A good SAT score can take some of the stress out of the college admissions process. However, a perfect score is an even better goal. An SAT score of 1600 could help you get into an Ivy League school and even win a full-ride scholarship.
You may think that only students with genius-level IQs can score a 1600. The truth, however, is that anyone can get a perfect score if they put in enough work. If your goal is to ace the SAT, you need to spend enough time preparing for the exam.
One of the most important things to understand before you start studying is this: The SAT exam is not an IQ test. It’s not designed to evaluate raw intelligence. As such, you can achieve a perfect score no matter what your IQ is – you just need to prepare properly.
With the right preparation, you can significantly improve your SAT score. The key is to change your perspective. You need to see the exam as the test-makers do, not get stuck in a test-taker mindset. In this guide, we’ll cover eight tried-and-true SAT strategies. By following these techniques, you can prep your way to a perfect 1600.
Let’s start with the most obvious tip: practice. Of course, everyone knows that practice is an essential part of preparing for anything, including a standardized test. With the SAT, however, it’s essential to make sure you are practicing as effectively as possible.
Studies show that many students consistently raise their SAT scores through preparation. On average, students tend to boost their composite score by approximately 30 points after test-prep courses and/or private tutoring, according to a 1996 study by College Board (the SAT administrators). An Ohio State University study using data from 1988 to 2000 found that the students who took private SAT prep classes improved their composite scores by an average of 60 points.
When you’re studying for the SAT, it’s vital to make sure you are practicing in the most effective way. The best way to prepare is to take practice SATs. College Board offers two options: an online exam and a traditional pen-and-paper test.
While taking the online test isn’t necessarily bad, there is a potential advantage to choosing the paper test. With a physical practice exam, you can easily simulate the real testing environment, which is essential. The more you can practice for the exact test conditions, the better you can prepare.
Taking the paper test also requires you to score it yourself, so you can compare your answers with the correct ones and see where you went wrong. Reviewing right and wrong answers is a key part of effective test preparation.
No matter how well you score on your practice test, take the time to make sure you understand why your right answers are correct and where you went wrong on the questions you missed. Once you know your weakest areas, you can spend extra practice on those types of questions.
As stated above, taking practice SAT tests can help you understand where you are getting wrong answers. Some of those places are likely due to insufficient knowledge of the material.
When you know which academic concepts you are struggling with, you can find ways to increase your knowledge. Maybe you need to spend more time on your writing skills or work with a tutor to get a handle on difficult math concepts.
Academic topics aren’t the only SAT weakness you may have. You probably need to improve your test-taking skills. For example, you must have excellent time management to test well. It’s easy to get stuck on a single challenging question, but spending too much time on hard problems can cut into your time for the rest of the test.
Conversely, you don’t want to rush through any questions, even easy ones. Going too quickly significantly increases the chance that you will misread a question or make a simple calculation error.
Part of your test preparation should involve figuring out how to optimize your time. You want to balance accuracy with speed, giving yourself enough time for hard questions without compromising your ability to answer the easier ones.
As you work on acknowledging and overcoming your weaknesses, take a minute to change your perspective. All of these things are opportunities for improvement, and fixing them will improve your test results.
One of the easiest ways to identify these areas is by looking for a pattern in the questions that you miss. Are you consistently getting wrong answers to certain math questions? Are you getting confused by the critical reading passages? By identifying your biggest challenges, you’ve also found the most significant opportunities.
If your weaknesses are content-related, spend some extra time studying the concepts in the test. If you have the chance to work with a tutor, that can make a big difference. But even studying alone can improve your subject knowledge.
If you know the material fairly well, your areas for improvement are probably related to the test itself. Answering questions under time pressure is daunting and causes a lot of test-takers to rush. However, going too quickly usually leads to comprehension issues.
Acclimate yourself to the feeling of time pressure by simulating an accurate testing environment during your practice exams. Get used to going through the test in the allotted time. Even with the ticking clock, take the time to ensure you truly understand each question before trying to find the answer.
Another common cause of low test scores is anxiety. Fortunately, test anxiety tends to decrease with practice. The more you can prepare yourself for the test environment, the less anxiety you may feel during the real thing.
Are you getting wrong answers due to careless mistakes? This is especially common in the math portion, but it’s another area you can improve. Make sure you verify your solution before you fill in your answer, especially if the multiple-choice options are similar.
Even if math is a strong subject for you, the math portion of the SAT may still be challenging. Of course, if most of your wrong answers are due to a lack of subject knowledge, the best thing to do is work on understanding those concepts.
However, you may feel confident in your math knowledge but still get low scores. There are several possible reasons:
Multiple choice mistakes
Misreading the questions
An excellent way to improve is to work on your problem-solving skills. Start with the questions you missed on your practice test. Before you look at the answer guide, re-solve each question on your own. Can you get to the correct answer? If so, figure out where your initial calculation error was and work on fixing that issue.
