In March of 2006, I took the SAT for the first and only time and scored a 2350. I was very excited to score so well, and would like to share some of my study tips with you! So, without further ado…
1.) My Number One tip: Practice! Take lots of practice tests – and not just any practice tests, but tests that are written by the College Board. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend buying a copy of the Official SAT Study Guide, so you can practice using material that’s actually written by the makers of the SAT. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful practice tests are: the more you practice, the more you’ll get used to the pacing of a four-hour test, the timing element of the test, the strange and SAT-specific question types that tend to pop up, etc. So, practice, practice, practice!
2.) My Second Tip: Notice your tendencies. After taking a practice test or part of a practice test, look over your right and wrong answers. See the kinds of things you’re getting wrong, and the kinds of mistakes you tend to make, and then let that guide you. For example, one of my tendencies (which I see a lot in students – particularly those who are quite good in English classes at school) was to overanalyze, overthink, and/or make too many assumptions in critical reading questions. So, I had to train myself not to do that – to work very literally and directly from the passage and to not ever try to justify answer choices to myself or think too much about what a question or answer choice “could” mean. This paid off very well, as I ended up scoring an 800 in critical reading!
3.) My Third Tip: Drill Some Vocab. When I was studying for the SAT, I got hold a vocabulary list – you can download the Veritas Prep SAT 2400 iPhone app – and review vocabulary crossed off the words I already knew, and then went through the ones I didn’t know and learned them systematically. I know it’s annoying to learn vocab, but I do think it’s a great way to boost your critical reading score – both because knowing more SAT words will help your performance on sentence completions and reading passages and because an improved vocabulary will simply allow you to approach this section of the test with more confidence right from the get-go.
4.) My Fourth Tip: Limit “Dumb Mistakes.” For a while, my pitfall on the math sections of the SAT was my tendency to make dumb mistakes. This is also something that I notice in the students I work with: not reading the question completely, solving for the wrong thing, making computational errors, misreading answer choices… “dumb mistakes” can come in many forms and are always tragic. If this is a pitfall of yours, try to be aware of the types of dumb mistakes that you tend to make (switching negatives for positives? Solving for x instead of x + y? etc.) and be very vigilant in those kinds of situations as your practice. As you work, double-check that you’re solving for the right thing, that you read the question and the answer choices correctly, that you didn’t make an arithmetic error, etc. Work meticulously and, whenever possible, go back to the original problem to plug your answer in and check that way (rather than simply looking over your work, which can make it easy to overlook errors). Some extra care and vigilance and practice will likely help you clean up that math section very nicely!
5.) My Fifth Tip: Practice What You’re Bad At. This is annoying, but true. It’s more fun to practice what you’re good at, but much more helpful to practice your weaknesses rather than your strengths. So, take stock of where you are and target your work accordingly. Focus most on the sections of the test that tend to give you the most trouble, and practice those to see how you can improve. If you can narrow it down even further – isolating specific types of reading passage or math problems or grammar questions, etc. that tend to trip you up – then try to get specific practice with those kinds of things. The more you work on your weaker points, the more you can shore them up and get them just as strong as your strong points – and then you’ll be able to achieve your fullest SAT potential!
And there we have it. Five tips that I found helpful while studying for the SAT. Now go forth and practice, and may all your SAT dreams come true!
Alice Rothman-Hicks is a Veritas Prep SAT 2400 instructor. Since graduating from Columbia University (Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa), Alice has been teaching and tutoring test prep, helping students achieve their own academic successes. She scored a 2350 on the SAT.