Retaking the SAT

Studying for an SAT Retake

First off, you need to ask yourself: what could I have done better. Now I’m not talking about a catch-all explanation (“I was tired” or “my pacing was off”). I want you to think of this as a crime-scene investigation, the kind you see in T.V. procedurals in which every speck of dust is upturned, every angle of the crime explored.

So put on your detective hat, grab a blank piece of paper and write down as specifically as possible, what went wrong test day.

So what I’m going to do is come up with common scenarios, then get more specific, and finally give out advice that should help for each scenario.

1. “I was tired”

Okay, so did go to sleep late that night? If so, did you go to sleep late? More likely than not, you are going to answer that you went to sleep early—you just couldn’t fall asleep.

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Solution: go to bed Wednesday night (three days before the test) at the time you hope to go to bed Friday night (10 p.m. is a safe bet).

2. “I didn’t prep enough”

Okay, let’s first attack this from a section approach. Was there a specific section that you struggled on? Let’s say it was math. And let’s say that you spent too much time studying trigonometry and the quadratic equation. In the end there were only a few questions covering this information. It was the word problems and the convoluted algebra equations that got you.

Solution: Study those specific topics that gave you trouble on the exam and that were more common than you anticipated. If you need a reminder, take a College Board practice test. You’ll only need to take the one section where you struggled.

(For our thoughts on the Best SAT Prep Books 2016, check out this link.)

3. “My pacing was off”

First identify the specific section. If you feel it was the entire test, then deal with each section at a time. For reading, say you spent too much time rereading the passage (again, you’ll have to be a detective and figure out the exact reason, not the general reason). You might want to slow down slightly during the first read so you can retain more information.

Struggling with pacing on the writing section? Again, you’ll want to dissect your approach.

Solution: When studying for the makeup, if necessary, try out different approaches to the passages to see which work better. You might find that it is the pressure of the test that causes you to rush. If so, that’s all useful. Keeping practicing with a timer to make things as test-day like (and therefore stressful!) so you’ll be less rattled test day.

4. “The questions I practiced weren’t like the ones I say test day”

The best practice, bar none, are official questions, those created by the College Board. Since these questions are free it’s not the best excuse in the world to say that you couldn’t find them. But often you use up all this material. Regardless, you should never use subpar material.

Solution: Consider ditching the material you prepped with first. Stick to College Board, or if you have to use other material, that the material has good reviews and feedback (you can do a google search to find this out). My two cents: out of the usual book suspects, Barron’s has been creating the best SAT books for many years and with the latest SAT this seems to be the case.


  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!


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