The SAT, like so much in this big beautiful world, is a complex assemblage of pieces. It is, therefore, a complex task to improve one’s score on the SAT as it involves an understanding of the different parts of the test. There are, however, a few simple steps that can help start the process of improving one’s score that many people may not even realize are necessary. Here are three simple changes that can help to significantly improve your score and can, with the aid of other strategies, help you to rock the SAT.
1. Use real SAT questions to practice.
Though this may seem like a relatively obvious point, it may surprise many people to know that the vast majority of books do not use real SAT questions in their practice sections. The SAT is a product of College Board and this makes all the questions that they write proprietary information. They will license out this product, but many companies that write books about how to succeed on the SAT are not allowed to use these questions as practice problems. This may not seem like a big deal, but the College Board has a very specific style for the questions that they write. Most SAT books will write their problems to practice certain skills, as opposed to writing them to emulate the style of the SAT. As a result, many students find that their practice problems ask for these skills to be used in very different ways. Imagine learning to drive on wide desert roads, and then being asked to take a driving test in downtown Manhattan. The basic skills are the same, but you would be much more likely to succeed if you learned to drive on the same streets where the test would be administered.
2. Read and answer reading questions as you go.
This technique is so powerful, because it is so simple. Many students still attempt to read the entire passage and then answer all the questions afterward. This is how I learned to take the reading section of the SAT, but I was always worried about running out of time. The strategy of answering questions as you read is so effective because it saves tons of time (sometimes 5-10 minutes!) and it helps to answer questions more effectively. The essence of the technique is to look at the first question and read the passage until the line is referenced. After reading the section, form your own answer WITHOUT looking at the answers choices. Finally, check out the answer choices and eliminate all answer choices that are not supported by the passage then pick which one matches your answer. Repeat this process with the next line specific question, reading all text between where you left off from the first question to a little past the lines referenced in the next question. Finally, answer the big picture questions after you’ve read the whole passage. This technique alone can mean a lot more time and a lot more points.
3. Plug in real numbers for math problems that don’t use them.
The most common problems of this sort look something like this:
“If x < y which of the following is true…” “Some even integer is divided by 7…”
In these set ups, the variables are given parameters, but are not specifically defined by real numbers. These problems are best solved by plugging in real numbers that fit these parameters and solving the problems. Let’s look at the first problem:
A one digit even integer greater than zero is divided by 7. Which of the following must be true?
A) the remainder must be even
B) the remainder must be odd
C) If the remainder is an even, the remainder of 6 more than the integer will be odd
D) If the remainder is odd, the remainder of 8 more than the integer will be even
E) There is no way to determine if the remainder is even or odd
The parameters of this are so clear we can just start listing real one digit numbers greater than zero and dividing them by seven to see what we have.
2/7: remainder 2, 4/7: remainder 4, 6/7: remainder 6. 8/7: remainder 1
There are both even and odd remainders represented, so A and B are out, and the only integer that gives an odd remainder would give an even remainder if 8 was added to it
8+8 = 16
16/7: remainder 2
If we test answer choice C we see that 2+6 = 8, 4+6 = 10 6+6 = 12 and all of these if divided by seven give and odd remainder. We have our answer.
These three changes are simple but can produce big results. By mixing these techniques with some section specific strategies, you will be acing the SAT in no time!
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. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.