An Ultimate Guide On How To Improve SAT Scores Easily
If you’re looking to improve your SAT score and strengthen your college application, we’ll cover a few tips and tricks to help you raise your score.
While it’s best to implement these steps as far away from test day as possible, you can also use them closer to your test date if you’re in a time crunch — just make sure to create a study plan and stick to it as your test date approaches!
Improving SAT Scores: Step By Step
Step 1: Decide On A Target Score Range
First, you want to consider what your starting score is and what your ideal score range is. Staying realistic is key, especially if you only have a short amount of time before your next scheduled exam. For instance, if you score a 1100 on your SAT, it might be difficult to score a 1580 if you only have a few weeks to prepare.
To figure out what your target score range is, you should consider a couple of factors:
- Your starting point (on the SAT’s 1600 point scale, where do you currently score?)
- Your target schools
- Your target schools’ average admitted students’ SAT scores
- How long you have to prepare for the next SAT
- When your college application deadlines are
- How much time you have to dedicate to studying
You’ll need to consider your starting point first, so if you haven’t taken the SAT yet, you should take a full length diagnostic test and calculate your score. This is the only way to know where you stand and will allow you to figure out your target score range from there.
Once you’ve considered these factors, you can build a better idea of how much you’d like to boost your score. Especially if you are applying to extremely competitive schools, having a strong SAT or ACT score is probably going to help you stand out among all the other applicants.
Still, remember during this process that SAT scores are not everything. Some schools are going test optional or are even test blind. If you’re curious about your target schools’ policies, do a quick search — colleges will list their test score policies on their admissions pages.
Obviously, the ideal situation would be to score a perfect 1600. However, this is a huge feat and requires that you only miss a few questions at most. To earn a 1600 on the SAT, you can only miss:
- One or two questions in the Reading section (depending on the curve for the specific exam you sit for)
- No questions on the Math sections — in both the Calculator and No Calculator sections, you will need to answer every single one of the questions correctly to achieve a 1600
- One question (at most) on the Writing section, and only sometimes (again, depending on the curve for the specific test you sit for)
You might be wondering if there are specific exams that are easier than others (for example, if the November SATs are easier than the May SATs). However, this is not the case. Every SAT is curved independently, meaning they are scaled depending on each of their difficulty levels, and none of the tests are inherently easier/harder than others. This also means that there is no difficulty advantage between the different tests offered, so you should just try to register for the dates that best work with your study schedule and application deadlines. Read more about difficulty differences between the SATs here.
Once you’ve signed up for your next SAT and have decided on what your ideal (and realistic) target score is, you can start preparing for the exam and creating a study schedule.
Step 2: Set Up A Study Schedule
This is one of the most important aspects of improving your score. While preparing sporadically might help, it will probably not be as effective if you set up a study schedule and really stick to it in the weeks leading up to your next exam.
While it might seem like a hassle to create a schedule to plan out your study time, there are a few key benefits to making a study plan to prepare for the SAT. For one, you’ll be able to have structure in your study plan, which can help keep you on track and in line with your goals. Second, it will hopefully help prevent burn out: you don’t want to go super hard studying for two weeks and then start to feel tired and discouraged. Third, it’ll actually allow you to track if you’re improving or not. With your SAT study plan, you’ll be answering SAT questions on a frequent and structured basis, meaning you’ll be able to track your progress throughout the weeks and get a sense for what is working and what is not.
You’ll need to keep a couple things in mind, like how much time you really have per week to practice for the SAT, and when your next test date is. Junior and senior year can sometimes be very busy, especially in college application season, so you’ll need to carve out some time on a weekly basis to dedicate to the SAT if you’re serious about improving.
There are a couple of different ways to approach building a study plan, but you should start with an understanding of how much time you have before your exam. If you only have one month, your study plan will look very different from if you have six months to prepare.
Building a study plan will vary hugely depending on many different factors, but if you’re struggling to put one together, here is a sample study plan for someone who only has one month to prepare. If you have longer, you should consider preparing and learning more deeply about each component listed below.
