How I Scored in the 99th Percentile on the SAT

For anyone who knows me, it’s no special news break when I describe myself as a pretty normal guy.  NO ONE would describe me as a genius (especially no one who hears the things I yell at the TV during a UNC basketball game), so how did I score in the 99% percentile on one of the most competitive standardized tests in the country?  I am certainly diligent, and it did take some hard work and practice, but there was nothing that I accomplished that I feel like another hard working young person couldn’t accomplish as well.  In order to dominate the SAT, you really only need to focus on 6 things:

1.  Study the vocabulary.

Vocabulary is the single easiest tool for increasing your score on the SAT.  The long and the short of it is that the first part of every reading section is mostly testing how well you can identify vocabulary in context.  The breadth of a student’s vocabulary is one of the most variable aspects of said student’s education.  Most of the vocabulary that students use they learn at home from their parents and through reading, so if you aren’t a big reader, and your parents aren’t sesquipedalians (BIG WORD LOVERS) then you may be starting at a tougher place than others.

For me, it meant studying a strong 500 words for about two months until I knew them cold.  That alone raised my score 200 points as it not only made the first section easier, it made me better understand the vocabulary in the reading comprehension.

2.  Is the answer in the passage?

This is the question to ask when you are tackling a reading analysis section. All of the answers in the reading comprehension section are based on things directly stated in or heavily implied by the passage.  Questions also usually ask you about a specific portion of the passage, so the better question is “Is the answer in this portion of the passage?”.  There are times when a section is continuing from something that comes before it or establishing something that comes after it, but usually you are looking for what is directly stated in the lines that are referenced in the question.

Never say an answer “could” be true!  It either is or it isn’t correct, and that is based on whether or not the answer is accomplished by or stated in the passage.  The final caveat is the answer is usually the same idea in the passage restated in different words, so don’t be distracted by plagiarized words from the passage that aren’t actually part of a full correct answer.

3.  Show your work and know your terminology.

Avoid “silly” mistakes by writing out all your steps!  Be very careful not to lose negatives and to distribute anything outside of parentheses to all the terms in the parentheses.  Also, review your math terms (i.e Natural Number, Whole Number, Rational Number, Geometric and Arithmetic sequence, etc.) Know what an isosceles, equilateral and right triangle are and what those distinctions mean.  The biggest part of answering math questions is knowing what the questions are asking and the worst feeling in the world is knowing how to answer a question, but then putting the wrong answer because you made a silly mistake.

4.  Start working on problems that aren’t obvious.

If you don’t know how to solve a problem, just start working!  The easiest way to start is to write down your givens and any applicable formulas.  Often times, this can at least give you a hint as to what you are able to accomplish.  If the unknown is a part of the equation, try to solve for it!  If not, see if you can use the information to solve for things.  Feel free to use real numbers if problems involve equations but no real numbers.  This may help you to figure out a range of answers or could provide insight into what the equation will produce. Just make sure not to sit there and do nothing, there is always something to try!

5.  Know the parts of a sentence.

It sounds pretty basic but just identifying what the subject, verb, and (sometimes) object in a sentence can be very helpful in determining the most common errors on the SAT.  Also recognizing a prepositional phrase, an introductory phrase, a descriptive phrase and any other piece of language is extremely useful in identifying errors.

6.  Check for what could be an error when correcting sentences.

There are really only a finite number of things that could be wrong in a sentence, so, especially in the identifying sentence error questions, look for what could be wrong.  Does the underlined portion contain a subject, verb, pronoun, idiomatic phrase, or punctuation?  If you know what could be wrong, it is much easier to see if something is wrong.  One tricky note is that anything that refers to something else in the sentence and denotes number should be examined.

EX.  “There is no way to know if the problems with the coffee houses are caused by the roof or if they are caused by cracks in the foundations that have gone unnoticed.”

This is very tricky, but the problem here is with number.  There are multiple coffee houses and the sentence refers to multiple foundations so to use the singular “roof” is incorrect.  This is one of the hardest things to spot, but if you are looking for it, you can certainly learn to identify it.

With all of these tools you are set to achieve at the highest level on the SAT.  Notice that these are not tricks, but with a little hard work you too can score like a genius on the SAT.

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David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy.