Preparing for the SAT a second or third time is common. Back when I studied for the SAT, the first couple of strategies and study approaches I tried didn't actually work. It took me a few times before I finally found the method that bumped up my SAT score 200 points—to a perfect score.
If you're retaking the SAT and want to ensure you improve this time around, this guide will show you how to do just that!
Who Is This SAT Guide For?
"How can I improve my SAT score in just a month?" This is a common question I get from students. Roughly paraphrased, it looks like this:
Hey, Fred! I'm John, and I've gotten scores of 600 in both Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. I've taken the SAT a couple of times already, and I need to improve by just 100 points the next time I take it for a total of around 1300.
I've tried other test-prep companies and racked my brain for ways to improve my SAT score. I've memorized vocab and taken practice tests. This isn't my first try at the SAT by far.
Do I have any hope of raising my score by this many points? This will be my third time taking the SAT, and I don't want to take it again after this! Please help!
This request for help raises an important question: who exactly is this SAT guide for? If, like John, you're studying for the SAT a second or third time and your Math and EBRW scores are currently around average (400-600), this guide should work well for you.
Now that we've clarified who this guide is for, let's look at the six crucial steps you'll need to take to raise your SAT score by 100 points in one month.
Step 1: Improve Your Math Score
For the SAT Math section, you'll need to prioritize your time so that you're spending less time on questions you know how to solve and more on those that are hard for you. At your score level, I'd do what I call the "two-pass" method on both the No Calculator and Calculator sections.
First, let's look at the basics of the Math No Calculator and Calculator sections:
|Section||Total # of Questions||Total Time||Time per Question|
|Math No Calculator||20 (15 multiple choice, 5 grid-ins)||25 minutes||75 seconds|
|Math Calculator||38 (30 multiple choice, 8 grid-ins)||55 minutes||87 seconds|
As you can see, you'll get more questions, more total time, and more time per question on the Math Calculator section than you will on the Math No Calculator section.
Now, let's look at how to use the two-pass method on each of the Math sections.
Math No Calculator Section: Two-Pass Strategy
On your first pass through the No Calculator section, do only the questions you know how to approach within about five seconds of reading them. You don't need to solve each question in five seconds, but you do need to know exactly what solving each question entails.
If you know how to approach a question, try to solve it within 55 seconds. On the other hand, if you can't find a solution approach within five seconds, skip that question for now!
By the time you finish your first pass, you should have tried about 10-15 problems and spent 10-15 minutes in total on the section. This gives you 10-15 minutes left to attack the rest of the section.
Now, it's time for round two: reread all the problems you didn't solve. Because you've already looked at each of them for five seconds, you should have an idea of which ones are easier and which ones are harder. Do these questions in order of your personal difficulty.
Once you only have about a minute left in the section, go through your scoring sheet and confirm that you've filled in an answer for each No Calculator question. Remember that it's OK to guess on a few since there's no penalty for incorrect answers!
Math Calculator Section: Two-Pass Strategy
With the Calculator section, do only the questions you know how to approach within about 10 seconds of reading them. Like the No Calculator section, you don't need to solve each of them within 10 seconds, but you should recognize how to solve them right away.
If you know how to approach a problem, try to solve it within 60 seconds. If, however, you can't figure out how to solve it within 10 seconds of reading it, skip it for now.
Once you've finished your first pass, you should have attempted about 25-30 questions and spent about 30-35 minutes on the section. This means you'll have about 20-25 minutes left.
Next, for round two, use your remaining time to go back through all the questions you didn't solve on your first pass. Since you've already looked at each question for 10 seconds, you should be able to identify which ones are easier and which ones are harder for you. Do these questions in order of your personal difficulty.
When you have about a minute left in the section, check that you've put down an answer for every question. Again, there's no penalty for incorrect answers on the SAT, so it's recommended you fill in something, even if you have to guess!
Step 2: Improve Your Reading Score
Some say your SAT Reading score is the hardest to improve, and in some ways it is. You've got to read lengthy passages and be able to identify where you've found answers to certain questions.
By far the easiest way to improve your Reading score is to practice an effective passage-reading strategy. Our recommended strategy involves the following steps:
- Quickly read the questions first, identifying the types of questions being asked.
- Read the information blurb at the beginning of the passage.
- Read/skim the passage, paying attention to the last line of the introductory paragraph (i.e., the thesis) and opening sentences in body paragraphs and the conclusion.
- Answer the questions.
You should also practice our #1 tip, which is to always look for the 100% unambiguously correct answer choice. Essentially, this is the same thing as the process of elimination. Even though many answer choices can sound right, only one will completely and accurately answer the question. Knowing this fact will help you be better able to pinpoint which choices are clearly wrong.
Step 3: Improve Your Writing and Language Score
Besides knowing all major SAT grammar rules, remember this key tip: don't just use your ear!
So many students try to detect grammar mistakes relying only on how sentences sound. While this strategy might work for the easiest problems, the only way to ultimately master SAT Writing and Language is to understand grammar on an analytical level.
What does knowing grammar analytically mean, though? It's not only knowing grammar rules but also being able to cite which rule is being broken. If you can identify what rule is being broken, you'll know exactly how to fix the sentence so that the rule is not being broken.
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Step 4: Record Your Weaknesses
Now that you've shored up your baseline skills for each section, it's time to study in a way that attacks your unique issues with the SAT.
Here's how to do this: take two official SAT practice tests. As you take them, circle all the problems you're not sure of, regardless of whether you get them right or not. At the end of the tests, copy the problems you circled into a mistakes journal.
Some of the best tutors I know recommend making three mistakes journals, one for each section of the test. They also recommend—for students with more time—taking more than two practice tests for these mistakes journals. After all, the more data, the better!
Step 5: Identify Your Weaknesses
With all your mistakes written down, start tagging them with keywords. Examples of keywords include the following:
- Vocab issue
- Careless mistake
- Ran out of time
- Didn't understand author's intent
Each question in your mistakes journal should now be tagged with one or more keywords explaining why you think you got it wrong.
Next, tally up these reasons to create a list showing the number of problems you missed for each reason. Here's an example of what your list might look like:
- Vocab issue: 4 questions
- Careless mistake: 11 questions
- Ran out of time: 13 questions
- Didn't understand author's intent: 8 questions
And so on.
Step 6: Fix Your Weaknesses
For each weakness, come up with a method to fix it. For example, if you missed a few vocabulary questions on the Reading and Writing sections, you might want to study more words. For authorial intent, you could practice by reading short passages and thinking in the author's shoes.
After going through the first few items on your list, your score should now be much higher! This method of journaling and analyzing your weaknesses works wonders. It helped me improve my own SAT score by 200 points!
The best part of this method is that it's scientific: it works by targeting your weakest issues first to ensure that your overall SAT score improves by a lot—ideally, 100 points—in the month you've got left before test day!
Want a system that automatically does the tallying for you? Then check out our online SAT prep program. We use advanced computer analysis to figure out your weaknesses and help you target them effectively in your prep.
Not sure what SAT score you need to be aiming for? Read our in-depth article on how to set an SAT goal score based on the colleges you're applying to.
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.