Top 20 SAT Tips and Tricks to Prepare for the Exam

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: May 26, 2021

So you’ve decided to conquer the SAT as part of your college admissions game plan. That means it’s time to start preparing and practicing – now. You’ll find lots of great overall information and advice for preparing for standardized tests in our Ultimate Guide to Preparing for College Entrance Exams.

You will want to set a consistent practice schedule, create realistic goals, and take plenty of official practice exams. These tests should be administered in realistic conditions, with the same real-life timing and seating requirements.

Beyond that, you’ll also want to focus on learning and practicing strategies specific to the SAT. Although the SAT allows more time per section than the ACT does, many consider it to be the more challenging, thought-provoking exam – so prepare accordingly. 

With practice, you’ll gain familiarity with the test, learn to decipher the questions, and discover the methods that work best for you. Here are some top SAT tips and tricks from our experts to help you get ready to take the SAT confidently and successfully.

SAT Study Tips

  1. Take Advantage of Resources and Others’ Knowledge
  2. Utilize Free Test Prep Resources
  3. Review Greek and Latin Roots
  4. Read, Read, Read
  5. Work on Reading Speed
  6. Print Out Those Practice Tests
  7. Use a Bubble Sheet
  8. Answer the Easier and/or Quicker Questions First
  9. Guess the Same Letter
  10. Check the Answer Choices Very Carefully
  11. Check the Questions Carefully, Too
  12. Don't Save the Grid-In Questions for Last
  13. Look at the Shortest Answer First
  14. Identify the Evidence First
  15. Skim the Question at the Beginning
  16. Rely on Your Strongest Math Skills
  17. Take Shortcuts to Success
  18. Brush Up on Your Grammar
  19. Watch Out for ‘Rhetoric’ Questions
  20. Start Early

Before the Exam Comes…

1. Take Advantage of Resources and Others’ Knowledge

You’re not the first student to take the SAT and fortunately, you live in a time when you can find answers with a click of your mouse. So, if you’re having difficulty with a concept, there’s likely plenty of information that can help you. You can Google it, visit your local library, or ask a teacher or SAT tutor for assistance.

2. Utilize Free Test Prep Resources

Speaking of resources, CollegeBoard and Khan Academy have assembled a lot of great, free materials and tools to help you prepare for the test.

3. Review Greek and Latin roots

Vocabulary is a big part of the SAT. Rather than attempting to memorize lists of heady terms, a helpful hint is to work on understanding the Greek and Latin roots of words. 

For instance, once you understand that phil comes from the Greek word “to love,” you’ll have an easier time recognizing words such as philanthropist or philosopher. This approach will help you build your vocabulary and tackle those pesky words-in-context questions.

Reviewing these roots also contributes to better general reading comprehension in general. That’s why it’s one of the most popular SAT tips and tricks out there.

Student Reading a Book

4. Read, Read. Read

The best way to prepare for the comprehensive reading passages and to improve your vocabulary is to read as much as you can. We know you already have plenty of obligations with academic and textbook reading, but do your best to find things to read outside of the classroom. Look for reading materials that interest you and they can be anything from newspaper articles to short stories, poems, or travel guides.

5. Work on Reading Speed

As you read more, you will naturally increase your reading speed, and that’s a big advantage on timed tests. If you find yourself struggling to read through long passages, you may want to Google some speed reading tips or work with a tutor who can help you learn some of the useful tricks, such as using your finger or a pencil to scan or focusing more on meaningful words.

6. Print Out Those Practice Tests

Taking a test online is not the same as taking a paper test. In fact, our tutors have seen that students who practice digitally often get different results when they take a printed test.

Because your actual SAT test will be on paper, take it the same way when you practice. Taking free test simulations is one of the best tips and tricks for the SAT, but only if you do so in the right settings.

7. Use a Bubble Sheet

In the same vein, when you’re practicing, you want to keep it as close to the real thing as possible. That includes using the bubble sheet for your answers.SAT Test Prep

SAT Test Tips and Tricks (During the Exam)

Here are a few more strategies you can work on while taking those practice tests that will help you get ready for test day.

8. Answer the Easier and/or Quicker Questions First

All questions are worth the same number of points, regardless of whether it takes you two minutes or five minutes to solve them. Prioritize the easier and quicker questions (or in the case for the reading passages, the easier and quicker passages) so you can answer more questions correctly in a shorter amount of time even if this means you are skipping around.

9. Guess the Same Letter

Here’s our best advice when it comes to the guessing game: guess the same letter for each question you don't know how to answer.

On the exams, each answer choice is correct about the same number of times, so if you choose the same letter, you will answer correctly on about 25 percent of the questions you guessed on. If you "Christmas-tree" it by bubbling in random answers, you could be guessing around the correct answers. 

This is a brilliant (but lesser known) way to increase your chances of getting tough questions right, and it’s definitely one of our favorite tips and tricks for the SAT.

