Ten Ways to Improve Your SAT Score

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There’s no doubt about it–the SAT is a big deal. The higher your score, the higher your chances of getting into more competitive colleges and qualifying for certain scholarship opportunities.

If you feel your original scores are lackluster, you’re probably thinking–what could I have done better? What would I change if I took the SAT again? Here we’ll look at ten strategies about how to increase your SAT score.

1. Build Up Your Vocabulary 

The SAT is big on words. From the critical reading section to writing the essay. It’s important to have an impressive lexicon going into the SAT. The best way to find challenging words is by reading–anytime you come across a word you may not know, or don’t know very well, look it up and memorize it.

Take a look at some previous SAT tests or practice exams, you might notice some words pop up more often than others; sometimes the SAT likes to recycle words. Not only will building up your vocabulary help in breaking down those reading passages, but it will lend strength to your essays and help you throughout your college career as well.

2. Read, Read, Read! Write, Write, Write!

As explained in the previous strategy, by reading you can come across new words, new writing styles, and new ideas. Read things you enjoy. Read things you find boring. Read newspapers. Read scientific articles. Read anything you can get your hands on to really expand your critical skills.

And once you’ve read a book, article, movie review, etc. try summarizing it in your own words. This will get you thinking about what you’ve read and flex your writing muscles as well. Writing is a lot like working out, if you don’t use it, you lose it, but if you write often those skills of yours will get stronger and stronger and it will get easier and easier to do. Just like running the mile.

3. Take Advantage of Study Materials 

There are enough SAT prep books out there to make your head spin. In fact, some bookstores have entire sections dedicated to ACT and SAT books. These books can have anything from test-taking tips, practice questions, reading examples, essay prompts, and more. Schools oftentimes also have SAT study sessions which is great for not only brushing up on certain areas, but also for asking questions.

4. Take Practice Tests

Whether through school, your SAT study book, or College Board, take a practice test. Or several. There will always be variables during test day–a kid forgot to turn off their cellphone and it keeps buzzing, the heating is out and you’re freezing, you’re a little sick, etc.–so it’s best to really train your mind to focus on the test in front of you.

By taking practice tests, you start to get a feel for how the SAT is structured, what kind of questions you encounter, and identify areas that are problems for you that you can work on later. The practice test scores can then be used to see what you’re doing well in and where you could improve.

5. Understand and Memorize Formulas 

Sure, some of these will be provided for you at the beginning of the test, but precious time can be lost flipping back and forth. It’s better to have them down mentally. And aside from saving time, if you really understand these formulas you’ll be able to apply them more confidently come test day.

6. Don’t Cram and Don’t Stress

Studying the night before will not be beneficial in the long run–if ever. It’s better to spread out your SAT studying so it can really sink in. And while “don’t stress” may not be a 100% possibility, it’s important to get a good night’s rest, eat well, relax, and come mentally (and physically) fit the day of.

Now let’s switch over to actual test day strategies.

7. Show Your Work

Stress levels can be a little heightened on test day, and if your mind is running in a hundred different directions, taking on a math question might lead to a tiny mistake that leads to a wrong answer. Slow down, take a breath, and write out your work. Even if you think it’s a simple mental-math problem, it never hurts to jot it down first and double-check. By writing things down, you’re more likely to catch and mistake before you make it.

8. Blanking on a Math Question? Write!

Sometimes you can come across a question that you can’t quite puzzle out straight away. Instead of zoning out, panicking, and losing precious time, start writing. Underline parts of the question, label diagrams, draw a clarifying image, just keep that pencil moving because it will keep your brain moving as well.

Sometimes writing can help us remember, or by visually breaking apart the question we can see patterns emerge where we didn’t see them before. Marking up the question and putting your thoughts on paper will help keep you engaged.

9. In Your Essay, Consider the Counterargument 

It might seem counter-intuitive to talk about the opposite side of what you want to argue, but by acknowledging the other side you sound more mature. That’s not to say you should agree with the counter-point, though. Just point it out, give it some merit, and then drive home your own argument.

Example: Say you’re writing about how it feels more rewarding to earn something you want rather than just having it handed to you. Near your conclusion you could say something like “While receiving something you desire as a gift is a nice feeling, it becomes more enjoyable knowing that you put time and effort into obtaining it.”

10. Make the Test Work for You

Most of the SAT is multiple choice–use it to your advantage. When it comes to math questions, use process of elimination to see which of the answer works in the equation and which doesn’t. It’s got to be one of them, right?

For the reading portions, look between the potential answers to find a common theme–are they looking for grammar errors? Punctuation? With that in mind, read the prompt again and find the answer. The answers will always be presented in the material, so use the test to your advantage by looking in the right places.

Additionally, in the new SAT format, there are no penalties for guessing. Yep, the wrong answers don’t count against you. So if you’ve cycled through all your options and are still coming up blank, take an educated guess and move on (though come back to it later, if you have time).

With these tips in your pocket, some extra study time, and learning from past mistakes, when you retake the SAT you can expect that score to be higher–you’ve earned it! Good luck!

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