SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How SAT Practice Got Me a Perfect Score

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Jan 28, 2018 5:00:00 PM

SAT Strategies

 

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Can taking official SAT practice tests improve your SAT score dramatically? It can if you do it right. Most students practice the SAT incorrectly and are then surprised when their scores don’t increase. I myself essentially practiced my way to a perfect SAT score, and I’m convinced you can do it, too!

I've developed an SAT practice method that has worked for thousands of students—and I'll describe it right here.

 

Overview: How My Method Will Raise Your SAT Score

Take official practice tests and apply the methods I'm about to go over. Do this, and I guarantee your SAT score will go up hundreds of points.

What do this mean for you? In a couple of weeks, you might never get a disappointing score on the SAT again. You might decide to throw away all those other strategies that don't seem to work, the ones that get you the same (not-quite-high-enough) score over and over again.

Anytime you think you want to improve your SAT score even more, you'll know exactly what to do. Just take out a fresh practice SAT test, sit down, and apply my method.

With my method, wrong answer marks on your score sheet will disappear like smoke in the wind. You'll start to take the SAT confidently and get the score you want. You'll apply to the school of your dreams and get accepted.

I know this sounds too good to be true. Practice SAT tests? Don't I need a five-figure course from a college consultant to get the improvement I want?

Yet this method is real. It's been proven on thousands of our own students, and I'm making it available to you right here, for free.

But why should you trust me? And why is my method so effective? Allow me to introduce myself.

 

Why You Can Listen to Me, a Perfect SAT Scorer

I'm Fred Zhang, PhD, and I'm the cofounder of PrepScholar, the site you're visiting now. Though I eventually got a perfect score on the SAT, I personally struggled with improving my score and mastering SAT practice tests.

When I first took the SAT, I got a full 200 points lower than what I was aiming for. I knew this wasn't the score I could achieve. There had to be some way to improve, right?

So naturally, I did what all great athletes do: I practiced the real deal—the actual SAT. At first, there was very little improvement, but I quickly realized what I was doing wrong. Bit by bit, I built up an SAT practice test strategy that catapulted my score to perfect!

Here's the proof:

 

Fred_College_Board_Report.pngScreenshot of my perfect SAT score report.

 

This score got me into every single college I applied to: Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Caltech. It also let me meet some of the most interesting and intellectually curious classmates I'm honored to call friends today. Lastly, it opened up invitations to some of the most competitive firms, such as Goldman Sachs (I ended up turning them down, though, along with all of finance).  

 

Fred_Harvard_Accept.pngScreenshot of my acceptance into Harvard, which was due in part to my perfect SAT score.

 

Today, I’m certified to be a college professor, and my main job is to help thousands of students succeed using the strategies I developed (along with the aid of many other brilliant SAT experts). Most importantly, through PrepScholar, I've helped thousands of students get the SAT scores they want.

I'm not saying this to brag. Rather, I want you to have full confidence that what I'm about to tell you will work, as long as you do it right.

 

How NOT to Take SAT Practice Tests

Many test takers and self-studiers (mistakenly) believe in the Marathon Fallacy for SAT practice. 

The usual advice to those training for a marathon is to run more, run longer, and run to your limit. This works for marathons because running requires primarily one adaptation of your body. As you run more—no matter how you run, when you run, or where you run—your circulation should start to improve and your muscles should slowly strengthen. This, in turn, makes you a better runner.

 

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Students who believe in the Marathon Fallacy for SAT practice believe in the myth that all they need to do is pick up a practice test and churn away.

More specifically, they tend to think the following:

  • SAT skills are a generic muscle that gets stronger as long as you put time into practice, no matter what that practice looks like.
  • The version or year of an SAT practice test doesn't matter.
  • You can do a few practice problems on your phone or iPad while chatting with friends.
  • You don't need to think deeply about the practice SATs after you take them.

After churning through a bunch of practice SATs, students who believe in this myth take the SAT again and are shocked that their scores are the same or barely 10 points higher. Who would have guessed, but the brain is not a single muscle that responds to blind practice. 

Instead of comparing SAT practice to a marathon, it's better to think of the test as being similar to baseball. When you practice baseball, technique matters. Swinging a bat a thousand times will make you swing stronger and harder, but it won’t guarantee you’ll be a good player. That’s because so many other techniques matter more, such as your stance, the angle of your swing, your follow through, and your strategy after you hit the ball.

