Essential SAT Tips and Tricks 2021

Ultimate List of Tips for The SATs

For most high schoolers, standardized tests like the SAT can seem like a terrifying hurdle that will make or break the rest of their lives. Students and parents spend months, and even years stressing out over the importance of a high quality performance for college applications, causing more harm than good for everyone involved. Most of the time, if a family follows a few key SAT tips and tricks, a lot of this stress can be avoided and their student can put themselves in a position to ace a seemingly daunting exam.

When should I start preparing for the SAT?

One of the biggest mistakes families make in their approaches to the SAT is the failure to get their student’s preparation started as early as possible. This does not mean that parents should be forcing their students into SAT prep during junior high school, but rather that they should consider the other challenges their students will face when trying to study for the SAT during their junior year of high school.

Between harder schoolwork, exploring and visiting colleges, and extracurricular activities, even the most skilled time managers struggle to fit in adequate SAT prep time. That is why starting SAT preparation during a student’s sophomore year of high school is one of the most essential tips for taking the SATs. A sophomore year start allows students to get a better sense of the test itself during a less academically challenging time in their high school coursework. Furthermore, an earlier start date provides greater opportunities for improvement on later exams without the impending pressure of senior year and college applications looming over the student.

Although an early start alone provides a great foundation for students to build from, how a student studies can be just as important as when they study. If students implement a couple of SAT hacks when starting their prep work, their chances of success can also be greatly improved.

General Advice for the SAT

Use The Best SAT Prep Materials:  There are plenty of companies out there who claim to produce the best SAT prep book in the business. The skills and explanations they provide profess guaranteed success for students if they follow the plans and read closely. While these books certainly can help students, in general, their content does not come close to what can be achieved through using the free resources provided by the College Board and spending “prep book money” on an online sat tutor to provide personalized SAT advice.

            Recently the College Board has revolutionized SAT prep work by posting ten official SAT tests online to provide students with the most accurate materials possible. These official tests contain real questions from actual SAT exams, allowing students not only to practice the necessary skills that they will need when taking the exam, but also to learn how the SAT will ask them to use those skills. Companies such as Barrons and Kaplan attempt to do this as well, but there is no replacement for the real thing. Once students start taking tests and assessing their skills, they can buy books specifically designed to help them with certain areas of the test. 

            Another helpful resource the College Board provides is their Khan Academy Course which features interactive problems, video lessons, and a personalized study plan. Other companies, such as SoFlo, also offer free programs that teach students SAT tips and tricks through interactive problem solving and a comprehensive curriculum that allows the student to design their own lesson plan. If a family still wants to boost a score after exhausting the free materials, starting some sessions with a personal tutor from SoFlo can help identify, explain, and eliminate specific issues students have with the exam as well as provide the student a mentor that can coach them up to their full potential.

Figure Out, And Work On, Your Weaknesses: Just like with subjects in school it is likely that  students will be better at certain sections of the SAT than others. This should not be seen as a reason for students to feel discouraged, but rather an opportunity for students to hone in on what they need to work on and then improve their skills in those areas. Although students who struggle in math or writing may believe that they are simply bad at those subjects, the SAT differs from school in that if students can memorize SAT patterns, certain grammar rules and mathematical formulas, they can bump their scores up in weaker sections. For example, memorizing the differences between different homophones makes certain that a student will get questions involving homophones correct on the exam.

Moreover, the SAT, like all standardized tests, is an exam where constant practice on problem areas leads to correct answers, especially when students begin to discern not just reading, math, and writing skills, but what the SAT test makers are looking for when they ask certain questions . With an early start and the right amount of practice on their weaknesses, students will begin to improve in their weaker subjects, both on the exam and in the classroom!

Find A Study Partner:  

Linking up with friends and starting a study group is not cheating, it is using resources to help each student become a high quality test taker. If a student excels in math, but needs work in reading, their friend with the opposite problem can help them out. If a student struggles to keep themselves focused and self-study, a study partner or group can hold them accountable for putting in the necessary time and energy for a good study session. If a student becomes exhausted and incredibly stressed about the exam, a study partner can calm them down and serve as a friendly face to help them decompress.

Set A Goal Score:

Another way that students can motivate themselves to study and score the best they possibly can on the exam is setting a goal score that they can work towards meeting and perhaps even surpassing. The goal score can be anywhere from 1600 for students who expect a high level of academic achievement from themselves to the median SAT score of a certain college for more average students. Regardless, having a concrete goal places the test in more rigid terms and makes thinking about the test more manageable for students of all levels. Additionally, nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment and boost of confidence a student gets when they hit their goal score on a practice test (and ideally on the exam as well!).

Useful Tricks for each exam section

SAT Reading Tricks:

  • Read the pre-passage descriptions: Before every SAT passage the exam provides a brief description of where the passage comes from, information about the author, and when the passage was written. Most students skip past this information and move straight into reading the text of the passage itself. Instead of doing that, students should look over the information as it will come in handy when answering questions about the author or the greater context of the passage.
  • Mark up the passage: Active reading is an important part of the SAT, especially with the time constraints of the reading section. As students go through the passages they should mark up the main ideas and any information that seems important so they have clearly marked spots to refer back to when answering questions. A lack of annotations can leave students wasting valuable time while they search for the correct lines or words that justify their answer choices.
  • Know how to identify incorrect answers: There are four main reasons that SAT answer choices can be wrong and every student should know them. The first and most obvious type of wrong answer are answers that are completely irrelevant to what was discussed in the passage. The second type of wrong answer are those that represent the opposite of a relationship described in the passage. The third type of wrong answer are those that are slightly off from what was described in the passage or those that contain all the right information but also some extraneous information not mentioned in the passage. These answers tempt students either because they contain vaguely familiar information that sounds right or objectively correct outside information that makes them a correct statement but wrong SAT answer. The fourth type of wrong answer are those that are plausible interpretations of the passage but are not supported by any direct evidence. Students struggle to identify these as wrong because they mirror the inferences students must make in their high school humanities classes. To get these right students should train themselves to remember that unless a question asks for an interpretation, the right answer can only include information explicitly contained in the passage.
  • Try different strategies: There is no “correct” way to complete the SAT reading sections. During their preparation for the exam students should explore different ways of attacking the reading section in order to find out what works best for them. Some strategies to try are reading the passages and then answering the questions, going to the questions first without even reading the passages and then working through the passage answering them, or quickly skimming the passages for the main ideas and then answering the questions while referring back as necessary. Other creative strategies include skipping around in each question section or reading the passages out of order to finish a certain category of passage first. At SoFlo Tutors we will teach you how to experiment with different strategies until we find one that works for you.

SAT Writing Tricks:

  • Memorize, memorize, memorize: One of the simplest SAT tips and tricks is the key to the writing section: memorize grammar rules. The SAT writing section tests if students can recognize proper English constructions and proper use of conventional English punctuation. If a student knows how to fix sentences that lack parallel structure, understands how to correctly use a semi-colon, and retains other basic knowledge of correct sentence structure they will be able to correctly answer many questions on the writing section.
  • Read good writing: Another (and potentially more fun) way to improve a student’s writing score is having the student read good writing. If students read good writing they will get better at spotting what sounds wrong because they are consistently reading writing that looks and sounds correct.
  • Shorter is better: A general rule for the writing section is that the shortest answer (that is grammatically correct) is often the right answer. The testmakers will include tempting answer choices that contain redundant information to trip up test takers who believe they should pick the most sophisticated looking answer. Students should consider the shortest answers first and in examining the other choices make sure they do not contain unneeded information before selecting them.

SAT Math Tricks:

  • Mark up the problems: Students should underline the key parts of word problems, read extremely carefully, and draw pictures for problems that involve geometry. This strategy helps students to understand each and every aspect of problems and prevents them from skipping over key information that fundamentally changes the outcome of the problem. In math, where one wrong number or missed negative sign can cost a student the entire question, taking an extra second helps far more than it hurts.
  • Understand the test: The SAT math sections start out with the easiest questions and then gradually increase the difficulty over the course of each section with a reset in the grid ins. Knowing that the sections start easy can help students realize if they are overcomplicating what should be simple math processes. If a student is doing a large amount of work for an early question, chances are they are not doing it correctly and should start again with a different strategy. More importantly, knowing that the questions get harder and that the first few grid-ins will also be easier, students struggling with the math section should skip the last few multiple choice questions to pick up easy points on the grid-ins before clamping down to focus on the hardest questions of the section.
  • Memorize formulas: Although the SAT does provide a reference sheet of certain equations, not everything needed to solve every problem is included on that sheet. Common formulas that students should know that are not listed on the test include area of an arc sector, the slope formula, and the quadratic equation. As students study for the test they should note the problems they do not know how to do and after reviewing the question, check to see if there is a formula that would have given them the answer. If there is, they should write it down and memorize it!
  • Plug and chug: If a student cannot understand a problem on the multiple choice, they can always resort to plugging the numbers into whatever equation is given to find the correct answer. They should not do this for every problem on the test as checking each answer can take away from valuable testing time, however, if they have extra time on questions they skipped or the equation is simple this can serve as a surefire way to get the correct answer.

Last Minute Tips

Things To Take Care Of The Day Before The Test:

  • Do a quick review of formulas and grammar rules: At this point, a student cannot drastically change their expected score, but they might be able to give it a small bump.  Students should review the math and writing rules they have memorized such as how to find the area of a sector of a circle and the correct use of common idioms. This quick review can lock knowledge into place and prevent frustrating mistakes on test day.
    • Make sure to have the right supplies for SAT test day: Log on to the College Board website to print out the admissions ticket, charge the calculator, and buy #2 pencils. Bringing the right supplies to test day sets a student up for success.
    • Plan out the morning: Students should have a plan for when they are waking up, when they are leaving the house and who is driving them to the test. On this note, families should plan to get to the test center early so that even if they hit traffic or face another unanticipated barrier their student still arrives in time to check in and  take the exam on time. This is one less thing to think about the morning of the test.

What To Do The Night Before The Test:

  • Organize supplies: Students should place supplies in an obvious spot so that they will not forget them in the morning. Little SAT hacks like this help to assure that the only thing students have to worry about in the morning is the test itself.  As a reminder students need: a face mask, their admission ticket, a valid photo ID, an approved calculator, and #2 pencils.
    • RELAX: Once everything is ready students should take some down time for themselves and do something relaxing that they enjoy. Whether it be watching a movie, hanging out with friends, or something else, resting the brain will help going into a long morning of testing.
    • Get a good night’s sleep: Students need to be rested to reach their full potential on the exam. Sleeping for at least eight hours will make sure they’re ready to do their best in the morning.
  • Morning Of The Test:
    • Eat a good breakfast: Ideally, the test should be the only thing the student has to think about once they reach their testing center. Walking in and sitting down on an empty stomach can be a large distraction, taking focus away from the exam. Students should eat a filling breakfast to limit any possible distractions and/or discomfort in the testing room.
    • Bring a sweatshirt: Another potential factor negatively impacting concentration can be the temperature of the testing room. If a student is too cold their mind will inevitably drift from the test. An extra layer is something that may not be needed in certain testing conditions, but never hurts to have because students should rather be safe than sorry.

Tips for taking the SAT and succeeding:

Once a student sits down for the test, it is easy to assume that they need to rely solely on their studying and that there are no other SAT tips that can help them. That assumption is wrong. If students keep in mind these eight tips, they can limit avoidable mistakes and perform their very best. Once a student sits down for the test, it is easy to assume that they need to rely solely on their studying and that there are no other SAT tips that can help them. That assumption is wrong. If students keep in mind these eight tips, they can limit mistakes and perform their very best.

