SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

17 SAT Hacks to Help You Ace the Exam

Posted by Samantha Lindsay | Oct 8, 2016 9:00:00 AM

SAT Strategies



Standardized tests have a reputation for presenting questions in formats that are tricky and confusing. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to get past all that and take a shortcut to the correct answer? This article provides expert SAT hacks to help you solve SAT questions that might otherwise leave you stumped!


Can You Actually “Hack” the SAT?

Well, yes and no. Quick tidbits of advice like the ones in this article can prevent you from squandering your potential and teach you how to work with the test to earn the best score possible. However, you can’t rely on shortcuts to arrive at an excellent score if you’re missing knowledge that is critical for understanding essential aspects of the test.

Be warned that these SAT hacks, though helpful, are no substitute for in-depth studying, especially if you struggle with the content at a fundamental level. If you think you need prep that addresses deeper weaknesses, you should check out our complete guide on how to study for the SAT.


Overall SAT Hacks

Here are some tricks you can use on any part of the SAT to help you get through the section and earn the most points possible. 


#1: Answer Every Question (No Matter What)

The SAT doesn’t have a guessing penalty, so you should fill in an answer bubble for every question even if you have no clue what the correct response is. If you find yourself with a few questions left in the section and only 30 seconds on the clock, you should provide random answers for all of them. You never know if you’ll get lucky and answer one or two correctly, and even if you don’t, your score won’t be any lower than if you had left the questions blank.


#2: Be Prepared for the Format

Knowing what to expect is half the battle on the SAT. When you sit down to take the test, you want everything to look familiar so you can avoid mistakes triggered by stress. At the very least, you should review the timing and structure of the exam before test day. Taking practice tests with appropriate time constraints is the best thing you can do to alleviate confusion on this front. 


#3: Don’t Linger on Hard Questions

Getting stuck on one question for too long can do serious damage to your performance on the SAT, especially considering the fact that there are only four sections. If you have no idea how to solve a math problem or can’t seem to settle on one choice for a writing or reading question, skip it and move on. You can come back to it after you make it through the rest of the section.  


#4: Practice Managing Anxiety

Especially if you’re hoping to earn a really high score, coming across a problem that stumps you can kill your momentum on the test. To avoid this pitfall, you need to establish coping mechanisms to deal with these moments of doubt without letting them affect your overall performance. Mindfulness techniques are a great tool to have in your arsenal. Check out this article for more tips on how to reduce test anxiety!  


body_peacefullake.jpgImagine you're not taking the SAT. Instead, you're floating on a serene lake under a beautiful blue sky. You still have to stay awake, though. Seriously, don't fall asleep.


SAT Reading Hacks

Here are a few more SAT hacks that are specific to the content and format of the SAT Reading section.   


#5: Plan a Passage Reading Strategy

Don’t jump into the test without deciding how you plan to approach passages on the Reading section. Are you more comfortable with skimming, or do you like to read the questions first and then go back and reference the passage to locate the answers? Complete a practice Reading section with appropriate time constraints so you can figure out what feels most comfortable for you and makes for the fewest struggles with time management.


#6: Take Advantage of Find the Evidence Questions

Find the evidence questions on the SAT are a gift because they help make the correct answers to the previous questions clearer. If none of the answer choices for a find the evidence question make sense in conjunction with your answer to the previous question, this should prompt you to double-check your reasoning. These questions remind you that you need to choose answers to Reading questions based on concrete statements made in the passage. If you made any unfounded assumptions, find the evidence questions will alert you to your mistakes. 


#7: Engage With the Content

It’s much easier to get through the Reading section if you develop an interest in what the passages have to say. You’ll also retain more information from the passage when you move onto the questions. To get yourself interested, envision a scenario in which it's absolutely critical for you to remember what the passage says so you can explain it to other people. Imagine that you'll be presenting the information in the passage to another group of students after you finish reading it. 


body_engaged.jpg"Notice anything different about me? Teehee" Denise, I accept that love is love, but you just met the SAT Reading section a week ago. YOU'VE BEEN HURT TOO MANY TIMES.


SAT Writing Hacks

These hacks will give you some insight into the way Writing questions work and how you can answer them more efficiently. 


#8: When in Doubt, Choose the Most Concise Answer

The shortest answer is often the best answer on the Writing section because good writing consists of saying what needs to be said without any unnecessary fluff. Super wordy answers are usually not the ones you want. Of course, this doesn’t hold true for every single question, but it’s a solid rule of thumb if you’re stuck. 


#9: NO CHANGE Answers Are Just Like Other Choices

Often, NO CHANGE answers are wrongfully viewed as more likely or less likely options than other answer choices in the Writing section. In fact, they’re just as likely to be correct as any of the alternative options. Don’t be afraid to pick NO CHANGE if you’ve double checked your reasoning and determined that it’s the correct choice. 


