How to Increase Student SAT Scores

The SAT can be a daunting and nerve-racking test for high school students. After all, it’s a huge part of the journey toward applying to colleges! That’s why we’ve put together a list of ways you can significantly increase student SAT scores. Just follow these tips and you’re on your way to improved student SAT scores! (Remember: You will have 3 hours and 45 minutes to take the SAT. Students with learning disabilities will receive time and a half.)

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The Writing Section:

1. The highest score that you can receive on the SAT is 2400 (800 for the writing, critical reading, and math sections). The essay counts for 30% of your writing score. You will have 25 minutes to write a well-developed essay, for which you will receive a score of 1-6.

2. Decide if you agree or disagree with the essay prompt and write your thesis. Then give yourself no more than 5 minutes to quickly outline your essay response! Your essay should consist of 4-5 paragraphs: an introduction, one paragraph each detailing two or three different examples that support your thesis, and a conclusion. Try to use one example from literature / history / current events and your own personal experience.

3. After briefly outlining your essay, give yourself about 5 minutes to write each of the two or three supporting paragraphs and another 4 minutes to write your conclusion. Use the remaining time to proofread. This may seem overwhelming now, but the more you practice taking the essay portion of the SAT while timing yourself, the easier it will become!

4. Review the types of multiple-choice questions on the writing section: approximately 18 identifying sentence errors, 25 improving sentences, and 6 improving paragraph questions. Two sections will take 25 minutes each and 1 section will take 10 minutes. There is generally an unknown experimental section (an additional math, writing, or critical reading section) on the SAT that will not count toward your score.

5. Common errors tested are: subject-verb agreement, faulty parallelism, incorrect tenses, inappropriately used adjectives and adverbs, wordiness, irregular verbs, and idioms (common phrases/expressions). Examples of idioms are “better late than never” or “forget about it.” An answer choice may say “better late than forever” or “forget over it,” and you must determine that this answer is incorrect.

6. Since you will receive 1 point for correct answers and lose ¼ of a point for each wrong answer, don’t randomly guess! Eliminate incorrect answer choices to help you determine the best answer choice.

The Math Section:

7. There are 44 multiple-choice and ten grid-in questions that test your knowledge up to Algebra II. One section is 20 minutes, and two are 25 minutes each. Topics tested in the math sections are: numbers, operations, algebra, functions, geometry, measurement, data analysis, statistics, and probability.

8. Always answer grid-in questions. Although you will lose ¼ of a point for each incorrect multiple-choice question, you will not lose any points for incorrect grid-in answers.

9. Make diagrams when tackling word problems; they’re especially useful for answering geometry, probability, and some algebra questions.

10. Become comfortable using your calculator before the test day. Also, the reference information at the beginning of each math section, including formulas, will help you answer many questions.

11. Underline exactly what the question is asking. For example, the question may ask you to find 2x - 4. Although the value for x may be listed in the answer choices, the question specifically asks you to find 2x - 4.

12. Try plugging in numbers for variables. For example, if the question asks for the solution of |b – 1| < 4 such that b is an integer, you can plug in different values for b.

The Critical Reading Section:

13. The critical reading section contains 2 sections that are 25 minutes long and 1 that is 20 minutes long (about 19 sentence completion questions and about 48 passage-based questions). Sentence completion questions are listed in order of difficulty: the first few questions are easier than the next few, which are easier than the last.

14. If you are unsure of the meaning of a word in the sentence completion section, you can usually tell if the word has a negative or positive connotation. Therefore, read the sentence first and determine if the blank(s) should contain words that have either positive or negative connotations. Clue words that indicate that the blanks will have opposite connotations are “despite,” “but,” “yet,” “rather,” “although,” and “however.” Clue words that indicate that they have similar connotations are “and,” “since,” “therefore,” and “because.”

15. If you know that the blanks must contain words that are similar in connotation, then immediately eliminate an answer choice like “cynical and joyful.” You can also plug in words that you would choose yourself to complete the sentence, and then pick an answer choice that is similar. Reread the sentence with your answer choice(s).

16. For the passage-based reading, read the italics before the passage, underline important key words in each line as you read, and then read the first and last line of each paragraph to get the main idea of the passage.

17. Answer line reference questions before more general questions on the passage’s tone and main idea. This way by the time you answer the more general questions, you will understand the focus of the passage. Remember: Any answer you choose must be directly supported in the passage, for example, with a quote from the passage.

Before that big day, determine what areas of the test are the most difficult for you, and improve the skills needed to do well on those sections. Practice test-taking strategies for the SAT, but also improve your ability to quickly write essays, identify grammar rules, determine appropriate vocabulary words, analyze a passage, and answer complex Algebra and Geometry questions. Apply these principles and you can dramatically increase student SAT scores!

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