When it comes to the SAT, there are thousands of tips, tricks and strategies that can improve your scores. However, not all of these tips are created equal. With that in mind, I’ve put together a quick “crash course” of the five most high-impact, easy-to-implement SAT tricks in my arsenal – tricks that you can use today to improve your score by hundreds of points.
1. Skim passages – don’t devour them.
If you want great SAT reading scores, here’s the golden rule:
You should NEVER answer a question before looking back at the passage and finding concrete evidence. With the exception of “main idea” problems, there’s not a single SAT reading problem that should be answered based on memory – instead, you should be able to point at the evidence required to answer each question.
With that in mind, the first time that you read through, don’t read SAT passages for absolute comprehension – just get the main idea and build a mental “table of contents.” You don’t need to remember every detail – in fact, you won’t need 95% of what you read. Just get the main idea, the tone, and a basic map of where different elements of the passage are located.
You’ll be looking back for evidence anyway, so cut your reading time in half. Just skim the passage, get the main idea, and move on – you’ll save tons of time, and you won’t lose any essential information.
2. Answer every question before you look at the answers.
The SAT is incredible at coming up with tempting answer choices. Alongside the right answer choice, you’ll see four extremely credible, seemingly legitimate answers. The problem, of course, is that all four of them are wrong.
So how do you guard yourself against the sneaky, incorrect answer choices provided by the SAT? Come up with your own answer BEFORE you ever look at the answer choices provided!
Read the question, do the research, and then answer the question in your own words. Express the concept verbally, and make it real in your head. Then, and only then, should you look at the answer choices.
If you do this, you’ll suddenly find that the correct answer is nearly identical to what you said, and the four wrong answers are silly and ridiculous. If you don’t answer the question in your own words first, you’ll try to justify each wrong answer, which is exactly what the test is designed to trick you into doing.
3. Use the answers.
On 44/54 SAT math problems, the correct answer is sitting right in front of you, just waiting to be selected. Unlike on the Reading Test questions, ignoring the answer choices on these questions is one of the least efficient things you can do.
On every single multiple choice math problem, ask yourself this: could you plug in the answer choices, rather than doing any actual figuring? Could you use the answer choices to gain insight into how to solve the problem? Could you just test the available options, rather than doing tough algebra or setting up some sort of complicated system?
See if you can use the answers before you do any real thinking. This isn’t a strategy to use after you get stumped – it’s the strategy you should use before you do ANYTHING else.
4. Drop your pencil.
There’s a big difference between an SAT math prompt and an SAT math question. The prompt is the problem itself, including all the information provided by the test, graphs, figures, etc. The question is the final sentence at the end which you need to answer. Before you answer any SAT math problem, drop your pencil and re-read the question.
If you’ve spent 60 seconds finding the radius of a circle, make sure that the question isn’t:
“What’s the diameter of the circle?”
If you’ve spent two minutes solving for X, make sure the question isn’t:
The SAT is amazing at getting you to solve for some hard-to-discover variable or figure, only to ask a question that requires a different number or answer. And you better believe that they’ll have the wrong answer waiting for you – the value of “r” and “X” will definitely be in the available choices.
5. Don’t pick answer choices – kill them.
Here’s the funny thing about grammar: it’s practically impossible to prove a sentence right, but it’s very simple to prove a sentence wrong.
From now on, don’t spend time figuring out which answer choice is good – spend your time finding errors in the answer choices and systematically eliminating them.
Run through all the answer choices and slash anything that’s obviously wrong. Then, take the remaining answers and compare them to each other two at a time, paying attention only to their differences. Whichever difference is wrong should be eliminated.
Continue this process until you’ve killed all four wrong answers. This method saves time, eliminates indecision, and leads to much more accurate, less confusing choices.
Now get to it!
All of these strategies will make a huge difference in your overall score – but only if you put them to use. Grab some SAT practice material and try using all the tips above right away – you’ll be happy that you did!
About the Author
Anthony-James Green is regarded as one of the best SAT and ACT tutors in America. After working with over 370 students one-on-one, he’s achieved an average score improvement of over 430 points on the SAT, and 7.1 points on the ACT – higher than any other tutor, class, or course in the country. Anthony is the creator of the highly regarded online SAT prep program, The Green SAT System, and founder of Test Prep Authority, a free, online resource center for test prep and college admissions. In addition to writing for Test Prep Authority, Anthony-James Green also writes for Petersons and EssayEdge.