6 Unique Ways to Get Better at the SAT

Student Life

All across America, high school juniors and seniors are spending their summers cramming for the SAT. Teens in other parts of the world, like the UK or Australia, are studying for their respective standardized tests too!

No matter what test we take, we share a common struggle. Tests can be hard, and it can feel impossible to boost your score beyond a certain level.

It doesn't help that we keep hearing the same old advice circulating around. Do Khan Academy, take lots of practice tests, study...same old, same old.

Well, fear not! Here are 7 fresh and unique tips that can help you improve your score like never before!

Make a Test Journal

A test journal isn't exactly what it sounds like. It's not exactly a diary to write how you feel after taking the SAT, although that would definitely be helpful.

A test journal is basically for you to note down questions you get wrong, and why. Slowing down and asking why you got a question wrong enables you to see where you need practice. Everyone's test journal is different, but I like to write down each question number, question type (depending on the subject), question hardness, and why I got it wrong.

This is a great tool to identify patterns in your score; maybe you always get trigonometry questions wrong, or maybe you tend to have a hard time on the vocabulary sections. Conversely, maybe you always get algebra questions right. Identifying patterns means you can pinpoint your weak spots and your strong suits.

You can also write other stuff in the test journal, such as checklists of what to practice. One thing I like to do is graph out the trends in my scores (both super scored and subject-wise). Line graphs help me identify trends or fluctuations, and give me an even deeper perspective on my scores.

This is a great tool to help you improve on the SAT, as it pinpoints where exactly you need practice. Test journals work best when used in conjunction with the next tip!

Do Test Post-Mortems

This may sound ghastly, but this is tried and tested to be effective in boosting SAT scores.

Here's what a test post-mortem constitutes: going through every question on the test, labeling why the correct answer is correct, and why the other 3 choices aren't. Just like a real post-mortem, you are going through and dissecting every little bit of the test.

By figuring out the reason why wrong answers are wrong (and why right ones are right) can help you identify patterns on the SAT. Remember, the SAT can only test on a limited number of topics, so what you study has limits.

By doing post-mortems on every practice test you take, you will truly be familiarizing yourself with the test structure and the type of questions they ask. Once you see patterns in the questions, patterns in the answers become abundantly clear.

For example, you may notice a certain type of algebra question always appears on the test. By doing various post-mortems, you may also notice that the correct answer is always the square root of whatever x is. Now that you've identified this pattern, you'll know exactly what the answer is next time you encounter it!

Master Test-Taking Strategies

These nifty little tricks can really help when you're in a pinch, and they may save you from making costly mistakes!

Test-taking strategies can be defined as little tricks or tactics that can help you get to the answer, even if you don't know the answer. On the flip side, if there's an answer you're iffy about, these strategies can help you feel confident that the answer you chose is correct.

Here are some of the main test-taking strategies:

  1. Process of Elimination: If you aren't sure which answer choice is right, you can at least go ahead and rule out the ones that you know for sure aren't. The best way to use this strategy is by perusing each answer choice (plugging it in if necessary) and deciding which one is incorrect. With this tactic, you can usually rule out two answer choices. If you guess now, you've got a 50-50 chance of being correct!
  2. Plugging in for x: This is a fail-safe tactic for math questions asking you to find the value of x (or some derivative). Just plug in the answer choices, and see which one works! This works in the vast majority of cases, and it usually saves a lot of time too.
  3. Being wary of strong words: This strategy applies to most Reading questions. Remember, the CollegeBoard will always try to be as unimposing as possible; they rarely use words like "never", "always", "everyone", "no one", etc. These are very limiting and controversial words. If you see one of those words in the answer choices, you can rule that choice out.
  4. Skipping hard questions: This is not to say you shouldn't attempt hard questions- you most definitely should! But if a question seems like it will take a long time to solve, skip it for the time being and move on. This will enable you to hit all the easy/medium questions- questions you will most likely get right. This way, you don't miss out on easy points by wasting time attempting hard questions. Once you've hit all the easy/medium questions, you can go back and thoroughly solve the hard questions. This is the best way to maximize your time and points earned.
  5. Letter of the Day: This strategy should be your last resort. If you use all the strategies above, you probably won't have to use this one. However, if the need arises, your letter of the day will always be by your side! Basically, if you have absolutely no clue and you have no time left to solve a question, plug in a random answer, either A, B, C, or D. The SAT does not dock points for omissions, so it's in your best interest to attempt an answer. The important thing to remember, however, is to always use that same letter whenever you have to guess. Choosing answers erratically (or worse, based on the answers around them) does not guarantee a correct answer. However, by choosing the same letter over and over again, you have a roughly 25% chance of at least getting one right.

Think Out Loud

You might not want to do this in a library but in the privacy of your room? Go for it!

Thinking out loud forces you to slow down and, well, think about what you are doing. By putting your thoughts into words, you may notice flaws in your reasoning or other errors.

This is a great way to practice getting better at the content of the SAT- you can worry about time later.

To get the most out of this method, simply pretend you are live streaming your test-taking. It sounds silly, but trust me, it works! During your "live stream," just explain how you would approach each problem. Enunciate why 3 of the answers are wrong, and one is correct. It may help to read passages out loud for the Reading or Writing and Language sections. For the Math sections, explain each step of the problem as you solve it.

Teach Content to Whoever Will Listen

This method is perfectly summed up by the French word apprendre. It means to teach, but it also means to learn.

That's exactly what this method is all about! By teaching content to whoever is willing to listen, be it a younger sibling, grandparent, or even pet, you truly internalize the subject matter.

To make the most of this method, find a problem you struggled with. If it's a math problem, learn how to solve it. Once you feel like you've understood how to solve it, find some other problems (or come up with your own) that cover the same subject, like quadratics or the Pythagorean theorem. Now, you can find your "student" and teach them how to solve those problems! Chances are, you'll find yourself much more confident in your abilities regarding that specific problem type once you're done.

This is a bit harder for Reading or Writing and Language questions, but it can still be done!

Ultimately, this method will help you get your content down pat.

Take a Practice Test With a Friend

Find a study buddy, and start testing!

This is arguably one of the strangest ways to practice the SAT, but it is arguably also one of the most effective. Similar to thinking out loud (method 4), this forces you to be cognizant of your thought patterns, especially in comparison to someone else's.

By taking the SAT with a friend (who is preferably at the same level as you), you can learn different approaches to problems. Maybe they have a nifty trick for approaching vocabulary questions that you had never even thought of! Furthermore, by slowing down and discussing each problem, you can better identify your strong and weak spots. Although this method will not help you improve your speed, it will help you in every other aspect of the SAT.

And that's a wrap! Whether you use these 6 methods in conjunction or individually, you are sure to see a boost in your SAT score! These unique techniques may even make test prep fun! And as always, remember to take plenty of practice tests and use Khan Academy ;)

Aditi Chaurasia

Aditi is a high school junior in the Bay Area. She has a passion for linguistics, business, and animal rights. When she isn't hiking with her dog, you can find her reading (mysteries!), bullet journaling, or baking.