Getting Into College Made Easy: Six Ways to Dramatically Improve Your SAT Scores when Time Is Short

Getting Into College Made Easy: Six Ways to Dramatically Improve Your SAT Scores when Time Is Short
Barry Lenson

Getting into college isn’t as difficult as it seems. Today we’re offering another common-sense post that proves that point. Today we’ll attack this question .

How can you significantly increase your SAT scores when time is short? 

I saw this problem arise a lot when I was working as an SAT tutor. With only a month until an SAT test date, for example, a student would suddenly realize that he or she needed to add 100 points or more to each of the three SAT sections in order to get into a particular college. And I have to tell you, it’s tough to boost scores that much in just a short period of time.

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But here are three strategies than can often get the job done:

Strategy One: Answer all the easy questions in a test section first, and then go back to answer the medium-hard ones, then answer the really tough questions only if you have enough time left over.

The fact is that you are going to earn the same number of raw points for answering an easy question that you will get for answering an absolute killer. So gallop through each section first and answer the easy “low-hanging fruit” questions first. When you come to a question that causes you to pause for more than about two seconds, mark it with an “M” (for medium difficulty) and skip it. When you come to a question that you can see is going to take tons of time and maybe be impossible to answer, draw a line through it. After completing all the easy questions in a section, go back to the questions you marked with an “M” and answer them. Then – and only then – attack the ones that you crossed out.

Note: Someone who reads this post is going to criticize this strategy by pointing out that the statement above (“you are going to get the same number of raw points for answering an easy question that you will get for answering an absolute killer”) is not 100% correct because Educational Testing Service awards more points for more difficult questions. I am aware of that, but the fact is that ETS only weights harder questions a little higher than easier ones, and you are still going to score higher by delaying the harder questions and answering all the easy and medium-difficulty ones in any section.

Strategy Two: Spend a lot of time adding new “SAT words” to your working vocabulary.

I’ll write more about adding SAT vocab in a future post, but let me stress it here too. Because the fact is that a weak vocabulary can knock lots of points off your score in both the Reading and Writing sections of the test. It makes sense, because a weak vocabulary can cost you points in three different ways:

  • If you don’t understand a word that appears in a reading selection, that can cost you points.
  • If you don’t understand a word that appears in a question on the test, it can make that question unanswerable.
  • If you don’t understand a word that appears in one of the answers to a question, it can increase the chances of making an incorrect choice.

Those are just a few of the reasons why unfamiliar words can knock up to several hundred points off your combined SAT score. For that reason, buy an SAT vocabulary workbook like WordSmart, a book of SAT vocabulary published by The Princeton Review and add at least 10 new words a day to your working SAT vocabulary.

Strategy Three: Tone up your reading and skills for passage-based reading sections.

You know what these sections look like. They contain a reading selection, followed by questions that you need to answer, based on that reading selection. This is where a lot students “slam on the mental brakes” during the test and can’t keep concentrating long enough to finish a passage. Yet there are some strategies that can break the “reader’s block” and boost your score:

  • Read the questions first, so you know what you are looking for when you read the passage.
  • You will notice that many questions contain line-number references. (“In line 26, the word `colloquy’ most closely means . . . “) So read the questions first and when you see a question with a line reference, write the number of that question in the margin next to the line it references. Then as you read the selection, you can jump right to the question and answer it.
  • Practice reading difficult material in the weeks leading up to the test. You can find good practice selections in books like The Official SAT Study Guide, which contains actual tests and reading selections.

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Strategy Four: Practice by taking complete sample tests in one sitting.

Taking the SAT is a lot like running a marathon. In order to get through the test and still be fresh mentally at the end, you have to train for it. One effective approach is to take one SAT sample test on the three Saturday mornings that precede your test date.

Strategy Five: If you can eliminate two incorrect answers to a question, guess from the remaining answers.

This has been statistically shown to boost overall scores.

Strategy Six: Answer math questions backwards.

If you stop to think about it, you will realize that one of the answers to any math question has to be the correct one, right? So it follows that you can plug the answers into any equation one at a time, until you find the correct one. You will also notice that it is almost always possible to eliminate one or even two of the answers, because they are so obviously incorrect. Eliminate those answers, use the others to back into your answer as noted above, and you can answer a lot more questions correctly in a lot less time.

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How to Improve your SAT Score without Spending a Cent

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