Top 13 SAT Tips and Tricks to Prepare for the Exam

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

Now that you’ve decided to tackle and conquer the SAT as part of your college admissions game plan, it’s time to start preparing and practicing. 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. For instance, you will want to create a consistent practice schedule, set realistic goals, and make sure to take plenty of official practice tests in test-like conditions that are timed and completed in one sitting.

Beyond that, you will want to focus on learning and practicing strategies specific to the SAT. While the SAT allows more time per section than the ACT, it is also known for being the more confusing test. With practice, however, you will gain familiarity with the test, learn to decipher the questions, and discover the methods that work best for you. Here are some of the best prep tips 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

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 big part of the SAT. Rather than attempting to memorize lists of heady words, 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 to build your vocabulary for those pesky words-in-context questions and for better reading comprehension in general.

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 the meaningful words.

6. Print Out Those Practice Tests

Taking a test online is not the same as taking the paper test. In fact, our tutors have seen that students who practice digitally get different results when they take a printed test. Since your test will be on paper, take it the same way. Free test simulations are a helpful way to practice.

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 Taking Tactics

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. 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.

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 to call us if you need any help with your SAT test prep. We offer all kinds of support, from group and private tutoring, to test simulations. Our experts have assisted thousands of students in improving their scores. Best of luck!

Topics: Test-Prep SAT

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