Chances are, if you’ve clicked on this post, you want to increase your SAT® score. Look no further– in this video and article, I reveal the exact same process I utilize with students as a perfect scoring test prep expert.

Here are the four basic steps:

Take a practice test

Go and take a practice test. Make sure to time yourself! You can click here for links to practice tests, as well as other valuable resources.

Analyze your results

After taking the practice test, check your answers and go over each question you got wrong. As you peruse the questions, ask yourself, “Why did I get this wrong? What can I do next time to get it right?”

Target your weaknesses

Now it’s time to pinpoint your shortcomings to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Ask yourself, “What is the fundamental problem I’m having that is causing me to get this type of question wrong? And how can I fix this problem?”

Repeat

Repeat these steps over and over again in order to ensure your progress. Practice makes perfect!

 

Now that I’ve listed the simple yet effective SAT® self-study process, I’ll address the four different types of weaknesses I commonly see my students fall into, as well as how I address those weaknesses.

The Four Types of Weakness:

1. Rusty

Many students frequently spot a question on the SAT® and regretfully think, “I totally used to know how to do that!” The best thing to do in this scenario is to review– sometimes it’s best to review at the most basic level. When you review from the basics, you’re essentially building a solid foundation of knowledge upon which you can continue to pack on more advanced skills.
A good website to access practice worksheets is Kuta Software, which offers free worksheets that target basic skills enhancement. Another good resource is a trusty old math textbook. Although it may sound archaic, math textbooks offer informational lessons, guiding students through step-by-step explanations and examples. If you’re rusty on certain math concepts, consider practicing with odd-numbered problems and checking your answers in the back of the book. With enough practice, your skills should soon sharpen up.
Once you’re feeling confident on the basics, you can venture off into tackling more complex questions. For that, Khan Academy’s official SAT® prep module is a good resource, because its math section is subdivided by individual question type. Focus specifically on your weak areas and and drill down what you’re having trouble with. After repeated drills, you should become an expert in that field.
Now, although students often seem to be more rusty on math concepts, grammar skills are also crucial to brush up on for the SAT®. I recommend obtaining a grammar book written by an independent tutor that really delineates in-depth each rule you need to know.  You can also drill by question type on Khan Academy’s official SAT® prep questions.

 

2. Slow

Many students struggle with pacing, especially when it comes to reading. If you can’t read fast enough to efficiently work through SAT® passages, I recommend checking out my helpful video on speed reading. Not all of the tips in this video may be applicable, but it can definitely help you build better reading habits.
But before you reach for the stopwatch, sometimes immediately trying to speed up isn’t necessarily the best way to improve pacing. Let’s think analogically about playing a difficult passage on a musical instrument. You cannot magically play the challenging portion in a quick tempo, or you would make many musical blunders– such as playing a G instead of G# or holding a note for two counts instead of one. Instead, you have to slow down and play over the measures slowly. After building muscle memory from repetition, you know how the passage goes– then you can speed up. A similar concept applies to speed reading. Although it seems counterintuitive, if you’re having trouble finishing something in time– slow down first. Build familiarity with the test and seek to truly understand it. Once you’ve mastered it on that slow angle, you can now whip out a stopwatch and do timed drills.
Note: Remember that you don’t have to time yourself on the whole expanse of the exam from the start. It may be more helpful to break up the test into little sections, and then time yourself knowing how long you have for each question or passage. In any case, figure out the timing method that works best for you.

3. Confused

Confused students often lack familiarity with the test OR don’t know how to approach the questions– i.e. the content.  If you’re having trouble with content, the best way to work on that is to learn new skills and familiarize yourself with the test. Khan Academy again features helpful content material– however, sometimes not all of the explanations are available or the explanations are lame. In that case, you can obtain a supplemental book for extra help to better understand the test– again I recommend books from independent tutors or small companies with good reviews over the big brands (Kaplan/Princeton/Barron’s).
In terms of the reading section, when you don’t understand a passage or if you’re scoring below 600, you may want to brush up on vocabulary. Vocabulary is a central part of effectively comprehending dense passages, and the broader your vocabulary range is, the more probability you have of scoring higher on the reading section.
Google Wordly Wise or Vocabulary Workshop (two series of comprehensive vocabulary drills) if you feel your vocabulary needs a serious boost, or if you’re an international student.  I also like Word Power Made Easy.

4. Careless

Careless errors– these are the errors that are toughest to get rid of. The good news is that there are certain strategies you can implement to avoid making careless errors on the SAT®, which can cost you many points. For example, you can practice building focus or using “safety nets.” These “safety nets” can be a variety of methods, such as reading every single word, circling important details, or rereading math questions before bubbling in answer choices.  Think about what ways you can quickly double check your work.
Also, when you review a practice test, keep in mind that you constantly need to be analyzing and understanding. For example, getting an answer right exceeds looking at the correct answer and saying, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” This is not enough. You should not only see and agree that the right answer makes sense but also seek to truly understand how you arrived at the conclusion in the first place.  What process did you use, and what process would have been better?  Keep a notebook in which you answer that question– how can I do problems better? What rules do I need to remember?
The bottom line is that the absolute best way to self-prep for the SAT® is to learn from and work on your mistakes– figure out what you did wrong, then go over it. Hopefully, these tips were helpful to you, and good luck studying for the SAT®!