penalty, which is a big deal! Now that there is no penalty for getting a wrong answer, there’s absolutely no reason to be leaving questions blank. Remember that if you can eliminate even one answer choice on a question you’re not sure about, your chances of guessing correctly go way up. So obviously don’t just bubble things in indiscriminately, unless you’re down to your very last seconds (and hopefully it won’t come to that).
3) Skim reading passages.
One of the most common traps that students fall into on the SAT Reading section that they end up reading the passages way too closely, and then run out of time to answer the questions. You’re probably used to homework assignments or annoying pop quizzes where you’re expected to recall unreasonably specific details about what a certain character was wearing, etc…so you read slowly and closely. This is not a good thing to do on the SAT.
The SAT Reading section will very likely have passages that are 80 lines long, but only correspond to 10 or so questions. Out of these 10 questions, only a fraction of them will refer to specific lines. More often you’ll be asked about the topic of the passage as a whole, or about the style of the author, that kind of thing. This is the time to skim. Try to finish reading the passage in 3 minutes or less, if possible — then look at the questions. If a question refers to a line number, that’s the time to go back and closely read that line and its context. This will save you a lot of time!
How can you Improve your SAT Math score?
The SAT Math is a notoriously difficult section for a lot of students. So let’s break things down the same way we did with SAT Reading.
How to Study Better (Math Edition):
Everything we’ve talked about as far as identifying weaknesses is completely applicable to SAT Math as well. So I’m just going to assume that you already know that you need to be taking practice tests and figuring out what you need to work on.
Now let’s focus on some good strategies you can use for tackling SAT math questions.
Strategy #1: Plug In Values (instead of variables)
Most of the SAT Math exam is multiple choice. Which means the truth is out there! (👽)
One of the answers you’re looking at is definitely correct…you just need to narrow things down. So instead of starting from scratch with variable, pick a value and plug it in to see which one of the answer choices it produces!
This strategy works super well for problems where the answer choices are percentages, algebraic expressions, or variables.
Strategy #2: Plug in Answers
This one is similar to the last strategy, except you take the actual answers and work backwards to see if the answer choice works in the situation presented in the problem.
This strategy works best for complex word problems with numeric answer choices. This strategy is not ideal when the answer choices are given in terms of variables, radicals, or fractions.
Strategy #3: Estimate!
Estimating is a great strategy when you’re dealing with problems that ask you to draw or interpret a diagram, because you’ll be able to visually see that you’re in the ballpark. In questions that have no diagrams, you can also use the given information to sketch your own diagram…this can be a really useful way to get an idea of the approximate value of the correct answer — and if this allows you to rule out even one answer, your chances of getting the question correct go way up!
How to Work Faster (Math Edition):
1) Always practice with a timer. Okay, you know that one.
2) Skip hard questions (but guess)!
Unlike the other two SAT sections, the SAT Math section is ordered according to difficulty. The hardest questions will always be at the end of each subsection. So here’s my honest advice: completely skip the last 20% of questions on each subsection. Like don’t even look at them. Focus on getting the first 80% of questions right, and then — if you have time — go back and check out the hard questions. In many cases, you’ll be better off not even trying them, unless you’re aiming for higher than a 700 in math.
But don’t forget, skipping does not equal leaving blank! Fill those bad boys in! And this brings us to our next strategy…
3) Bubble all your answers at once.
This tip can save you at least three minutes of page-flipping per section. Finishing a question, going to the bubble sheet, filling it in, and then going back to the test booklet over and over again actually wastes a lot of time.
A much faster method is to solve all your questions in the test book, and then bubble all of them in at once — though obviously make sure you have at least five minutes left for your bubbling, OMG!
Waiting until the end to do your bubbling will allow you to focus completely on taking the test, rather than switching between two different tasks. You also eliminate careless entry errors, like if you skip question 10 and bubble in question 11’s answer into question 10’s slot. We’ve all done it.
If you save even 5 seconds per question, it all adds up: 100 seconds for every 20 questions. In SAT-world, that’s a ton of time!
For more SAT Math tips and strategies, we’ve also put together a video below:
How can you Improve your SAT Writing score?
Basically, everything we’ve talked about so far can (and should!) be applied to the SAT Writing section. Time yourself, and really learn what kinds of questions you’re making mistakes on.
Like the SAT Reading section, the SAT Writing questions aren’t ordered by difficulty, so if a question is taking you more than 30 seconds, guess and move on.
One SAT Writing-specific tip I can give you concerns the NO CHANGE answer choice. In the SAT Writing section, most questions have a NO CHANGE option, meaning that the grammar of whatever sentence you’re looking at is okay as is.
NO CHANGE is one of the SAT Writing section tricks that you should learn to watch out for — the people who make the test know that students who don’t have strong grammar won’t catch the mistakes in a sentence, and therefore probably won’t see anything wrong with it.
So while you may be tempted to answer NO CHANGE whenever there isn’t something glaringly wrong with a sentence, make sure that you’re not choosing NO CHANGE more than about 25% of the time…otherwise you’re definitely missing grammar errors.
Is a 1200 on the SAT a good score?
Okay, so it’s time to think about what kind of score you’re aiming for. For students who took the SAT is 2017, a score of 1080 is about average. Which makes anything above that an above-average score.
An SAT score of 1200 would land you in the 70th percentile. Out of 1.67 million test-takers who took the test this year, about 500,000 scored the same as or higher than you.
But your SAT percentile isn’t actually all that important. What’s more important is what makes a good SAT score for you personally, based on the schools you are interested in applying to.
The best thing to do is to research the colleges you’re interested in and find out their recommended SAT score ranges (these are typically based data from admitted students). Whether a score is “good” depends upon the college you want to attend. For some colleges, 1200 won’t make the cut, but for others, it’s a great score!
Is a 1400 a good SAT score?
The same principles apply to a 1400 — it all depends on where you’re applying. While this score will land you in the 92nd percentile (meaning you’ve scored the same as or lower than about 125,000 people), it might not be a very good score if you’re applying to top colleges like Stanford or the Ivies. However, a 1400 would put you around the lower end of the average SAT range for students admitted to some very good colleges, like Cornell, Michigan, and Dartmouth.
How many people have gotten a perfect score on the SAT?
The maximum score on the SAT is a 1600. Out of the 1.7 million students who take the test every year, only about 300 get the highest possible SAT score. That’s less than 0.0002%. Though scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT is a fun idea, it’s absolutely irrelevant when it comes to your college applications. You don’t need a perfect score to get in anywhere — so don’t worry about it too much.
You Can Reach Your SAT goals!
For everyone taking the SAT, please remember: you got this. If you start to feel anxious, take a few deep breaths and remember that the SAT is testing you on things you already know. You may need to brush up here and there, sure, but you’re being tested on high school content. You can totally learn how to improve your SAT score, and we’re here to help you.
You got this! 🙂
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About Molly Kiefer
Molly is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She designs Magoosh’s graphic assets, manages our YouTube channels and podcasts, and contributes to the Magoosh High School Blog.
Since 2014, Molly has tutored high school and college students preparing for the SAT, GRE, and LSAT. She began her tutoring journey while in undergrad, helping her fellow students master math, computer programming, Spanish, English, and Philosophy.
Molly graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a B.A. in Philosophy, and she continues to study ethics to this day. An artist at heart, Molly loves blogging, making art, taking long walks and serving as personal agent to her cat, who is more popular on Instagram than she is.
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