(Sample of a one month study plan)
- Take a practice test and score it to find your baseline — make sure you take the exam within the specific time constraints of each section
- Analyze your diagnostic test results: determine which sections you struggle in and review every question you missed
- Focus on understanding the SAT format and becoming more familiar with its structure so you’re prepared on the day of the exam
- Review core concepts that often appear on the SAT — luckily, there are tons of resources that will help you learn what is on the SAT curriculum
- Practice core math concepts (algebra, fractions, ratios, integers, etc)
- Brush up on reading comprehension skills and focus on expanding your vocabulary; again, there are many resources online that will help you learn SAT level vocabulary and other reading strategies
- Create a list of important SAT math formulas you need to know (not including the ones that are on the SAT’s provided math formula sheet). There are a few you must memorize and be very familiar with (like the equation of a line and how to calculate slope)
- Check your progress by taking practice sections and scoring them. Again, make sure you’re taking them within the official time limits to give yourself a sense of how you will perform under the time constraints of the SAT!
- Review answers you missed on your practice exams and determine what core concepts you are struggling with — during this final stretch of preparation, these are the concepts you will need to focus on the most
- Finish reviewing your missed concepts and the sections/questions you struggle with the most
- Continue practicing by taking practice sections
- Take a final practice test and score it. Compare your score with your baseline
Step 3: Dive Into Your Weaknesses
This step will be integrated into your SAT study plan, but it’s one of the most important strategies to really boost your score.
Especially if you’re strapped for time and only have a few weeks to prepare, you want to make sure you’re focusing on the concepts that you struggle with so you can actually target the areas you need to improve. For instance, on a larger scale, if you usually struggle with the Reading sections and there’s a large score gap between the Math sections and Reading/Writing sections, you should spend more of your time brushing up on reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary skills as opposed to splitting your time between all of the SAT’s sections.
On the other hand, if you find that your scores are pretty even between the Math and Reading/Writing sections, then you can start to dive into what your specific weaknesses are within each section. Again, this could just mean that you notice that you are consistently missing questions about linear equations in the math section and devote some time to understanding linear equations more.
There are many online resources that you can turn to once you determine which concepts you struggle with, and you can find practice problems or targeted worksheets to help you really dig into your weaknesses.
Furthermore, if you have been working out of SAT prep books, you will find it’s easy to identify different concepts throughout the book. There might be separate chapters devoted to different concepts like how to identify the main point of a passage, along with a few practice questions and answer explanations. Instead of skipping to the full length practice tests at the end of the book, try looking through the other prep material and reading through their explanations of common SAT concepts.
Step 4: Take SAT Practice Tests
This step should be integrated into all study plans, but is more relevant for people who don’t have specific weaknesses and just want to raise their overall score in all the different sections.
Taking full length practice tests is very time consuming, so you might want to consider tackling a few sections per day instead of taking full length tests every time you study (unless your next test date is quickly approaching and you absolutely have to).
However, just taking the practice tests usually won’t be enough to raise your score. Once you’ve finished a practice test, reviewing your results and mistakes is the most important part of improving your score. Look through every answer you missed. If you’re reviewing an incorrect answer in the reading section, make sure you go back into the passage to understand why your answer was incorrect. If you’re reviewing an incorrect answer in the math section, try resolving the problem and seeing if you can find the correct answer; once you do, make sure to note if you just made a mistake, or if you didn’t understand the correct way to approach the problem.
When you take the practice tests, you should approach it as if you are taking the real SAT. This means following the time constraints placed on each section, and it also means you should minimize any distractions around you.
Another thing to consider is marking questions you guessed on. This is because if you guessed correctly, you will probably skip reviewing the question when in reality you need to take time and look over it again. By starring or circling the numbers of the questions you guessed on, you’ll be able to look back and review any concepts you might struggle with. While you can do this when you are practicing for the SAT, make sure you don’t make any marks on your bubble sheet on the actual exam! Any pencil marks outside of the bubble can cause issues when your SAT is being scored, so just make sure you keep any outside marks confined to your practice sessions.
Step 5: Use Official SAT Material
As mentioned before, there are tons of free SAT prep materials available. One of the most useful resources is the official College Board SAT test material! You can find multiple full length SAT exams that are straight from the College Board on their website.
One of the biggest advantages to using the College Board’s official practice tests is that you know that you’re preparing using materials written by the organization that will write your official SAT as well. This is not to say that other test prep materials are lesser in quality at all — most of the major SAT prep books are the same level of quality! However, these SAT practice test materials also include answer explanations, and it can be helpful to read explanations that come straight from the College Board so you can get a better sense of their logic and what concepts appear often.
