How to Ace the SAT

The SAT, pronounced like “S-A-T,” is a paper-based standardized exam that most students have to take in order to apply to universities in the US. Although a number of schools have recently decided to lift the SAT mandate, it is still an important test that can help college admissions decipher whether or not you’re a good fit for their school. So let’s discuss how you can ace the SAT and get into your dream university!

Learn and understand the format

The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes long, consisting of 5 different sections (including the optional essay portion). The sections are arranged as follows: reading, writing and language, math (no calculator), math (calculator), and essay. Most of the exam is multiple choice, except for the end of the math sections and the essay portion, and you have to bubble in your answers on a separate sheet.

SAT test format

How is it scored?

The SAT’s scoring system is between 400 and 1600, with 400 being the lowest possible score and 1600 being the highest. When scoring, the test is split into two larger portions (worth 200 to 800 each): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. The final score is calculated from your raw score for each section and each test has its own score chart, meaning that it accounts for the different level of difficulty for each test.

Aim above the average score

Similar to our advice on the TOEFL exam, you should create a spreadsheet with the schools that you are applying to (list them from most preferred to least preferred) and put their average SAT scores in the next column. Now, you can compare each school’s average SAT score and see what you should be aiming for, which is to get a score higher than your most preferred school’s average.

When should you take the test?

You should start studying for the SAT during the summer after sophomore year and continue throughout junior fall of high school. The sooner you start studying for the exam, the bigger your time frame. You should aim to take your first test during junior spring, and the latest one that you can take would be during senior fall. Try to get it done as soon as possible though so that you aren’t completely swamped during senior fall.

The reading section

There are 5 passages per test, with one comprising of two different texts that you have to compare and contrast. There are usually 1 fictional passage, 1-2 U.S. founding documents or Great Global Conversation passages, 1 social science passage, and 2 science passages. The questions that are commonly asked in this section include: 

SAT reading section question types

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the different types of passages and vocabulary by reading articles with similar topics whenever you can. Whenever you practice, you should also keep in mind what each type of question is looking for.

The writing and language section

This section includes 4 passages, in which you have to find and fix mistakes as well as weaknesses. In every test, there is at least 1 narrative or story-like passage and the rest are either argumentative or explanatory. The types of questions include: 

SAT writing and language section question types

The point of this section is for you to demonstrate your grammatical and essay organizational knowledge. So, make sure to brush up on your grammar and writing structure skills.

The no-calculator math section

For this section, they’re mainly testing your reasoning and problem-solving capabilities as well as your speed. According to the College Board, this section focuses on Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. So, make sure that you are familiar with the topics. If you’re having issues with one particular type of problem then do similar ones over and over again until you get them all right.

One thing that you should remember for this portion of the test is that if it’s taking too long, it’s wrong. No calculator math question should not take more than a few minutes, so if you find yourself lost in the question because it’s getting too complicated then stop and move on until you can figure out another way to approach it.

The calculator math section

This section comprises of the same topics as the no-calculator section, meaning that they will be testing you on Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. However, the problems in this portion are a little more complicated and longer, which is why they allow students to use calculators. One of the best advice that we can give you is to familiarize yourself with your calculator and its functions. If your calculator has a function to solve algebraic equations then learn how to use it properly because it will save you a lot of time.

Before test day, make sure that you have an acceptable calculator, one that is allowed by College Board, and charge it fully so that it doesn’t die in the middle of the test.

The optional essay section

At the beginning of the section, you will be given a 650-750 word passage that you’ll have to read and analyze for the author’s argument, reasoning, and techniques. Your job is to respond to the essay prompt, using pieces of the reading as support for your argument. 

We know that this section is optional and that some colleges say that they do not mind you skipping the section, but we still think that it can ultimately boost your college application if you do well on it. This is because the section allows you to demonstrate how you can think, come up with an argument, and convey it in a limited amount of time. 

Practice ahead of time

Acing the SAT is all about patience and hardwork—there’s really no shortcut. You have to push yourself to practice at least one section every day. Use free resources and practice exams from the College Board website as well as Khan Academy, and buy a variety of SAT practice books, if possible. You’ll know when you’re ready to take the real exam when you hit your target score more than 3 times in a row as you’ll know that it’s not just luck. Ultimately, the scores that you get on your practice exams will translate to your real score when you take the actual exam, so if you’re not hitting your target score yet, keep practicing.

If you didn’t get it the first time, try again

Students rarely get their target score the first time around, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t hit the mark just yet. Continue to practice and strive for perfection as it’ll definitely be worth it in the end. 

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