In short, you have to practice baseball to get good at it, but you need to practice carefully. It’s the same with SAT prep: you need to prep for the SAT by taking realistic practice tests, but you need to also make sure you're prepping the right way.

 

Want to learn more about the SAT but tired of reading blog articles? Then you'll love our free, SAT prep livestreams. Designed and led by PrepScholar SAT experts, these live video events are a great resource for students and parents looking to learn more about the SAT and SAT prep.

Click on the button below to register for one of our livestreams today!

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The Best Way to Prep for the SAT: 4 Expert Tips

Now, let me show you how to best prep for the SAT so that you, too, can get a perfect score!

 

#1: Use Official SAT Practice Tests

I see students get this method wrong the most. Students will pick up a generic set of practice SATs, not check the version or quality of them, and just use them from start to finish.  

The problem with almost all SAT practice tests that are not official (I call them cheap knockoff SATs) is that only a minimum amount of work has been put into them to make them look like the SAT. With cheap knockoff SATs, publishers tend to throw all kinds of trash into multiple-choice format and then call it "SAT practice." 

Some of the biggest sins I've seen include the following:

  • One popular test-prep company wholesale recycled their GRE questions and called it SAT Practice. I’m not even kidding—I opened up their GRE questions on one screen and their SAT ones on another screen and saw the same questions, word for word! My jaw dropped.
  • One book of SAT practice tests by one of the top test-prep companies had some questions with multiple right answers or no right answers at all.  

Have you ever taken a cheap knockoff SAT practice test, looked at an answer, and said, "That can't be right"? Well, now you know why!

The worst SAT questions are those free problems that float around on websites that clearly have no specialization on the SAT. Usually, these sites have a ton of ads and prey on beginners. But even SAT books from the biggest test-prep publishers—books that look perfectly legit and are even on shelves in stores such as Barnes & Noble—suffer from this issue, too.

Publishers of cheap knockoff SATs are often under tight deadlines and take advantage of students. They know most students are novices and might be gullible enough to believe that anything in a multiple-choice format is similar to an actual SAT question.

This wouldn't be horrible if all there was to the SAT was its multiple-choice format. But the test is much more complicated than this and asks certain questions in certain ways. These ways are very specific and take a lot of work by high-scoring experts to figure out. If you're training with bad SAT practice questions, it's like training with a softball for a baseball game. You'll spend all your time optimizing your skills for the wrong thing.

I believe in this concept so much that in my program, PrepScholar, we use only SAT practice tests released by the College Board for our full-length tests. Even when we design drill-problems, we have three sets of experts carefully review each question to ensure they adhere to every detail and the overall format of the SAT.

 

#2: Take Each Practice Test in a Realistic Setting

Many students are tempted to take shortcuts when doing SAT practice tests. Got five minutes before Mom picks you up from sports? Then why not do two SAT math questions on your iPhone?

The problem here is that you're training in an environment that differs significantly from that of the real SAT. Let's take the five-minute-on-your-iPhone example above to demonstrate exactly why a realistic setting matters:

  • Giving yourself five minutes for two math questions is way too much time. You’ll be training for the wrong timing and will fall into bad habits, such as grinding out a solution in a way that you could never, ever hope to do on the real SAT.
  • You won’t have scrap paper or a pencil to write down notes and ideas. To do well on the SAT, you must take advantage of the space in the test to jot down ideas, your work, and any notes. Doing SAT practice on an iPhone trains none of these critical skills.
  • You're not taking the SAT in the normal four-hour context. Regardless of whether you're physically fatigued after hours of playing sports or are feeling totally mentally refreshed, the environment simply isn't realistic.

 

studying-in-bed.jpgStudying hard or hardly studying? Practicing the SAT in bed is a bad idea.