Most people tend to make the same common mistakes on the SAT math portion:
Forgetting important formulas
Misunderstanding the question format
Solving for the wrong value
Misreading the questions
Misusing the calculator
Skipping steps in the solution
Using time inefficiently
Ask yourself if you are making some of these errors. Once you know which ones you are dealing with, you can address them in your study sessions.
Maybe you find the math questions easy but have issues with the reading portion. If so, you may need to modify your studying strategy for the reading section. Chances are your wrong answers aren’t based on a lack of knowledge. They are likely due to not understanding the questions or missing key portions of the text.
Here’s a solid reading strategy:
Start by skimming the passage.
After you skim, carefully read through the questions.
Go back and read the passage fully, keeping the questions in mind.
Another option is to skip the initial skimming of the passage – just go straight to the questions at first. Then read the passage while thinking about the questions.
Find a technique that helps you engage with the reading passage. You could circle words or themes from the questions. Another option is to underline portions you feel are important. You can also jot notes to yourself in the margins as you read.
You might not need to use all of these techniques. During your practice tests, try them all out and decide which ones work best for you.
Ideally, you could get a perfect score by simply figuring out all the correct answers. However, this isn’t necessarily what you should be aiming for, especially when it comes to the reading section. Rather, it’s important to apply some critical thinking to the test.
Because the SAT is a standardized multiple-choice test, there is no ambiguity in the right and wrong answers. Each question only has one right answer. That answer is 100% correct, and therefore, the other three answers have something about them that is 100% wrong. This means you can use the process of elimination to get rid of the incorrect answers, letting you choose the right one with certainty.
Here are some common types of wrong answers:
Opposite: the information is reversed from the passage, which can be easy to miss if you read too quickly
Extra information or minor changes: there are small details that don’t match the passage exactly
Irrelevant or jumbled concepts: answers have similar phrasing but different meanings than the passage
Plausible interpretation: the question seems to allow multiple interpretations
The plausible interpretation answers can be the hardest to eliminate, because you may think you are being asked for your personal thoughts on the passage. However, these are standardized test questions – the only correct answer is the one that you can directly support from the passage itself.
Poor time management is one of the main causes of low SAT scores. Students run out of time to answer all the questions or they end up rushing through a lot of questions after getting stuck on a few hard problems.
Improving your time management can significantly increase your SAT score simply because you’ll be able to give adequate time to each question. Remember, each question on the test is worth the same amount of points, and there is no penalty for guessing or leaving an answer blank. So you want to make sure get the points from all the easy questions rather than getting hung up on the harder questions.
Before you start each section, understand approximately how much time you have for each question.
Reading: 52 questions, 65 minutes
Writing and language: 44 questions, 35 minutes
Math: 38 questions, 55 minutes (calculator portion); 20 questions, 25 minutes (no calculator)
Make sure you don’t spend too long on a single problem. Instead, start with the questions you know you can answer fairly quickly. Then you can circle back to the harder problems if you have time.
You’ve prepared and studied, and now the test is upon you! Follow these steps to ensure the best possible test day.
The night before: Pack your test-taking supplies (#2 pencils, calculator, admission paperwork, photo ID) so you don’t have to think about it in the morning. Eat a nutritious dinner, and get plenty of sleep. You may want to try some stress-reduction techniques, such as meditating.
The morning of: Wake up with enough time to have breakfast and make it to the test site on time. Hydrate well, and avoid the temptation of too much coffee, which can increase anxiety.
During the test: Make the most of your time.
Skip difficult questions, and come back to them if you have enough time.
Save time by filling in the bubbles in batches. Mark the right answers in the test booklet as you solve problems, and then go back and fill in the bubbles on the answer sheet for several questions at a time. Only use this strategy if you are confident you’ll have enough time to fill in the bubble sheet.
Stay positive: Use positive self-talk. Try to avoid getting frustrated or overwhelmed. You’ve worked hard for this moment – believe in yourself!
If your goal is a perfect 1600 on the SAT, you can achieve it! As long as you have the self-discipline to practice and prepare enough, you can ace the test. Before you dive into serious test-prep mode, make sure you have the tools and techniques to study effectively.
Try to figure out your biggest areas for improvement. Are you struggling with the test format? Are you forgetting the math formulas you need to know? Maybe you are blanking on the reading questions because the test environment is stressful. As long as you know what your challenges are, you can tailor your preparation to address them.
Once you have a plan, set up a study schedule. You might want to split your time between studying the material and taking SAT practice tests. Maybe schedule a weekly meeting with a tutor.
No matter what your preparation plan looks like, go into it optimistically. With enough practice, a perfect SAT score is possible. Make up your mind to address your weak areas and improve your testing techniques. Now, get studying, and good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions About the SAT
Taking the SAT can be a stressful situation for many students. Here are some common questions that test takers frequently ask about the exam.
When should I begin preparing for the SAT?
Some students take the SAT in their junior year of high school, while others take the test as seniors. It’s fairly common to take the SAT more than once. Make sure to leave several months of preparation time before your test date so that you have plenty of time to study, take practice tests, and get a better understanding of the concepts that challenge you.
