How to Improve Your SAT Score

How to Improve Your SAT Score

7 minute read

While not all higher education institutions require the SATs anymore, some still do, and we know you want to do as well as possible. Let us help you calm those test-taking jitters and show you how to improve your SAT score so you can do your best on test day. These common-sense tips are affordable and realistic, so you can stay on track no matter where you are in the SAT process.

What Are the SATs?

The SATs are standardized tests that measure your skills in math, evidence-based reading, and writing. These exams assess college readiness in high school students, usually in the spring of 11th grade and/or fall of 12th grade. When you decide you’re ready to take the SATs, you can sign up for a session at a specified testing center. Test dates are typically offered several times a year. 

The test is divided into two main sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. Each section is scored on a scale from 200 to 800. Your total SAT score, the sum of these section scores, will range from 400 to 1600, with 1600 being the highest achievable score. 

If you choose to take the test multiple times, you can send your best score to the colleges you’re applying to. Schools will not be able to see scores of previous test attempts. When selecting which score you’d like to send to schools, it’s important to remember that you must send your combined score; individual section scores cannot be sent independently. 

How to Improve Your SAT Score: 5 Strategies

Boost your overall score with these SAT tips designed to help you prepare for test day — without spending money on expensive tutors or prep classes.

1. Take a Free Practice SAT

Start by taking a free practice SAT online. This will help you identify the areas of the test you need extra help on so you know where to focus your test prep. 

Utilizing the free practice tests available also allows you to gauge your performance within the specified time limits. Familiarizing yourself with the test structure and time constraints will enhance your overall test-taking strategy, contributing to a more effective and confident performance on the actual SATs.

2. Increase Your Vocabulary

Invest in an SAT vocabulary workbook, or consider downloading word lists from sources like PrepScholar. It’s generally better to memorize a few words per day than to try to cram in an entire lengthy list of words, so try breaking the list up into sections.

The cumulative impact of unfamiliar words can lead to a substantial deduction from your combined SAT score. Investing some time each day to boost your vocabulary pays off on test day.

3. Develop Your Reading Skills

To sharpen your reading skills for the SAT, focus on effective strategies and consistent practice. The SAT includes diverse reading passages that require you to read and understand the material very quickly.

The first tip is to practice the technique of reading the first paragraph of each passage attentively, followed by skimming the rest. The key to mastering this method lies in daily practice — commit to reading at least one SAT passage every day and answering associated questions.

When dealing with passage-based reading sections, another common challenge is maintaining concentration. You can overcome this by implementing a few specific strategies:

  • Read the Questions First: Familiarize yourself with the questions before starting your reading. This primes your focus and allows you to identify relevant information efficiently.
  • Utilize Line-Number References: Many questions refer to specific lines in the passage. When you’re reading the questions first, note the question number next to the corresponding line in the margin. This helps you navigate the passage to find what you need quickly.
  • Practice Difficult Material: As we said above, take advantage of free SAT practice tests online. Without stressing yourself out, take as many as you can so you get the hang of the test.

4. Develop Your Math Skills

When it comes to math, address specific weak areas to fortify your overall performance. Once again, this is where practice tests come in handy. Look at where you’ve made the most mistakes, whether in specific math subjects like geometry or question types. Those are the areas you know you need to focus on studying before test day.

5. Reduce Your Test Anxiety

Trying to relax before taking the SATs might sound easier said than done. By learning some basic relaxation techniques, you can help yourself prepare your mind to focus on the task at hand. Practice deep breathing exercises, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Visualization can also be effective — mentally picture yourself confidently navigating the test.

As you study, create an environment for yourself that fosters calmness, free from distractions. A consistent sleep schedule also helps ensure you're well-rested on test day.

Finally, try using positive affirmations to reinforce your self-confidence. Remind yourself of your preparation and capabilities, focusing on the process rather than fixating on potential outcomes. Lastly, establish a pre-test routine that includes calming activities, whether it's listening to soothing music or taking a short walk.

SAT Tricks

In this section, we’ll cover tips and tricks to use during the test.

Answer Easy Questions First

To maximize your SAT performance, start by answering easy questions first. Begin each section by swiftly tackling the straightforward, low-hanging fruit questions. If a question gives you pause for more than two seconds, mark it as medium difficulty and go back to it later. For questions that seem time-consuming or nearly impossible, draw a line through them and do them last if you have time.

Eliminate Incorrect Answers

If you can narrow down your choices to two potential answers for a question, take advantage of the guessing strategy. This technique is statistically proven to increase your chances of selecting the correct answer even when you’re unsure.

Start by analyzing the options and eliminating those you believe are incorrect. This process improves the likelihood of guessing correctly from the remaining choices. While guessing might seem counterintuitive, the statistical advantage gained by eliminating two incorrect options makes it one of your best strategies.

Keep in mind that the SAT doesn’t penalize you for incorrect answers, so taking educated guesses can only positively impact your final score. This approach aligns with efficient time management during the exam, allowing you to focus more on questions that require deeper consideration.

Answer Math Questions Backwards

When it comes to math questions, try answering them backwards. Among the multiple-choice options, you already know that one must be the correct answer. Use this to your advantage by plugging the answer choices into the equation, one at a time, until you identify the correct solution.

Additionally, it's often apparent that one or even two answer choices are automatically incorrect. Take advantage of this by eliminating obviously wrong options, narrowing down your choices, and facilitating a quicker solution. This way, you streamline the process and can focus on plausible answers.

This backward-solving technique not only saves time but also increases your chances of arriving at the correct answer. It's a practical strategy for navigating math questions efficiently, particularly when faced with time constraints during the SAT.

Get a Head Start on College With Online Courses

Preparing for the SAT means you are already thinking about your college applications. One of the best ways you can prepare for college — and strengthen your application — is by taking for-credit courses with StraighterLine. 

Choose from among over 70 online courses designed to help you crush general education requirements, earn credits for graduation, and save time and money on your college journey. Our credits are transferable to over 150 partner schools and recommended by the American Council on Education for credit transfer to thousands of other schools. 

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