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How to Succeed on the SAT

Updated on November 13, 2014

The internet is flooded with thousands of tips, tricks, and methods on mastering the SAT. It can be difficult to discern advice that will actually allow you to succeed from the massive cloud of useless and potentially misleading information. In the following article, I provide basic plan that I followed when studying for and taking the SAT. With just a little effort and a solid strategy, you too can reach your full SAT sore potential.

A Little Practice Goes a Long Way

We've all seen or heard about that crazy intelligent kid who dedicates all of his or her time to academics. You don't have to be that kid to succeed on the SAT. I wasn't that kid, and with a minimal amount of preparation, I was able to score in the 99th percentile. They key to practice is to spend time on exercises that will bring the greatest benefit. You don't have to dedicate hours every day to practice, all you need is a simple study strategy.

The number one action that you can take to improve your score is to simply complete practice tests. I would recommend ordering the College Board's SAT book, but any legitimate SAT-prep book will work. The biggest mistake that so many students make is just to leaf through problems at leisure, with no actual plan or direction. This is a waste of time and will not help you succeed.

Take the practice tests under real conditions. Time each section, and keep just as much focus as you would when taking the actual test. This will help to simulate the conditions you will face on test day, and will familiarize you with the timing and rhythm of the exam. For every problem that you're not absolutely confident on, make a little mark in the answer section. The exam is long, but try to stay focused during your practice time as it will help prepare you to stay diligent when it comes to the real deal.

At some other point in the week, grade your practice exam, and go over all of the problems that you either answered incorrectly, did not get to in time, or marked on your answer sheet. Review these problems until you are familiar with your mistake.

That's it. 2 days a week, a little under 5 hours total, is all that is necessary to adequately prepare you for taking the SAT. Of course additional practice will help, but this repeatable basic 2-step process should be the crux of your study plan. Additional study options include taking time to focus on specific sections of the exam ( ex: a 'math' day), studying vocabulary cards, or brushing up on grammar rules. These are all important, and should be done at some point, but it is not necessary to memorize entire dictionaries or textbooks in order to master the SAT.

The more practice tests you take, the more familiar you will become with the type of problems offered on the exam. Eventually, you will have seen pretty much every type of problem that the college board has in their arsenal. As long as you make sure to learn how to do the problems you cannot get correctly during the practice exam, you will be completely ready for whatever the SAT throws your way come test day. Follow this plan for several weeks before the big test, and you will be much better prepared for the timing, strategy, and material covered on the SAT.


Taking the Test

Test day can be a very stressful and high-pressure day. It can also become a very long and boring day. The key to scoring high on the SAT is to focus for the entire length of the test. Many people think that the majority of your SAT score potential is determined before the test day, in the amount of time you spend studying for the exam. Although preparation is very important, your focus and actions on test day are just as important as months of preparation.

The key to remaining focused is to find a rhythm with the test. You should already have a feel for the length of each section from your many practice tests, so this feeling should be familiar for you. Stay relaxed, but efficient, and do not get frazzled. The first time I took the SAT, I panicked on a few sections, when I felt as though I was running out of time or that several questions were out of my wheelhouse. Panicking will only hurt your score. Stay calm and focused, and keep moving on.

If you arrive at a problem that is giving you trouble, do not waste too much time on it. Mark it, and come back later at the end of the section. You want to make sure you complete all the problems that you know you can get correct in each section, rather than spending all your time working out one of the tougher problems. Oftentimes, a look back at a once challenging question will reveal a much simpler problem after tackling other material.

You may hit a few rough patches in the test, but that is completely normal and will affect your score less than you think. The key to success is to say focused and move past these challenging problems. Don't ruin your test by continuing to think back to "writing section 2" and how terribly it went.

Remain calm, maintain your rhythm, and stick to your strategy.


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