Do I need to take the PSAT?
The PSAT is an optional exam, and most colleges don’t take the PSAT into consideration when looking at applications. However, if your goal is to earn a National Merit Scholarship, you will need to take the PSAT as it’s the qualifying test for the scholarship. The PSAT is also a good way to practice for the SAT and the ACT, which are almost always taken into consideration when you apply to colleges.
What should I bring with me to the SAT?
There are several items that you need to bring to the test center, and some optional items to consider, as well. You will definitely need your printed admission ticket, a photo ID (a government ID or school ID will work), a calculator, and at least two #2 pencils. Just be aware that you cannot use mechanical pencils instead of #2 pencils. You cannot use your phone as a calculator, either.
Depending on when and where you take your test, you might need a face mask. Bringing snacks and water is a very good idea, as you’ll most likely want them during your breaks. You can also bring a bag for storing all of your items.
Do I have to check in?
Yes, you will need to check in before you take the SAT. Make sure that you bring a printed copy of your admission ticket. It’s essential that the ticket has accurate information on it. You will also need your photo ID. You can use your driver’s license, passport, or a valid, unexpired school ID. Make sure your ID is not torn, damaged, or hard to read. If the test center cannot verify your identity from the ID that you present, you will not be allowed to take the test that day.
Can I use my phone to show my ID?
No, you cannot use your phone to show your admission ticket or your ID. You will need to print your admission ticket and have a physical form of identification.
Can I use my school-issued ID to check in to the SAT?
If you’re under 21 years of age, you can use a valid school ID. Pay attention to the expiration date on your ID card, though. School IDs from the previous school year are valid through the end of December of the current calendar year. For example, if your school ID is from 2021-22, you can use it until December 31, 2022. If you have a driver’s license or passport, you can use that instead.
If you are over 21 years of age, you cannot use a school ID. You will need to use a government-issued ID to check in. Usually, students will bring their driver’s license or a passport. You can also use a Global Entry card or a military identification card.
Where do I get my admission ticket?
You can get your admission ticket by logging into “My SAT” on the College Board website and printing your ticket. First, sign into “My SAT.” Under “My Test Registrations,'' you will find the information for your upcoming test. Preview the information to make sure it’s all correct. Click “Print Your Admission (pdf)” and print your ticket. Make sure you print it before going to your SAT exam. You will need your admission ticket and official ID to check in.
Can I print my admission ticket in black and white?
A black and white printout of your admission ticket will be fine as long as the picture is clear. The picture on your admission ticket needs to be clear enough so that the test center supervisors can see that it’s a picture of you.
What if I forget or lose my admission ticket on test day?
If you lose your admission ticket, the test center supervisors will not let you in to take the SAT. You will have to register for the test on another day, unless you can find or reprint your admission ticket in time before the SAT starts. Once the test starts and the doors are closed, no one will be permitted to enter the test center.
How is the SAT formatted?
There are three sections on the SAT – reading, writing and language, and math (calculator and no-calculator portions). In total, there are 154 multiple-choice questions. There is also an optional essay.
How long does the SAT take?
With the optional essay - If you complete the optional essay, the total time allotted for the SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes (4 hours and 5 minutes including breaks). There are 65 minutes for the reading section, 35 minutes for the writing and language section, 55 minutes for the calculator-allowed math section, 25 minutes for the no-calculator math section, and 50 minutes for the optional essay.
Without the optional essay - If you don’t complete the optional essay, the SAT takes 3 hours. The total time will be 3 hours and 15 minutes, including breaks.
How many times can I take the SAT?
You can take the SAT as many times as you would like, although be aware that it costs $55 each time you register for a test date. There are typically seven test dates throughout the year, and that is the only limitation on how many times you can take the test.
Does it look bad to take the SAT many times?
Most colleges and universities won’t have a problem with students taking the SAT more than once, or even more than twice. Most colleges will let students choose which scores they’d like to submit when applying, but some institutions do require students to send in all of their scores.
Can I leave during the SAT?
You cannot leave during the SAT. If you leave the building before the test is over, your test will likely be canceled.
Can I bring my phone with me to the SAT?
You can bring your phone with you, but you’ll need to have it turned off and put away throughout the entire test, including during breaks.
How early should I get to the SAT exam?
You should plan to arrive at your test center by 7:45 a.m. on your test day unless your admission ticket says otherwise. The doors to the test room will likely close at 8 a.m. If you arrive after the doors close, you will not be able to take the test and you will need to reschedule to take it another day.
How do I send my SAT scores to colleges?
To send your scores to colleges, you need to sign in to your College Board account. This is the same account you used to register for the SAT. Once you log in, you will need to go to the “Send SAT Scores” page. On that page, you can easily select the colleges and universities that you want to receive your scores. You’ll be able to search for colleges by name or code. Add them to the score recipients list, then click continue. You can send all or only some of your scores. Review your order, then check out.