10. Check the Answer Choices Very Carefully

In the reading section, often one part of each answer choice is actually true, but only in the correct answer are all the parts true. In the incorrect answers, there will usually be one phrase, or even one word, that makes that answer false.

SAT Math Question

11. Check the Questions Very Carefully Too

In the math section, many questions focus on solving for a variable and then inputting that variable into a new context. For the word problems, read the actual question first (usually the last line in the problem) to find out what it's asking for, then go back up and read the rest to determine what information they give you to work with. Make sure to choose the answer choice that answers the question they ask!

12. Don't Save the Grid-In Questions for Last

In the math section, much like the other sections, you should work in order from easier/quicker questions to harder/longer questions. Once the multiple-choice questions become too hard or too time-consuming, switch to the grid-in, as the beginning questions in the grid-in tend to be easy and quick. Complete the easy and quick grid-in and then return to the multiple choice when the grid-in questions get too difficult. This will also help you if you tend to run out of time — you can always guess on any multiple-choice questions you have left, but you can't guess on the grid-in questions.

13. Look at the Shortest Answer First

In the writing section, the shortest answer that makes sense is always the correct answer. So, instead of looking at the answer choices in order of letter (A to B to C to D), look at them in order of length. Plug in the shortest answer first, then the next shortest, and the next shortest until you find the one that makes sense. (Remember: if, when you read the sentence the first time, it is grammatically correct and concise, don't change it! "No change" shows up as an answer about 25% of the time, so don't be afraid to choose that option).

Remember: if you read the sentence the first time, and it is grammatically correct and concise, don't change it! "No change" shows up as an answer about a quarter of the time, so don't be afraid to choose that option.

  1. Identify the Evidence First

Some questions on the SAT may seem entirely subjective. However, you should always be able to point to evidence in the chart or passage you are examining. This will give you a stronger argument that’s backed up with real evidence.

This is one of the crucial but often overlooked SAT test trips and tricks. Evidence is key, so take the time to hunt for it if possible.

  1. Skim the Question at the Beginning

When you’re faced with a new question, begin by skim-reading it to get an overall picture of what the question is asking you. To skim quickly, try removing the reading voice that’s in your head and just read without needing to understand the whole paragraph right away.

Decipher the introduction and the conclusion first, then read the first and last sentences of each paragraph in the main body of the question. You could even go the extra mile and circle or underline any keywords or phrases you might feel is important to the question.

  1. Rely on Your Strongest Math Skills

Mathematics can be bamboozling and frustrating – especially under exam conditions. It definitely helps if you already know the important math formulas, definitions, and concepts that are likely to appear on the SAT.

In general, solid test preparation is one of the best things you can do for your score. If you’ve worked with a tutor or studied a lot on your own, there are probably some types of math questions you’re confident handling – and some you’re not.

Try to tackle the kinds of questions you know well upfront, then spend time on the more confusing questions. You don’t want to get bogged down by one confusing math question, then run out of time to finish the ones you actually knew how to answer.

  1. Take Shortcuts to Success

If a question seems complicated and or like it will require a lot of time to figure out, try to look for a shortcut to the answer. Start by assessing the answers to see if you will be able to rule out any obviously incorrect answers. The faster you can narrow down your options, the better.

  1. Brush Up on Your Grammar

This might sound like a no-brainer, but the SAT requires a strong understanding of English grammar. You might think you learned all you need to know in grade school but trust us: these questions can be tricky.

One of the best ways to continuously improve your grammar is to read and write. You can practice this during SAT prep exercises, but you can also learn in your spare time. Reading fun novels aloud is a great way to improve your grammar. It also helps you learn how to identify grammatical mistakes that hit the ear (or eye) wrong on the exam.

  1. Watch Out for ‘Rhetoric’ Questions

In linguistics, rhetoric means using language that is designed to be impressive or persuasive. An example of “rhetoric” is when a novelist constructs a passage in a science-fiction novel that makes the reader feel wowed by the world they have described.

Rhetoric questions in the SAT are focused more on how the page is structured or developed, rather than asking questions centered on the information provided. As a result, you’ll need to approach rhetoric questions differently. Think about how the author has approached that piece of writing, the stylistic elements they have chosen, and why they made these choices.

  1. Start Early

We get it: everyone is busy these days. You have your friends, family, hobbies, school, and maybe even a part-time job to juggle.

That being said, if possible, prepare for the exam at least a year in advance. Not only will this ensure you are less stressed on the actual day of the test, but it will also give you plenty of time to learn difficult concepts.

Ready to Start Preparing? Reach Out Today.

These are just some of the best SAT tips and tricks to help you prepare for your SAT. Additional, professional help can also be found at Score At The Top.

Call us if you need any help with your SAT test prep or general test-taking strategies. We’re here to share all of the best SAT tips and tricks. Select group or private tutoring sessions, then schedule realistic test simulations.

To learn more, call 844-438-1600 or send us a message online. 

Topics: Test-Prep SAT

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