After you take the SAT, your score will be determined by the little bubbles you fill in on your scantron sheet - a sheet where there’s no place to show your work.
It’s normal (even important) to want to take notes and work through problems. Since you won't receive any extra scratch paper in the testing room, your SAT booklet is the place to do it. Here, I’ll go over what, how, and even why you should write in your test booklet. That little stack of paper might end up more helpful than you expected.
Can You Write in the SAT Test Booklet?
As I mentioned above, you are allowed to write in the SAT booklet. There are no limitations to where or what you scribble (although I’d caution you against writing anything that could be construed as a message to other test-takers).
I’ll go into more detail about how to use your booklet in the next section, but here’s the most important information you should take away from this article:
Write anything you’d like - notes, diagrams, or calculations - but remember that nothing you write in the SAT test booklet will be graded.
Graders won’t even see your test booklet, which means you don't have to worry about showing your work or making your notes legible. Even if you're not a big note-taker, you can still use your booklet to work more efficiently. For example, you might mark answers in your test booklet first, and then transfer your responses to the answer sheet at the end of the section (most students save time by doing this).
How Do You Use the SAT Booklet Effectively?
Some students love marking up tests and reading passages, whereas others have a natural tendency to keep their tests pretty pristine. I want to encourage you to make the most of your SAT test booklet by taking notes all over it!
Here are some tips and strategies for marking your booklet that will save time and improve your performance:
When you're taking the SAT, you'll want to make use of all available resources - including the SAT booklet itself.
Use Notes to Engage With Reading Passages
You'll have to read through quite a few passages on the SAT, and most of them aren't exactly exciting. It can be difficult to stay focused and alert over a long period of time, especially when you're dealing with material like this.
You may end up wasting time if you have to read passages or sections of passages multiple times due to a lack of focus. Actively reading - taking notes and engaging with the passage the first time you read it - may help you save time. If you understand the passage better the first time you go over it, you won’t have to go back and re-read as often. This gives you more time to focus on the questions.Here are some universally helpful active reading strategies:
- Underlining topic sentences and thesis sentences
- Circling key terms
- Taking notes in the margins alongside each paragraph (e.g. just a few words summarizing the main point)
Use Notes to Work Through Math Problems (Especially Word Problems)
When you have to keep track of several variables or steps, writing down your thought process will keep you from getting confused.
You should also mark up geometry diagrams with information that’s provided in the questions themselves! This is especially helpful when figures are not drawn to scale - you don't want to make any assumptions about the dimensions of a figure.
Mark Up Your Questions and Answer Choices
When you use the process of elimination, get a helpful visual of your thought process by crossing off the answers you know to be incorrect (this saves you time if you come back to the question later).
If you decide to skip a particularly difficult question - this is an important time management strategy - circle it! This provides a helpful visual cue for when you double back to the question after finishing the rest of the section.
Don't Waste Time With Notes That Won't Help Your Score
As I mentioned earlier, no one is going to see or grade the notes you make on the SAT booklet. Don’t worry about explaining your answers (I know it’s a force of habit for many students) - there are no points for showing your work.
The Most Important Things You Should Remember
Yes, you can write all over the SAT test booklet. No, nothing you write on the booklet will be graded (so remember to transfer your answers to the response sheet). And yes, strategically marking up your booklet can save you time and improve your score!
Marking up your SAT booklet isn't the only helpful strategy you should know about before taking the test.
First, you'll want to make sure you're physically and mentally prepared for test day. Start by checking out our guide to how you should spend the night before the SAT - then, read our post on exactly what to expect the day of the exam.
Finally, learn about the top SAT test day tips to make sure you optimize your score.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.