Step 6: Use Best Practices To Guide Your Study Time
There are a few best practices to guide your SAT study prep time, which you can easily implement into your routine as you get ready for your next SAT:
- Mimic test conditions as closely as possible: take your practice SAT tests in a quiet environment with as few distractions as possible, and make sure you’re following the time limits for each section
- Don’t ignore your trouble areas. If you frequently find yourself missing a specific kind of question, don’t just review the answer and expect things to change. Instead, really look into the concept and find out what you’re having trouble understanding. For example, if it’s linear equations, there are tons of online resources that will help you understand it more clearly and even practice with some sample problems
- Avoid last minute cramming, especially the night before the exam. Hopefully your study plan should start weeks before your next SAT test date, but you want to avoid cramming when possible — try to spread out your studying when you can
- In the math sections, show your work. You don’t get extra points for doing mental math! Write out all the steps you’ve done, as this will help you catch mistakes or work through a difficult problem by breaking it down into smaller steps
- Don’t be afraid to write notes to yourself in practice tests. For instance, you might want to mark the questions you guessed on, or circle questions that gave you trouble. This will help guide your study time in a more focused and targeted way.
Step 7: Time Yourself
We can’t emphasize this enough: time yourself during your practice sections and make sure you’re sticking with the time limits of the official SAT!
While you might think this is unnecessary during SAT preparation, it’s extremely important so you get a sense for how much time you have for the section. You don’t want to go into the SAT and run out of time! Making sure you’re studying under test conditions will help calm nerves too: once you’ve done it a hundred times, you probably will feel a bit less nervous than you would if you haven’t practiced under the time constraints.
Timing yourself and setting limits will also push you to be faster, which is important if you typically struggle to finish the exam on time. While finishing the entire exam is the goal, sometimes students run out of time — if this happens to you, you should always fill in the remaining bubbles. A guess increases your chances of scoring higher way more than leaving the bubble empty. Practicing with the time limits can also give you the chance to practice filling in any empty answers during the last minute or so of the test section.
Step 8: Use Your Test Day Calculator While Studying
Similar to timing yourself, using your test day calculator is just a way to make sure everything is operating smoothly before the exam. Mimicking testing conditions as closely as you can includes using your test day calculator, and it’ll help you get used to the calculator and its functions. You don’t want to be fumbling around an unfamiliar calculator on test day, so make sure when you’re practicing for the Math Calculator section, you’re using the calculator you plan on bringing to the actual exam.
On a similar note, do not use your calculator except on the Math Calculator section! This may seem very obvious, but just keep this in mind while you practice. Getting used to solving the problems without a calculator on the No Calculator section is also a skill you can build and practice.
Step 9: Work With An SAT Tutor
If you’re struggling to put together a good study plan, or are struggling to understand certain concepts, you might want to consider working with an SAT tutor. SAT tutors can help you tailor a solid SAT prep plan and give you some tips and tricks to help boost your score. They will also have SAT resources that will help target your weaknesses.
Having an SAT tutor can also help mentally prepare you, as they’ll be your biggest cheerleaders and motivators. It will also help add more structure into your study plan, especially if you’re busy and want to carve out specific meeting times to dedicate to SAT prep.
Step 10: Track Your Results And Progress
As mentioned previously, you should have a good sense of what your beginning, or baseline, score is. Throughout your SAT study plan, you should be scoring each practice section/test you finish, and you can use this to benchmark your progress.
You should try to mindfully take a look at your scores frequently and try to notice any patterns or improvements. For example, if you’re two weeks into your study plan and notice your Reading score is improving but your Math scores are stagnant, then you might want to add in more math preparation into your plan.
During your study plan, you can also reevaluate your original target goal to see if you’re making progress towards that goal. If you are, great! Keep doing what you’re doing and continue working hard. If you’re noticing that your scores aren’t improving, try reevaluating the structure and intensity of your study plan. And, if after another few weeks there is no improvement, consider reaching out for help and finding a SAT tutor or study group.
How To Improve SAT Scores In Specific Sections
One of the simplest ways to approach improving in the SAT Reading section is to continue to practice Reading sections. However, there are also a couple of other tips and strategies you can use to help improve your Reading performance.