 

Now, five minutes of practice on an iPhone might be an uncommon example, but it's very easy to slack off, even when you're taking a practice SAT at your desk. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine how realistic your SAT practice session is:

  • Did you take the entire test in one sitting (good) or split it up into several chunks (bad)? The more chunks you split a practice SAT into, the worse your practice will be since you won’t learn how to prepare for the fatigue of the test.
  • Did you give yourself an extra long break or take breaks between sections where none are scheduled? On the actual SAT, you don't get to eat a two-hour-long dinner in the middle of the test, so don't do it during a practice test, either!
  • Do you sometimes peek at answers? Peeking at answers is a cardinal sin. Looking at the answer sheet even once during a practice SAT can easily boost your score 100 points. This not only screws up the entire vibe and sequence of the test but can also make you think you're doing better than you actually are.
  • Do you give yourself a couple of extra minutes on a section, maybe to bubble in a few answers? Giving yourself extra time is much worse than it seems at first glance. Knowing how to time yourself so you can finish each section in time, while challenging, is a critical skill you'll need to build up. Part of time management training involves knowing to stop taking the test a few minutes before time is up and also knowing how to deal with last-minute troubles.

The best way to prep for the SAT is to take each SAT practice test under as realistic a setting as possible. So what should you do? Get out a table in a quiet room. Have the tests printed in front of you with bubble sheets. Use a real timer to give yourself scheduled breaks, and never give yourself even a minute more. Once you're all set, take the entire test as if you were at an SAT test center.

I believe in using a realistic test setting so much that our SAT prep program encourages this to the fullest extent possible. We have timers exactly like those on the real test, and automatically watch out for any noncompliance that can jeopardize the studying process.

 

#3: Put In Enough Time

This might seem obvious, but it's definitely worth repeating the process described in the first two tips. You need to put in time to improve on the SAT. While I'm against chugging practice test after practice test, at the end of the day the chugger will still do better than the test taker who puts in nearly zero time.

 

ambition_climb_mountain.jpgImproving on the SAT takes hard work. Unwillingness to accept this is the quickest route to stagnation.

In fact, in this guide, I am assuming that you will be putting in at least 10 hours of SAT study time in total. If you're studying fewer than 10 hours, nothing can help you significantly improve your SAT score. Not a book, not some cheap tricks, not me—not even a five-figure "college consultant." If you're studying fewer than 10 hours, throw this entire guide away. In this case, the best way to improve your score is to simply put in more study time.

Similarly, if you're studying around 10-30 hours, putting in more time will help you substantially. In this range, putting in time is just as important as doing the right kind of SAT practice.

We at PrepScholar believe in this time factor so much that our program records the time you study each week, and then predicts your progress based on this time. We also regularly tell you whether the time you spend is enough to get the improvement you want on the SAT.

All in all, definitely carve out enough time for SAT practice!

 

#4: Identify and Fix Your Weaknesses

The most important part of taking a practice test is to have a clear grasp of what questions you're getting wrong and why you're getting them wrong. Too many students fall into this trap and think that as long as you've taken a practice SAT, you've gotten all you can get out of it.

This is completely wrong. The reality is that analyzing your performance on each practice test is the key to score improvement. Taking practice SATs in realistic settings can only get you so far. What you really need to do is analyze your mistakes and look for patterns in your weaknesses.

Again, SAT practice is like baseball practice. If you keep on swinging your bat wrong, you have to think hard after each swing. What felt off about that swing? What did your coach say about your swings? Are you swinging too hard, too lightly, or at the wrong angle? You need to think before you retry to get the most out of your practice.

To analyze your SAT weaknesses, start by looking at each problem you got wrong on a practice test. Then, list the reasons you think you got it wrong. Here are some examples:

  • Didn't know the math formula needed to solve it
  • Ran out of time
  • Made a careless mistake

Next, tally up all the reasons for your mistakes on the test and look at the top three. These are the three big weaknesses you'll need to work on the most in your SAT prep.

If you got mostly wrong answers, it's OK to take a sample of them instead. For example, you could look at every other question or every third question. Even though you won't get to analyze all your answers, in the end your results should be roughly the same.

After, you'll want to eliminate your weaknesses by thinking carefully about how you can fix them. For timing issues, try a number of time-related strategies that have worked well for experts on practice tests to see what works best for you. For weaknesses in a certain topic such as reading or math, you might want to drill specific problem types or review lessons using high-quality tutorial resources like Khan Academy.

"But wait," you might say. "Isn't this guide supposed to be about SAT practice? Didn't you say you can improve a lot with SAT practice?"

