It probably seems that there are thousands of these out there, but the SAT is an important test to take if you are planning to attend college. I am a high school senior, and I received a 2320 on the second SAT I took, so I know what it takes to get a good score. I’m going to go subject by subject on how you can try to raise that score.
Overview of Vocabulary
- Read varied pieces of literature, news, and texted saturated with correctly used vocabulary.
- Try some sites like FreeRice or CollegeBoard to test your vocabulary prowess.
- Learn a foreign language that shares lots of cognates with English (French and Latin tend to be best).
- Try using new words in everyday conversation or on your English paper.
Raising Your Critical Reading Score
If you have taken the SAT, or have seen the test format before, you know that each CR section includes a 5-question section of fill-in-the-blank, which tests your vocabulary, and a reading comprehension section.
Preparing for the Vocabulary Section
- Answer the questions on The SAT Question of the Day. I know, predictable advice, but it helps quiz your vocab knowledge while familiarizing yourself with the test format, which is absolutely a win-win.
- Play on Freerice. It’s a website that allows you to quiz yourself on a number of subjects while earning rice for those who are starving. So far the English Vocabulary subject is by far the most extensive. It has a lot of words that don’t appear on the SAT (or in any sort of everyday living), but if you have an expansive memory, you might remember the few that come up on the test. Besides, you’re helping feeding hunger while learning obscure words! What’s not to love?
- Brush up on some French. No, seriously. English is derived from German and French. A bunch of big, fancy words in English are generally very simple words in French, like “facile.” It is a word that means “easy” in both French and English. In English, you have a large vocabulary if you use that word. In French, you might have a first-grader’s vocabulary. Also, since French is a Romantic language, some Latin roots may very easily come up in your studies, aiding your understanding of basic roots.
- If you have a list of words used often on the SAT, flip through them quickly. You don’t actually have to know the exact definition of the word, but if you know the general meaning, connotation (whether the word evokes positive, negative, or neutral emotions), and can generally spot where and how it’s supposed to be used in a sentence, you’re good. If a word looks unfamiliar, look it up, find a couple synonyms to link it to, and make a few sentences in your head using the word. All of these methods help connect the word to your personal vocabulary, thus storing it in your long-term memory. If you want, use that word in a sentence in an essay or when talking to drive it even further into your long-term memory!
- Read classic literature. Classic novels tend to use more advanced vocabulary, and, even better, they know how to use it correctly. If you don’t enjoy reading books from the 1800’s, like me, you might want to check out Catch-22. It’s full of dark humor, and it actually contains a lot of vocab words that I found in my SAT test.
Overview of Reading
- Read a lot before the test and you might see an excerpt on the test.
- Be interested in what you are reading, even if you have to force yourself to.
- Look for the wrong answers and cross them off.
Preparing for the Critical Reading Section
- Read. Read a lot. I’m not going to guarantee you getting all of the answers in this section since it’s so subjective. Either you’re going to know answers or you aren’t, but you can guess your way to several extra points. In some cases, the test will use excerpts from literature, meaning there is a chance something you’ve already read will show up, which will save you a lot of time reading. Skim it, and move to the questions. (If you’ve never seen the text before, which is more likely, I always like to read the passage first before tackling the questions.)
- Pretend that each passage is the most interesting thing you’ve ever read in your life. I don’t care if, under any other circumstances, you would fall asleep sooner than read that drivel; this is the SAT and half of the time it always seems like its goal is to bore you to death so you fall asleep during the test. Pretending that you like what you’re reading, 1) works, and 2) will help the information stay in your brain longer so that you can answer the questions. So laugh to yourself over something in the passage, or make yourself go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that, how interesting!’ You’ll actually enjoy yourself more, and you’ll probably get a better score on the test.
- Go for the vocab questions first (___ in line __ most likely means:). You’ve already prepared for vocab, and if you read the passage you should be able to use context clues to guess what the word could mean.
- The questions are actually horrendous. Don’t expect to actually find most of the answers in the passage. Most of the time, you will have to infer, and your inference will not match up exactly with an answer choice. Here’s the golden advice: Don’t look for the right answer. You will never in your life, let alone the time constraints of the test, find the right answer because there is none. Instead, find the wrong answers. The test is designed for you to find the “answer that best fits,” not the answer that actually fits. There is no circle peg to fit your circle hole. There is instead an oval-shaped peg that will kind of fit if you jam it in there, but you have to sort it out from a bunch of other oval-shaped pegs that just won’t fit period.
- Use POE. I cannot stress how important that is in the test. For me, I got a 710 on the first time taking the test, and an 800 on the second go because I decided to use POE. POE stands for Process of Elimination. It ties in with finding the wrong answer, because to use POE, you’re taking away the answers that don’t make any sense. Each answer choice you get, look at it and make sure that it won’t answer the question correctly. Eventually you’ll get down to two, and then choose the one that best fits.
Raising Your Math Score
- Bring a calculator with new batteries. Not only will it help you out during the test, it also gives you more confidence, since you feel that there is a crutch on which you can lean. If your calculator runs out of batteries in the middle of the test, that can lead to a lot of stress that can lower your score, whether or not you can do the math in your head or not.
- Do a million of these questions. With the math section, the only thing you can really do is practice a lot for it. Read the question carefully. Brush up on your basic algebra and your geometry formulas. Questions can be found on The SAT Question of the Day, so seriously consider utilizing that.
- Draw yourself diagrams to help understand what is going on in the question.
- Sometimes all you need is logic to estimate the answer.
- Pay attention when the test has diagrams. Especially pay attention when it says “not drawn to scale”. If it says that, it might be best if you draw your own, more faithful to scale, so that you can see more accurately what’s going on. If it doesn’t have that caption, then it is drawn to scale and you should use it.
Raising Your Writing Score
For those that know the test format, you know that it has the essay, which is the first section you ever take, and the writing section, which has sections: Fix the phrase, Spot the error, and Fix the paragraph.
I won’t pretend to have a lick of actual knowledge on how to write a good essay, since I got an 8 and a 7, respectively, on my essays. As far as I know, use a lot of well-thought out examples (better to use a couple really good examples than a lot of mediocre ones), and be positive. Remember, the people who grade the essays are stuck in a room with stacks of essays that they don’t necessarily care to read; try to really make yourself stand out from the rest of the essays that they will read, and I think you should do fine.
Fix the Phrase and Spot the Error
- Freshen up on your basic grammar rules
- Know when to use “who” and “whom” (who is used when you can substitute “he” or “she”; whom is used when you can substitute “him” or “her”).
- Know your prepositional idioms (Is it “different from” or “different than”?)
- Know that if the sentence uses the pronoun “one” it can’t switch to “he” or “she”.
- Use your instinct because it’s usually right.
- If nothing looks wrong upon the second perusal of the sentence, you’re probably right.
Fix the Paragraph
- Don’t read the essay. For one thing, it’s unlikely you will be able to because of how badly it is written and the numbers all over the place. For another, it’s a waste of time since most of the questions contain the pieces you will need to answer the question. If not, then it will at least give you the general area in which to skim.
- Know how compound sentences work, since you will either have to separate one or make one.
- Figure out what makes a good topic sentence and what makes a good concluding sentence in a paragraph.
- Basically this section is all about turning the essay into a legible one. Just know what the essay is talking about and your basic grammar rules, and you are golden.
- Consider buying an SAT review book. Unless you actually don’t know how to do something, like how percentages work in math or maybe geometry in general, I would suggest just getting one that is all practice tests. If you get one that has an actual review in it, I would suggest the Collegeboard review book, since it has full practice tests in the back. The practice it provides is worth it.
- Subscribe to the SAT Question of the Day’s RSS feed. It will give you daily emails of the QotD so that you can be reminded of it.
- During the a critical reading and writing sections, don’t go back to change your answers unless you could write a thesis on why the original answer was wrong or by some chance a higher being told you to change the answer. You actually have a greater chance of getting it right the first time. Like my English teacher says, “Take your test like a Viking! Never look back!” Unless…
- You’re taking the math section. During math sections, go back and double check your answers, as many as you can. You can easily make a careless mistake, which can cost you several points.
- Don’t skip any questions. They tell you to do that if you’re unsure, but there is no way to get a perfect score if you skip, and no way to get a high score if you skip a lot. Just take your best guess, even if you honestly have no clue between the five answers.
- This is not the test to cram for or stress on. The first time taking the test I got a 2140, which isn’t bad by any means, but I studied a lot the night before and really stressed throughout the entire thing. The second time around I barely studied, did a casual review and felt confident during the test, and all of my sections rose in score by at least 30 points (it was actually a nice 30-60-90 increase in the scores).
- A tutor can help, but he or she isn’t a miracle worker. The work is all on you.
- Don’t use performance enhancing drugs to help you focus during the test. It’s incredibly dishonest to those who aren’t using drugs, and, if you do get a high score, you can never say that it wasn’t just the drugs. So don’t.
That’s just about it! Good luck to all those taking the SAT!