  •  Pay Attention To The Directions: Students should try to prevent themselves from overthinking questions and rushing to conclusions based on the answer choices in front of them. Taking a minute to read the test directions carefully makes sure that students understand what they should be looking for and what is expected of them on each and every question.
  • Skip The Questions You Do Not Know Answers For:  Time management can be a massive exam day challenge for many students because naturally students want to get every question correct. Unfortunately spending a significant amount of time on one question, even if a student reaches the correct answer, leaves too little time to adequately answer questions in the rest of the section. As a result, students need to be prepared to move past questions they do not understand in order to maximize their overall score on the exam. If there is enough time left students can always go back and spend more time on questions that stymie them, but they should always prioritize answering all of the questions they do know over trying to answer those they do not.
  • Don’t Leave Any Item Unanswered: The good news for test takers is that ever since the College Board changed the test format in 2016, there is no scoring penalty for guessing. Given the lack of score deductions for wrong answers, students should make sure that they answer every question on the exam even if those answers are randomly chosen.
  • Use The Process Of Elimination: When a student confronts a question that they have to make a guess on, they should use the process of elimination to improve their odds of making the correct guess. For every SAT question there are three objectively wrong answers and one objectively correct answer. If a student starts to look for wrong answers instead of the right one, they can often eliminate enough choices to improve their odds of getting points on a question they do not fully understand.
  • Time Management Is The Key: Even applying all the recommended SAT tips and tricks, timing can still emerge as an issue. Taking this into consideration, students should be aware of certain benchmarks as they go through each section. In the reading and writing sections students should plan to complete a proportional amount of questions when a quarter, half, and three quarters of their time expires. On the math section, where questions get harder as the sections progress, students must make sure to budget enough time to answer the hardest questions
  • Be Neat On Your Answer Sheet: The College Board uses a Scantron machine to score the exam. Although students can pay to get their score sheets hand scored if they believe the machine made an error, the best plan is for them to do all that they can to make sure the machine cannot misread their answer sheet. Bubbles should be filled in with a #2 pencil and should contain no extraneous marks that could lead to the machine mistakenly marking an answer incorrect.
  • Trust Your Instinct: When taking the exam students need to remember that easy questions do exist and that their prep work was done for payoff on the exam. This means that they should stop themselves from overthinking questions that seem “too easy”. If an answer seems obvious the most likely case is that it was designed to be that way. Furthermore, some students overthink questions and construct illogical arguments for incorrect answers which ultimately lead them to talking themselves out of correct answers. To stop this tendency students need to understand that studying not only developed their ability to find answers but also their test taking instincts. If a student trusts their instincts they will help themselves both score and time wise.
  • Stay Calm: The most important SAT tip or trick has nothing to do with answering questions, memorizing formulas, or applying strategies. Instead, it has to do with a student’s mental state and ability to stay calm, cool,  and collected during the test. Students who recognize that their hard work will pay off consistently do the best on the exam because they accept that they did all they could to prepare and see the test as an opportunity to show what they know. While some anxiety is normal because of the magnitude of the test, students cannot allow that anxiety to dominate their testing time. Students who feel they are losing their calm should close their eyes, take a deep breath, and count to five before continuing with the test with a better mindset.

Get The Desired SAT Result With SoFlo: If students want to maximize their exam score, there is no better way to do so than hiring a personal tutor from SoFlo SAT tutoring. SoFlo connects high schoolers with tutors who not only understand the test but also provide a personalized strategy for each individual student. Whether a student wants to increase their score hundreds of points or simply wants some one-on-one work before retaking an exam, SoFlo provides the best tutoring, tips, and support to achieve any student’s desired test result.

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