If you’ve gotten a score of 700 or higher on a section of the SAT, what should your next move be? How can you up your score to cover that last stretch between what it is now and your goal of 1500, 1550, or (dare I even say) 1600? This week, we’ll take some time to give you high scorers tips on each section of the SAT so that you can strategically fine-tune your prep plan!
This is the section most people master first, and it’s likely going to be your first 800 (I mean, when you consider that nine times as many people score perfectly on the math as on the reading… you’ve got a great shot at that 800 in math). For people scoring a 700 and above already, TARGETING is the most important thing you can do. What do we mean by this? Figure out the specific areas you’re missing, understand why, then practice, practice, practice the right way.
If that’s too theoretical for you to wrap your head around, here’s a step-by-step plan to targeting math.
First, take a real practice test, a.k.a. Tests 1–10 from the College Board (don’t touch your Princeton Review or Barron’s practice tests). If you’ve already gone through them all and want more real practice material, SAT offers the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS), which reproduces exams given in the past and their answer keys. Your sibling might have one lying around the house or might be willing to let you access the online version through their login, but if not, Google and Reddit are your best friends. If you’ve done even the QAS exams already and still want more real practice material, past PSATs are also a good place to look. Be warned, though, that math is easiest on PSATs because they don’t include advanced algebra like the SAT does!
Next, figure out the category of the problems you missed. Are you getting polynomial questions wrong? What about data analysis ones? Our online SAT course comes with a handy-dandy search engine where you can enter which questions you missed on Tests 1–10 and get a custom study list of videos and worksheets targeted towards the topics you missed. If you don’t have our online course, you can use a prep book separated into different categories to help you target; log into Khan Academy, which also has a function that tells you which topics to work on based on what you missed; or try to figure it out on your own.
Of course, the final step is to drill the categories you missed.
Side note: think you’re making only careless errors that can’t be fixed? Careless errors tend to occur on the same question types, so targeted drilling can still benefit you.
In addition, high scorers also tend to miss several specific topics that may not be covered in regular math classes and may not show up on every test. Make sure you know how to approach questions on these topics if you’re looking to jump from a 700 to that shiny 800!
- Box and whisker plots
- Quadratic and Exponential Word Problems (especially ones involving tricky fractional exponents, like t/12)
- Data Inferences/Data Collection and Conclusions
- Standard Deviation (you only need to know what it is and how it works, not how to calculate it)
- Polynomial Factors and Graphs
- Clever Quadratic Questions
- Interpreting Linear and Quadratic Functions (make sure you know some hacks to spend less time on these)
Most importantly, though, identify what YOU missed.
Writing & Language
At this point in life, you probably know a lot of grammar already. The thing that’s tripping you up and preventing you from reaching an 800 on EBRW is likely rhetorical strategy. What we mean are things like:
- “Which of the following is the best way to combine these sentences?”
- “Which of the following should the author choose to put here?”
- Idiomatic Usage
Again, find a way to drill on the specific categories of questions you’re missing. You can use our online course or prep books (like Erica Meltzer’s The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar or College Panda’s SAT Writing: Advanced Guide and Workbook) to help you focus your practice.
Drills aside, we have a couple tips to offer you when it comes to the WLA section. First things first, the key to success here is to understand the entire framework of the passage. What’s the main idea? The topic sentence of this paragraph? The transitional sentence between this paragraph and the next? Treat it less like writing and more like reading comprehension, like you’re going to transform these paragraphs into an outline. What points does your outline need to create this passage?
It may seem counterintuitive to take all that time to map out an outline for each passage, but it will help you get the hard questions right, and you’ll have the added benefit of knowing that you’re right. If you don’t know for sure that you’re right, then you need to dig in deeper with your understanding of the passage’s framework because when it comes to WLA, if you feel like you’re guessing, you are.
Another tip for this section is to look for parallel structure. For example, if the topic sentence of the paragraph is “There are many ways students can get involved,” then that paragraph needs to touch on at least two ways. Clues like these can tip you off to the right answer on an otherwise hard question.
The SAT Reading section is arguably and statistically the hardest section of the test. It’s also the hardest to learn from a prep book or through self-studying (though we do recommend Erica Meltzer’s The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading).
That said, we’ve prepared some tips to help you ace the Reading. Hopefully you’ll be able to get closer to that sweet 800 in EBRW while keeping these pieces of advice in mind!
Focus on the scope, or the topic, of the question; what is it asking about? Often times, high scorers mentally juggle the question, the passage, and the answer choices, freak out, and then get the question wrong. The question in this case is actually more important than the answers! Focus your attention specifically on what the question wants, and then carefully consider whether Choices A through D even answer the question. Oftentimes, the choices are true according to the passage but don’t answer the question, so watch out! If you can think through each question on the Reading like this, you’ll hopefully be able to add another 20 or 30 points to your score.
Vibe matters! Look at words individually and think about their connotations. Observe the mood of the passage: is the author angry? Happy? Excited? The vibe of the passage should translate to the answer choices. Thus, even if an answer choice literally appears to be in alignment with the passage, if it feels off, it’s probably off. Trust your emotions on this one! They’ll help you navigate even the hardest questions.
You need to slow think the hardest questions. If you try to think too fast, you’ll end up missing details and get the question wrong. You should count on doing a second pass to narrow your answer choices down to the best two, then slowly think your way through the logic. It’s a tiring effort, so expect to feel exhausted!
Be aware of the kinds of details College Board manipulates to make answer choices wrong. We call these sorts of details “flags,” and they often include things like time or person. The College Board might put “The narrator said…” in the answer choice when it was actually the protagonist who said it. It’s a good idea to make a list of flags and be familiar with them.
If all else fails, ZOOM OUT. Consider what vibes with the main idea and mood of the passage. Very rarely does the SAT have a question with little or no evidence to support it, so if you encounter a tough question that you really can’t figure out, relax. Ask yourself what logically makes the most sense, and you should be on the right track to arriving at the right answer.
Our last tip for today is to make sure you have a solid pacing plan! The number one thing high scorers mess up on is their pacing on test day, so figure out a way to approach the test that works for you and stick to it. Will you do the passages out of order? What’s your strategy for slow thinking but also finishing on time? Thinking these things through will set you up for success when the big day rolls around.
We hope that you found our tips helpful in your preparation. Good luck on your SATs, everyone!
Disclaimer: Please note this list includes Amazon affiliate links, which help support our free blog content and free YouTube videos. No one has paid us to sponsor or include any books on this list.
Erica Meltzer’s The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar
College Panda’s SAT Writing: Advanced Guide and Workbook
Erica Meltzer’s The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading