Are you wondering how to raise your SAT score? Whether you’re preparing for your first SAT or you’ve taken the test several times but haven’t seen an increase in your score, we’ve got you covered.
No matter what your circumstances are, you can achieve a high SAT score. This article will help you get over the hump and achieve the SAT test scores you deserve. We’ll go over the 7 most common reasons SAT scores remain stagnant and tips for improving your score.
Here are the issues we’ll explore in this blog:
- Do I Have Any Skill Gaps?
- Am I Making Careless Mistakes?
- Do I Have Timing Issues?
- Am I Following a Topical and Linear Study Plan?
- Am I Using Inefficient Math Strategies?
- Am I Using Inefficient Verbal Strategies?
- Do I Have Control of My Test Anxiety?
Let’s take a look at 7 important questions that you can ask yourself to determine how to improve your SAT score.
#1: Do I Have Any Skill Gaps?
If you are somewhat familiar with the SAT, then you probably know that you’ll need to study hundreds of SAT math and verbal topics to succeed on the SAT. However, a big part of the challenge of the SAT is that you don’t know the exact topics that you’ll see on test day. Thus, to put yourself in the best position to succeed, you must be familiar with all aspects of SAT math and verbal.
Additionally, many difficult SAT questions contain concepts from multiple topics. Consider the following: you are a whiz at simplifying exponents, but not so good at fractions. So, if an exponent question includes variables with fractional exponents, then the likelihood of your correctly answering that question will undoubtedly decrease.
Thus, it should be evident that as you gain more skills, your chances of being tripped up on one aspect of a problem decrease. With that in mind, let’s talk about how to identify and fix skills gaps.
It can be challenging to spot math skill gaps, especially if you’re missing questions that require you to apply many ideas to arrive at a solution. Thus, you may need to break down a question into granular pieces to uncover your math weaknesses.
For example, you may need to complete the following steps while answering a particular coordinate geometry question. You are to determine the equation of a line in standard form when given two points on the line, with the origin as one of the points. You’ll need to know the following:
- Recognize that when a line passes through the origin, it passes through the point (0,0).
- Recognize and use the slope formula for the given coordinates.
- Create a linear equation (y = mx + b) with your results.
- Remove fractions from the equation.
- Rearrange the terms to express the equation in standard form (Ax + By = C).
Thus, to successfully answer the above question, we would need to use two concepts from Coordinate Geometry, one concept from Linear Equations, one concept from Fractions, and one concept from basic Algebra. That is a lot of concepts!
So, what if you were perfect up to step 4, but you removed the fractions incorrectly? That would be like getting to the one-yard line but not scoring the touchdown.
Accordingly, if you got the question wrong, it would be a major mistake to infer that you’re having trouble only with Coordinate Geometry problems. Instead, by taking a hard look at what went wrong, you could see your exact issue(s) and what topic(s) is involved. In this case, your problem was actually Fractions, not Coordinate Geometry.
TTP PRO TIP:
Missing a math question on a certain main topic doesn’t indicate that you’re bad at that topic. Always do a deep dive into your wrong answers to determine your problem areas.
Improving in SAT Reading and Writing also requires identifying specific areas of weakness. For example, a key aspect of many Writing questions is subject-verb agreement. However, the basic rule of pairing singular nouns with singular verbs and plural nouns with plural verbs is easier said than done.
For example, let’s say that you saw the following sentence in a Writing passage:
The main point is that my response, no matter how many issues might be mentioned in the essays, are logical and reasonable.
The verb “are” may appear to be correct in the underlined portion above, since the plural “are” appears right next to the plural noun “essays.” However, the verb “are” actually is supposed to pair with the singular noun “response.” We can better see the subject-verb pair by deleting the parenthetical phrase “no matter how many issues might be mentioned in the essays”:
“The main point is that my response are logical and reasonable.”
Now we can clearly see that the plural verb “are” is incorrect; we need the singular verb “is” to pair with the singular noun “response.”
To avoid repeating the mistake of deciding that the original sentence is correct, you’d have to identify that the reason you made the mistake was that you didn’t properly identify the noun associated with the verb “are.” Once you identified the issue, you would know that you have a knowledge gap in the topic of subject-verb agreement that you must remedy. By addressing that area of weakness, you would improve your SAT Writing and Language performance and increase your SAT score.
TTP PRO TIP:
To increase your SAT verbal score, identify and address specific areas of weakness.
Maintain an Error Log
Maintaining an error log is a valuable tool for identifying and correcting skill weaknesses.
An error log is super helpful because it organizes your incorrect questions and the reasons for your mistakes. Some of the reasons might be categorized as:
— Did I misunderstand what the question was asking?
— Did I need to use a formula that I couldn’t remember?
— Did I misuse a math technique (such as FOILing)?
— Did I fall for a trap answer?
Each time you discover a flaw in the way you approached a question, you move closer to your SAT target score. So, be sure to hyper-analyze all wrong questions.
Each time you discover a flaw in the way you approached a question, you move closer to your SAT target score.
Now, let’s talk about how to assess your practice test results.
Examine the Results of Your Practice Tests
To discover your strengths and weaknesses, you must carefully evaluate each question from a problem set or practice test.
When analyzing your practice tests, don’t just casually review your incorrect answers. Instead, conduct an honest and detailed analysis of why you arrived at your particular answer. Also, don’t assume that just because you get one question right on a topic, you know everything there is to know about that topic.
In addition, take the opportunity between each SAT full-length practice test to fill in any knowledge gaps. Don’t be concerned if you require a few days to thoroughly review your practice exam and go over your weak areas. Allow yourself enough time to improve.
Next, let’s discuss careless errors.
#2: Am I Making Careless Mistakes?
Whenever I get into a conversation with a student who asks me, “How can I improve my SAT score?,” I immediately ask about careless errors. Careless errors come in many shapes and sizes and can seriously hurt an SAT score. Thus, if you can get a handle on the number of careless errors you make on SAT questions, your score will improve.
TTP PRO TIP:
Reducing the number of careless errors you make will help improve your SAT score.
Careless Mistakes Are Unforgivable
Unlike other errors that result in incorrect answers, careless errors are rarely the result of content issues. Instead, careless errors are more frequently the result of bad habits, such as:
— rushing when answering a question
— doing too much mental math
— sloppy handwriting
— solving for the wrong thing
What makes careless errors so frustrating is that they are avoidable and thus unforgivable. So, when you notice that you make a careless error, get down to the bottom of why, to prevent it from happening again.
Careless Mistakes Are Completely Preventable
Although this may sound overly simple, just being aware of careless errors is one of the most effective strategies to reduce them. If you are aware of what you are doing at all times, you can catch yourself committing a careless mistake.
Let’s say that you regularly solve for the wrong variable in a given math question. To fix your issue, before inputting your answer, look at the question stem to ensure that you are solving for the correct variable. For example, make sure that you’re not answering the cost of product P when asked to figure out the cost of product Q.
Using your error log will help you fix your issues with careless errors. If you correctly update your error log, you will see the exact questions you incorrectly answer due to a particular error type. Thus, you’ll be able to make the appropriate fixes to your behavior.
TTP PRO TIP:
Your error log can help you identify the types of careless mistakes that are preventing you from improving your score.
#3: Do I Have Timing Issues?
I cannot overstate the importance of timing in increasing your SAT score. Poor timing is a typical problem among SAT students, and it can contribute to students’ inability to raise their scores. Some students, for example, “overspend” on one or more questions, leaving little time for the remaining ones. We frequently spend too much time on a question because we assume we should be able to answer it correctly and hence do not want to let it go.
Thus, you need to be disciplined and understand that some questions (regardless of their appearance) may just “have your number.” Therefore, make a strategic move to guess, mark the question for later review, move on, and then come back to that question if you have time at the end of the section.
In some circumstances, students speed through questions, leaving too much time at the end of a section. Sure, you can go back and double-check your answers. However, in an ideal world, you’d spend enough time on each question, so that you wouldn’t need to go back. Creating an internal clock is an excellent method for solving some of these timing issues.
TTP PRO TIP:
Learn to let go of certain questions even if you feel as though you should get them right.
Develop an Internal Clock
Using an internal clock will let you know how long you’ve been working on a problem and how much time you have left to solve it.
An SAT non-calculator math question should take an average of 1 minute and 15 seconds, and a calculator math question should take an average of 1 minute and 30 seconds.
Thus, developing a sense of what 1 minute and 15 seconds or 1 minute and 30 seconds feels like is quite useful. One way to develop this intuition is to practice timed SAT questions in the final phases of your SAT studying.
Set a timer when you start working on a question. When you think 1 minute and 15 seconds or 1 minute and 30 seconds has elapsed, check the timer to see how close you are to the correct time. Developing this internal clock will greatly benefit your overall performance on test day.
TTP PRO TIP:
Develop an internal clock to help you with SAT math section timing.
Be Careful About Moving to the Next Question Too Quickly
Although we have previously discussed how not to hang on to a question for too long, the other side of this coin is that you shouldn’t necessarily guess and move on just because you’ve reached the 1-minute and 15-second mark or 1-minute and 30-second mark on an SAT math question. If you feel that you are close to getting the correct answer and need to put in an extra 30 to 45 seconds, do it!
Furthermore, each math question does not necessarily require either 1 minute and 15 seconds or 1 minute and 30 seconds. Even if you spend 2 minutes on one problem, there may be others that you spend 30 seconds on. So, just be sure to use common sense when deciding whether to move on or hang on to a question.
The same can be said for verbal questions. You have about 45 seconds to answer each Writing and Language question. However, a question that requires applying a simple punctuation or grammar rule could take as little as 10 seconds to answer, leaving you additional time to invest in a more difficult question about where a sentence should be placed in a paragraph, for example.
TTP PRO TIP:
Knowing when to move on and when to stay with a problem is a skill you must develop.
#4: Am I Following a Topical and Linear Study Plan?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked by SAT students, “How do I improve my SAT score?,” only to discover that they haven’t followed an organized or systematic study plan. Many of these students have put together an SAT study plan that includes a few books and a few hundred practice questions. They hoped to ace the SAT math and verbal by reviewing the answers to the questions they had already answered. If this sounds like your current study strategy, you may need to adjust.
Remember that to do well on the SAT, you must be well-versed in a large number of topics. The most effective way to ensure that you fully comprehend each SAT topic is to take a linear and structured approach to your SAT preparation.
Specifically, I suggest that you take a topic-by-topic approach to your prep. So, rather than bouncing from topic to topic, learn and practice one topic at a time, and then move on once you have achieved mastery of a topic.
TTP PRO TIP:
Take a topic-by-topic approach to study for the SAT.
#5: Am I Using Inefficient Math Strategies?
It’s important to realize that most SAT math questions can be answered in various ways. However, in most cases, one technique is much faster than others. As a result, you must ensure that you not only possess the conceptual knowledge required to answer math questions but also apply that knowledge in the most intelligent and effective manner possible.
Here is an example:
For y = (x + 4)(x – 3), solve for the value of y when x = 3.
There are two ways to solve this problem. There is the long way, which takes about a minute, and the short way, which takes about 3 seconds.
The long way: First, FOIL (x + 4)(x – 3), obtaining x^2 + x – 12. Then, substitute 3 for x into the result, getting 3^2 + 3 – 12, which equals 9 + 3 – 12 = 0. The final answer is 0.
The short way: Realize that FOILing is NOT necessary. Notice that (x – 3) = 0 when x = 3. Thus, (x + 4)(x – 3) = (x + 4)(0) = 0.
Either method is mathematically correct. One is inefficient, and one is efficient. Either method will lead to the correct answer, but the efficient method allows you to solve the question so quickly that you will gain a lot of extra time to devote to a later question.
If you didn’t see the short way of answering the question, don’t stress! You can develop the skill of choosing the efficient problem-solving strategy by doing lots of practice problems. The more questions you practice, the more you will recognize those situations in which you can apply an alternate (and more efficient) strategy.
TTP PRO TIP:
Invest the time necessary to “train your brain” during your SAT preparation, so that efficient approaches to handling SAT math questions become second nature to you.
#6: Am I Using Inefficient Verbal Strategies?
Just as there is usually one approach that is more efficient than others for handling an SAT math question, there are inefficient and efficient ways of answering SAT verbal questions. Both types of approaches have the potential to lead to the right responses. However, only the most efficient tactics will help you boost your SAT verbal score.
Let’s say you’re presented with a Reading passage. You decide to read just the first and last sentence of each paragraph. You believe that by employing this method, you will have more time to answer the questions. In reality, students who use this method frequently end up overspending time examining the passage for the information they need to answer the questions. Although it may seem contradictory, reading the material entirely the first time around is a more efficient technique.
Unfortunately, there are numerous inefficient SAT verbal tactics that have become fairly popular among students. When it comes to timed tests, no matter how well-versed you are in the principles of identifying the main focus of the passage, making logical inferences based on the passage, etc., inefficient tactics won’t get you very far.
Don’t be scared to abandon verbal techniques that aren’t yielding the desired results. The sooner you learn to employ more efficient verbal tactics, the more time you’ll have to improve your verbal score!
TTP PRO TIP:
Don’t be scared to abandon verbal techniques that aren’t yielding the desired results.
#7: Do I Have Control of My Test Anxiety?
If you feel as though you’re already following the advice I’ve discussed in this blog, so you’re still not sure why your SAT score is not improving, then anxiety may be a major issue for you.
What Is Test Anxiety?
Many students suffer from test anxiety, which can manifest as a racing heart, shallow breathing, and scattered thoughts. A high-stakes exam such as the SAT can amplify this anxiety, making it harder to focus. After all, how well you do on the SAT may significantly impact your college prospects.
The truth is that even the most well-prepared test-takers will experience some test anxiety during the SAT, and that is OK. On the other hand, excessive anxiety can produce less than desirable results. So, you’ll be one step closer to your SAT score goal if you can get a handle on your test anxiety. Let’s discuss how to control test anxiety.
Take Control of Your Test Anxiety
There are various ways to deal with test anxiety, including visualization, breathing exercises, and turning anxiety into excitement. If anxiety is keeping you from increasing your SAT score, try some of these techniques.
In addition to those techniques, knowing SAT math and verbal like the back of your hand is a terrific method of reducing test anxiety. The more familiar you are with a topic, the calmer you’ll be when you’re tested on that topic. So, it should not be a shock that a great way to eliminate test anxiety is to know the content inside and out.
If you’re already confident in your SAT test-taking abilities, practice more! Prepare yourself until the content no longer gives you even the tiniest concern.
TTP PRO TIP:
The most underestimated approach for managing test anxiety is to know the material inside and out.
We’ve covered various topics up to this point that, if addressed appropriately, can have a significant impact on your SAT score. However, you might be wondering, “How much can I actually improve my score?”
How Much Can You Improve Your SAT Score?
I don’t think a day has gone by when I have not heard from a student asking, “Can I improve my SAT score by 100 points?” or 200 points, or some other number.
The good news is that regardless of your starting point, there is no reason that you can’t improve your SAT score significantly. My philosophy is that as long as you follow a structured study plan and a realistic timeline, any score improvement is possible.
That said, massive SAT score improvements don’t happen overnight. But, if you work your butt off and give yourself enough time, then great things can happen. For example, we at TTP have seen SAT students improve their scores by as many as 200+ points! So, this is proof positive that significant score increases can happen if you have the grit and the time to do it.
Whether you’re seeking a dramatic score improvement on the SAT or a modest one, it’s critical that you ask yourself these 7 questions:
- Do I have any skill gaps?
- Am I making careless mistakes?
- Do I have timing issues?
- Am I Following a Topical and Linear Study Plan?
- Am I using inefficient math strategies?
- Am I using inefficient verbal strategies?
- Do I have control of my test anxiety?
If you use these questions to assess your SAT study strategy and address your weak areas, there is no reason why you can’t improve your SAT performance to earn the score you want.