While this might seem surprising, simply just reading more can help boost your SAT Reading score. Reading more will help you expand your vocabulary and increase your reading comprehension skills. It can also help you become accustomed to different types of prose, so that when you read the different passages, you are more familiar with the language. Reading a variety of kinds of writing, from scientific articles to historical primary source excerpts, will really help you familiarize yourself with the type of writing that may appear on the SAT.
As for more directly test related strategies, try familiarizing yourself with some of the most common things you will see on the SAT Reading section. For instance, you will most likely have to answer a few main idea questions, so make sure you are able to pick out the main idea of any passage as you read it. This might also help save time while you are taking the exam.
Another in-test strategy to consider is underlining or circling relevant information. Some people just underline every sentence as a way to keep them focused, but you can underline lines you think are important (for example, if you think a line is important for the main idea). It’ll help keep those emphasized lines in mind and also provide a reference if you want to go back into the passage to find something if you refer to it while answering questions.
A final suggestion is to learn when to skip questions to return to them later. This is a tip relevant to all sections of the SAT, and it’s a skill that will help you save time and hopefully increase your score. If you are struggling with a question and you’ve spent a relatively long time on it with no answer, then you should skip it and move on. Skipping questions you don’t know will help save time and hopefully give you the chance to answer questions you do know correctly. Again, there is no penalty for guessing on the SAT, so if you run out of time and have to guess on the questions you skipped, your score will not be penalized for guessing.
If you are struggling to increase your score in the SAT’s Writing section, there are a few components you should consider, like vocabulary and grammatical structure.
The writing section will test your knowledge of vocabulary, like the Reading section, so you might want to incorporate more vocabulary prep into your study plan. This can be as simple as looking up a list of commonly tested SAT words and learning their definitions.
However, instead of just memorizing lists and lists of new words, you should also think about expanding your contextualization skills. Oftentimes, you will be able to use context clues to figure out the general gist of an unknown word. If you find yourself stuck on an unfamiliar word, you should look at the sentences before and after the one where the word appears. Hopefully, the context of the surrounding sentences will guide you as you try to understand the meaning of the word.
Math, Calculator And No Calculator
Improving in math is very dependent on practice and targeted learning. Again, as mentioned before, you need to make sure you’re not simply solving dozens of problems and expecting to improve. Instead, you should focus on reviewing the questions you answered incorrectly and trying to learn the concepts behind the questions themselves.
One way to improve in the Math section is to write out your work. Writing out your work is extremely helpful, because it’ll help you think through the steps in a clear way. It will also give you the opportunity to look back at your work to check for errors if you have time. Writing out your work will allow you to organize your thoughts if you’re having trouble coming up with a solution, so make sure you are writing out your work in the Math section!
Like the Reading and Writing sections, you can also practice the skill of knowing when to skip a question and return to it later. For the Math section, this might be especially helpful because you might come back to a question and realize the correct method or even catch a mistake in your work.
Why Is My SAT Score Not Improving?
A stagnant SAT score can get super frustrating, and there are a few reasons why you might not be seeing any changes.
- You might be expecting big changes in too short of a time
- Your study plan might require you to put in more hours
- You might not be addressing the concepts tested on the SAT during your review
- You may be facing test anxiety on SAT exam day
- You might need to consider a new study approach (for instance, maybe the online SAT resources are not helping and you would prefer attending SAT classes)
When Should I Start Preparing For The SAT?
Generally speaking, the earlier you start preparing for the SAT, the better.
Of course, this depends on many different factors, so before you start putting together a study plan here are a few things you might want to consider:
- When your college applications are due
- What your schedule is like, and how many hours per week you would be able to dedicate to studying for the SAT
- How much of a time cushion you want to give yourself (for instance, you might want to take the SAT a second time if you don’t get your ideal score, so you might want to account for that when planning)
Want To Get A Higher SAT Score?
Improving your SAT score can become an easier challenge when you decide to work with experienced SAT tutors from SoFlo Tutoring. We offer personalized, one-to-one tutoring that will target your weaknesses and build confidence before your SAT test date. Learn more and schedule a free consultation here.
About The Author
Emily is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and will be working as a Marketing Analyst in New York City after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys painting and playing the guitar.