Hearing the name SAT strikes fear in the hearts and minds of students all over America. Most of that fear comes from the fact that so much is riding on this exam. But the other part of that fear is that most students are just underwhelmed with their performance on their first practice test or PSAT. Although there is no quick fix to increase your SAT score, there are three really easy things you can do to basically guarantee a triple digit improvement.
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1. Know when to skip and when to guess.
The SAT is infamous for its “guessing penalty.” For every question you answer correctly you earn one point, for every question you skip you receive zero points and for every question you answer incorrectly you are “penalized” by losing a quarter a point. This often leads students to be very confused about knowing when they should guess (and risk getting it wrong and losing a quarter of a point) and when they should skip (and risk losing out on the chance to get it correct and gain a full point).
However, there is a simple rule that can cure all the confusion. Whenever a you can, with confidence, eliminate at least ONE answer choice on a question, you should absolutely answer the question—even if you simply guess!
The reason is that, statistically speaking, for each answer choice you eliminate you will actually on average gain a full 1/4 of a point. Therefore, there is no need to worry about when to skip and when to guess—you just follow the rule!
2. Do NOT look at the reading questions before reading the actual passages.
Almost 25 percent of the entire SAT score is based on reading comprehension questions. There are numerous short passages to read and then a number of questions to answer regarding each passage. Many students are advised to read the questions before they read the passage so they will then know what specifically to pay attention to when reading. On the surface, this is a fantastic idea—why should students waste their time trying to understand every little point about a passage if there won’t even be a question on it?
However, this method is actually very hurtful. The problem is that most passages have up to nine very detailed questions and 75 lines of thorough material to read through. This makes it nearly impossible for even the best students to keep all the information straight in their head as they read, often causing confusion and slowing students down. The better idea is to simply read the passage through quickly once and then move on to each individual question. When answering the question, students should refer back to the passage to double check their work. This is much more efficient and accurate.
[Don’t forget to have a little fun, too. Minecraft can help your SAT score!]
3. Memorize your essay.
The essay on the SAT gives students 25 minutes to plan, write, and revise a two-page essay response to a unique prompt. This section always causes a tremendous amount of stress because 25 minutes is really not enough time for students to create an effective and detailed response of that length. That is why students should create an essay in advance and memorize it. The essay prompts are extremely general and generic, such as “What motivates people to change?” or “Is being rich always good?”
Because the questions are so broad, students can adapt their essays very quickly. All they have to do is spend the first 10 minutes making notes about how they are going to slightly adjust the outline and details of the essay to match the question, and then they can spend the last 15 minutes simply writing it out. This will help eliminate the time pressure and stress students feel.
[Need more help? 8 Tips to Help You Master the SAT Writing Test]
Armed with these three simple tools, the SAT can become a lot less scary. Your goal when studying for the exam should be to take back control and make it so you are actively taking the test, not just passively responding to each new question you come across. Make sure to have a strong game plan ahead of time, and study enough so you can implement it well. Finally, don’t forget these three easy tips!
Steve Dorfman is the founder and owner of Tier One Tutors. Over the past decade, he has trained over 300 SAT and ACT instructors, authored three SAT coursebooks, managed the preparation for over 10,000 students, and has lectured at dozens of high schools. As a UCLA graduate, he understands just how difficult and confusing the college admissions process can be. Plus, as a father of two, he can relate to the worry and anxiety that parents feel when trying to steer their child towards a path of success. Connect with Steve on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.