Why Smart Students Struggle with the SAT

Why Smart Students Struggle on the SATMeet John Doe.

John was a straight-A student ever since the first grade. He always completed his schoolwork diligently, turning in his homework assignments on time and went well-above and beyond his teachers expectations. His parents valued education and created an academically conducive environment at home. John had all of the ingredients necessary for academic success.

But John soon found out that his stellar classroom track record could not help him on the biggest exam of his life: the SAT. When he sat down to take his first practice SAT, he barely scored above average. He was nowhere near the top-tier SAT scores that he was shooting for.

Unfortunately, a student like John is more often the norm than the exception. Many high school students who do great in school often struggle with standardized tests. Why? Smart students often possess attributes that are actually detrimental to scoring well on tests such as the SAT.

1. Being Overconfident
The number one reason students who normally do well academically struggle on their first administration of the SAT is overconfidence. Throughout their academic careers, students like John have always been “smart”. They get near-perfect scores on high school math exams and write essays with insights that receive public praise from their English teacher. So why would the SAT be any different? But it’s exactly this mentality that often causes students to fall prey to the traps of the SAT. The SAT is designed to reward students who think critically about each question. Students who are overconfident often choose “trap” answers because they didn’t take the time to fully work out a problem, which can cause their scores to nosedive.

2. Arguing with the Test
John and other smart students are good at arguing their point of view. But nothing could be more detrimental to a student’s SAT Reading score than trying to defend incorrect answer choices. The SAT Reading section is made up primarily of Passage-Based Reading questions that require students to make reasonable inferences about a passage in order to answer a series of associated questions. But an inference on an open-ended high school English exam and an inference on the SAT are two very different things. In high school, smart students can often get away with answers that are not 100% correct simply by providing a compelling argument for their answer. However, the SAT Reading section is graded by a machine, not an English teacher. There is one and only one correct answer, and no partial credit. When students begin to try to justify why incorrect answer choices could possibly be correct, they are sure to miss many questions.

3. Not Being an Avid Reader
John wasn’t a bookworm, and many smart students like him aren’t either. In fact, often times students who get the highest grades in school aren’t the most avid readers. They read the bare minimum to do well (i.e. Sparknotes), and not much more. Between honors/AP classes and extracurricular activities, they simply don’t have the time to read more than is necessary. Unfortunately, this puts students who prioritize pragmatism at a major disadvantage compared to students who have been avid readers since they were young. The SAT requires you to read and process lots of dense information in a short period of time, which may be difficult if students are not used to doing this on a regular basis.

4. Not Coming Prepared
Smart students like John often roll out of bed the morning of their SAT exam, and take the test blind. The philosophy is: “I don’t know what questions will be on the test, so how can I study for it?”. But in reality, there is so much students can do to prepare for the SAT, even without knowledge of exactly what questions will appear on the test. Students can prepare the examples they will use in their SAT Essay before ever seeing the topic, learn the fifteen SAT grammar rules that appear on the exam, memorize the most common SAT vocabulary words, learn how to use the multiple-choice nature of the exam to avoid having to do algebra on the SAT Math section, and more. Students spend 4,000+ hours in a high school classroom working toward a GPA, but only 4 hours taking the SAT. But when it comes to college admissions, a student’s GPA and SAT score are weighted roughly the same. So it would be absurd not to spend a few more hours preparing for the SAT in order to even things out. Yet, most smart students neglect SAT preparation.

5. Not Practicing
John and students like him are good at new endeavors the first time they try them. Their natural talents have taken them to a level that far exceeds their classmates, so why shouldn’t their innate skills translate to the SAT as well? After all, it was Allen Iverson who angrily yelled at reporters “we talking about practice?!” While natural talent may take you far in basketball, the best way for students to raise their SAT scores is to practice on SAT questions. But students should not just practice with any third-party SAT questions. Instead, students should practice with real SAT questions produced by the College Board, the company that publishes the SAT. You can subscribe to the official College Board SAT Question of the Day here. Practice with College Board SAT questions in order to make sure your SAT score doesn’t end up where Allen Iverson’s career did.

Now let’s return to our story of John Doe.

John was lucky. He figured out everything he was doing wrong with respect to the SAT while still in high school, and changed his ways. He stopped being overconfident, no longer tried to defend incorrect answer choices, read dense SAT passages in order to assure that his reading comprehension skills were on par with avid readers, did extensive SAT preparation, and practiced on real College Board SAT Questions.

What was the result? John ended up scoring a perfect 2400 on the SAT. Of the 10 million students who have taken the SAT, less than 2,000 have achieved this score. His SAT score helped him secure nearly a quarter million dollars in merit-based scholarships, receive admission into the nation’s most prestigious universities, and win many national awards.

So who is John Doe? Well, he is actually me. My SAT score changed my life. But I had to change some very bad smart-student habits before I improved my original mediocre SAT score to a stellar SAT score. Don’t let your ego and lack of preparation get in the way of achieving the academic accomplishments of your dreams. Take the SAT as seriously as you do your schoolwork, and you too will surely succeed!

Want to do better on the SAT? Take a look at our SAT prep courses, which are available online and via classroom formats. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Shaan Patel is the Director of SAT Programs at Veritas Prep and is the author of the best-selling book SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps.