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Score at the Top Blog

Gaming the SAT: Thirty-Six Tips for Getting a Better Score

Monday, November 14, 2016


By “gaming,” we mean improving your score from what it would be if you didn’t have these tips. There certainly are things that you can do to improve your SAT scores, and we’re going to share a few of them.


Before You Take the Test

  1. Understand that you can improve! With that understanding and some effort, you really can: We see it all of the time with our students.
  2. Don’t cram for the SAT (or any other test), because it’s a very ineffective method for long-term learning. Spread your study, tutoring, and practice test efforts out over a reasonably long period of time.
  3. A good night's sleep shortly after studying has been shown to have a significant impact on the ability to retain information, so it’s better to study just before bed than it is at any other time – but we’re not talkin’ about studying just before you get in bed at 3:00 am! If you think that you can perform well with little or no sleep, you’re wrong.
  4. Take as many simulated, proctored SATs as you can, and use actual College Board-provided tests, including ones that have been administered recently to others. DO NOT take an actual SAT test just for practice!
  5. Use your incorrect answers to identify areas of weakness, and then address those areas directly.
  6. Get everything ready to go on the night before the test so that all you have to do is get up, eat a good carb breakfast, and maybe do some light cardio exercises to get your endorphins flowing and elevate your mood.
  7. Leave for the testing center plenty early – early enough so that neither traffic nor car trouble will keep you from getting there with time to spare.
  8. Before you enter the testing room, spend five to ten minutes writing down anything and everything about the test that makes you anxious, and then wad up that paper and throw it away.
  9. To avoid possible distractions, try to sit at a desk that’s as far away from others, and from the cafeteria icemaker, and from the hallway door, etc. as you can be.

During the Test – General

  1. Leave no bubble unfilled, because there is no guessing penalty.
  2. Use process of elimination to narrow your choices, and then guess if you can eliminate all but one choice.
  3. When you’re guessing, we recommend choosing the bubble for the first (or last) answer that you didn’t eliminate.
  4. Do each section in at least two passes: 1st pass, do all of the easy questions. Circle the questions you’re going to come back to on the 2nd pass to make them easier find.

Reading Section Tips

  1. Use the strategy that got you the highest scores when you took the simulated tests. (There are basically three such strategies, but explaining them here isn’t our intent.)
  2. If time is an issue for you, do whichever passages you find most interesting, because you’re likely to do better on them than on others, and if there’s a chance that you’ll run out of time, why not run out of time on the passages on which you might not do as well, anyway?
  3. Read with your pencil in your hand, ready to underline, circle or write brief comments, and let the pencil’s point guide your eyes. You’ll increase your reading speed and comprehension.
  4. Use the “Command of Evidence” question pairs to your advantage, because the second of the pair often discloses the correct answer to the first of them.
  5. As you read, try to “get yourself into” the passage by visualizing what you’re reading and possibly becoming an unspeaking participant.
  6. Stop frequency and briefly paraphrase what you’ve just read, because if you can do that, you understand the material, and if you can’t, there’s a good chance that you don’t understand it and need to read it again.

Writing and Language Section Tips

  1. If the shortest answer “works,” choose it, because it’s almost always the right one.
  2. Any answer choice that contains the word “being” in its verb form is almost always the wrong one.
  3. Choice A, “ No change,” will be the correct answer about 25% of the time, just as will each of choices B, C, and D, so if the sentence “works” as is and there are no better alternatives, choose it.
  4. Beware of prepositional phrases, particularly those beginning with “of,” early in the sentence, because the College Board often uses a prepositional phrase to separate a sentence’s subject from the verb that goes with that subject and then follows the phrase with a verb that doesn’t match the subject.
  5. Look for answer choices so similar to one another that choosing one instead of the other would result in no functional difference in the sentence. When that’s so, both answer choices can be eliminated because neither is unique enough to be the only correct one.

Math Section Tips

  1. Circle or underline the actual question that you’re expected to answer so you don’t end up giving the “right answer” to the wrong question.
  2. Bust math problems down into “chunks” and solve each of those chunks, one-by-one.
  3. Write ALL your calculations. Doing so forces structured, methodical thought you can check.
  4. Pay attention to any charts or diagrams and make sure that your answer “fits” with them.
  5. Even though the SAT provides the basic formulas you’ll need at the beginning of each math section, learn them beforehand so you won’t have to waste time flipping back to them.
  6. For a problem you don’t know how to solve, “work backwards” by plugging in the answer choices until you find the one that works. It’s often best to start with an answer choice in the middle.

Essay Tips

  1. Learn the major rhetorical devices/techniques, because you’re expected to analyze the writer/speaker’s use of them.
  2. Find at least two – preferably three – instances in which the writer/speaker uses one of more of those devices/techniques, because they will form the body paragraphs in which you give specific examples.
  3. Use a minimum of three sentences for each of your opening, closing, and two – preferably three – body paragraphs.
  4. In your opening paragraph, mention the rhetorical devices/techniques that you’ll be covering, but don’t include your examples in that paragraph.
  5. Write a concluding paragraph that mirrors your opening paragraph by paraphrasing it.
  6. Write an essay of at least two pages.