#10: Get Rid of Duplicate Answers

Sometimes, questions on the Writing section will have answer choices that are so similar to one another that choosing one over the other wouldn’t make any functional difference in the sentence structure. This means you can get rid of two choices in one fell swoop. If they’re essentially the same answers, then neither of them is unique enough to be the correct choice. Here's an example:



In this case, C and D are functionally the same answers. They both indicate that the author is about to make a statement that goes against what was said in the previous sentence or sentences. Both C and D can be eliminated (the answer is NO CHANGE for this question).

body_berry.jpgSometimes answer options are just two halves of the same bad berry. This strawberry actually looks really good though. 


SAT Math Hacks

The SAT has two Math sections, one taken without the use of a calculator and one taken with the use of a calculator. On both of these sections, you can use the following SAT hacks to improve your performance.


#11: Don’t Ignore Diagrams

In many cases, the test will provide a diagram to help illustrate a math problem. These diagrams exist for your benefit, so make sure you pay attention to all the information they give you. Does your answer mesh with the way the diagram looks? If you’re asked to find a dimension of a shape, make sure the relative sizes make sense. Your final answer shouldn’t seem out of whack with what the diagram is telling you. 


#12: Know the Formulas

Although the SAT does provide important formulas at the beginning of each of the Math sections, you’ll be a much more efficient test-taker if you have the formulas memorized. It's a waste of time to keep flipping back to the beginning of the section whenever you think you need a formula to solve a problem. For studying purposes, here's a list of all the formulas you might need for the SAT Math section.


#13: Underline Your Goal

To keep yourself on track in the Math section, underline the value that you need to find (and circle it in the diagram if applicable). It's frustrating to confidently solve a math problem and later realize that you had to take your calculations one step further to actually get the answer the question wanted. In many cases, the wrong answers will be answers that you might get if you didn’t complete the solution process or solved for the incorrect quantity.  


#14: Plug in Answers

If you have no idea how to solve a math problem, one way to get around that is just to plug in the answer choices until you find the correct solution. This often takes longer than solving a problem with algebra, but if you have time, it can be a useful strategy. 


body_plugitin.jpgPlugs, not drugs. This is probably a t-shirt by now, right?


SAT Essay Hacks

The essay is optional on the SAT, but many colleges still require it. Here are some ways you can improve the quality of your essay with minimal effort. 


#15: Provide a Clear Thesis

The essay graders are looking for an easy way to interpret your essay and understand the points you’re making. The best way to tap into this is to write a strong thesis that falls at the end of the introductory paragraph. Reread the central claim of the passage that’s described in the prompt, and transpose it into your thesis statement. Make sure you sketch out the structure of your essay in your thesis by listing three examples of major techniques the author uses to support his or her argument. 


#16: Write a Good Intro and Conclusion

The introductory and concluding paragraphs are extremely important because graders typically pay the most attention to these parts of your essay. The introduction gives graders a preview of the quality of the rest of the essay and the way you’ll structure your ideas. It also contains your thesis, which is the most critical sentence in the entire essay and is what ties all of your points together. 


#17: Write More Than One Page

Try to make your essay around two pages long. The graders don’t have a specific quota for the number of words they want to see, but they expect you to provide a response that fully addresses the most important components of the author’s argument. It’s almost impossible to do this if your response only takes up one page. Consider whether you’ve really explained what’s going on in the passage, and if necessary add more evidence to make your essay complete. 


body_satessay.jpgAlso, make sure your writing is legible. If you bring a quill to the test, expect some backlash.


Conclusion: How to Hack the SAT

"Hacking" the SAT is possible to an extent, but you need to understand the content fairly well before you can employ most of these tips successfully. To recap, here's a list of all the SAT hacks listed in the article organized by section:



  • Answer every question
  • Be prepared for the format
  • Don't linger on hard questions
  • Learn to manage anxiety 


  • Develop a passage reading strategy
  • Use find the evidence questions to your advantage
  • Engage with the content


  • Choose the most concise answer
  • Remember that NO CHANGE answers are no more or less common than other options
  • Eliminate duplicate answer options


  • Don't ignore the diagrams
  • Underline your goal
  • Know the formulas
  • Plug in answer options 


  • Provide a clear thesis
  • Write a strong introduction and conclusion
  • Write at least two pages


If you follow all these pieces of advice and combine them with in-depth studying, you'll be well on your way to an awesome score on the SAT! 


What's Next?

If you think you need more structured guidance in your studying for the SAT, check out our list of the best prep books released this year. 

Khan Academy now provides free SAT prep services. Learn more about how it works and how to get the most out of these resources. 

There are also other ways to practice for the SAT online that you may not know about. Read all about the best websites to use for SAT prep!


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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