College Board says that the SAT tests raw intelligence, but that’s a lie. The SAT is a game, and if you learn how to play it, you can get a perfect score with minimal stress.
1. Take a timed practice test NOT on your own, aka, administered by someone else. I took a free practice test offered by Kaplan in an auditorium of another high school in my district. The environment should be realistic – you should be somewhere unfamiliar, taking the whole test in one shot.
When the results come out, calibrate your studying based on the areas you did poorly on. If you did about the same across the board, focus on the section most related to what you want to major on in college. For engineering/sciences, this would be the math section. For liberal arts, this would be the reading section.
2. Practice in those 15-minute chunks of time where you’re doing nothing. Print out vocab lists. Print out sections of the SAT and split them up by passage for the reading sections. Waiting for the bus? Answer all the questions for one passage in those 10 minutes. Getting picked up and your mom is late? Try to go through 15 math questions. You would be surprised how much the small chunks of dead time add up.
Don’t worry too much about timing here – you’re focused mostly on accuracy. So be sure to review your mistakes and understand why you were wrong! If the explanation in the back of the book is hard to understand, file it away. Eventually, patterns will start to emerge for the problems you don’t understand, and you’ll be able to pick the correct answer based on pattern-matching.
3. Test-taking stamina => caffeine pills. The SAT is three hours, which is a marathon, so pace yourself during the exam. Like a real marathon, you need to train for it. So, take it section by section at first, but be sure to sit for the whole three hours at least twice before you take the real exam. (There are diminishing returns, too – don’t take 10 full SAT exams in the weeks before, or you’ll burn yourself out).
Some actionable and easy tips: Mints can wake you up when you’re flagging in the test room. Caffeinate yourself – some tea or coffee in the middle of the exam, or even a caffeine pill (but be safe!). Take two or three deep breaths, breathing in and out for four counts each. Pinch yourself if you need to.
4. Consider taking the ACT. The ACT is a different beast, and the style of questions might suit the way you think better. I know one person who took the SAT three times but never broke above 1200. They took the ACT and got a 35 on the first try. I personally believe the ACT is more suited to people who struggle with standardized tests. The questions involve less tricky thinking and is more about knowing the material.
Hopefully these tips help you improve your score. Is there anything specific you’d like to know? Next, I’ll do a section-by-section breakdown on what to focus on.