SAT practice is still the core to your improvement on the SAT. You're spending a large fraction of your time on it to train your muscle memory and diagnose your issues. In fact, you're spending even more time on focused practice SAT problems to drill (and thus fix) your weaknesses.

However, there are definitely times when the best way to improve your score is to review specific content and consider what could be the causes of your weaknesses.

 

The Easy Way to Do SAT Practice Right

In this section, I’m going to talk about our SAT prep program, PrepScholar, a bit. First off, you don’t need to use PrepScholar to benefit from the advice above. However, usually when I’ve given this talk in the past, the students most adamant about improving their scores asked me to talk a little more about how PrepScholar uses the tips above. You can feel free to skip this section, as the advice will still help you study even without our program.

I used the SAT study strategy above with little external help during high school. In fact, I still have annotated practice tests with detailed notes explaining the reasons I got each question wrong. I also remember keeping a ledger of all my practice tests, a list of all my practice test sources, and a paper tallying all my mistakes. All you need to do is put in the work, be careful, and you'll be able to use this process successfully, too.

However, what if instead of reinventing the wheel, all you had to do was log in every few days, do the practice SATs assigned to you, and see your score skyrocket? That's exactly what happens when you use the PrepScholar Complete SAT Prep program.  

Our program offers the following features:

  • Tests you with an accurate timer, and gives you warnings if you take the practice SAT in a way that might jeopardize its effectiveness
  • Encourages you to put in ample study time, and tells you when you need to put in more
  • Automatically analyzes all the problems you got wrong, explains the top reasons you got questions wrong, and generates a curriculum for improving your biggest weaknesses

These four steps are where SAT magic happens. You find out what you're getting wrong. You work on these issues until they go away. Your scores climb to your goal. Finally, you get into the colleges of your dreams.

No messy self-tracking—just easy, immediate guidance that improves your SAT scores.  

You can see why our customers think this program is a great tool:  

"I love the practice tests!"

"Yes, I can definitely feel improvement. I love the practice tests. Would definitely like 2 or 3 more before I do the real thing.

I like how you guys personally interact with me on a daily basis. Makes me feel like I am getting more of a personal experience. I love it."
— Brian P. North Carolina

"He did much better on this test!"

"You are the absolute best! My son was so happy when he came out. He did much better on this test than he did on the previous test.

When my son came out of the previous test, he seemed down in the dumps. We knew right then and there, that the results were probably not going to be what we had hoped for, and that we would be exploring other options. After taking Prepscholar, he came out of the test with a huge smile on his face and told us right away that he did so much better."
— Eileen H. Virginia 

Read more customer stories here!

And you won't believe the price.

College costs around $10,000-$100,000 for most students. What's more, a regular cycle of visits to a college counselor or SAT tutor can easily run you over $4,000. Chances are, they might not even know how to improve your score in your specific case!

At this rate, a program that figures out your specific issues and targets the exact SAT practice that you need would be a steal for even $1,000. After all, this is how much the most common one-size-fits-all courses by the test-prep dinosaurs charge.  

Yes, you can buy inferior programs at dirt-cheap prices, but they'll likely mess up your strategies. If you've got hundreds of hours to figure things out and make tons of mistakes, you could self-study, too. But we're talking about your college future here.  

I'll gladly admit that our PrepScholar Complete SAT Prep package is not the cheapest program on the market. That's because it uses only real SAT practice questions for tests, and all questions have passed three levels of scrutiny by top SAT scorers.

We could easily charge more, but there's a simple reason we try our best to keep prices down: we want you to score higher. We want you to get into the school of your choice. After all, that's why we've even given you our top strategy in this guide for free. So why not accept our offer for our Complete SAT Prep program for just $399 and get started today?

You're Protected Two Ways

When you buy PrepScholar Complete SAT Prep, you're protected two ways. We want you to know that we're taking out all the risk through our double guarantee:

5_Days.pngFive Day Trial: If, for any reason, you don't like our program in the first five days, just contact us and we'll give you your money back. You get access to the whole program, not some walled-off piece. And in the unlikely chance you don't think it fits you, you get your money back, no questions asked. Some extreme students have worked full-time to finish our entire program in the five-day period, and they got their money back—something we applaud!

Screen_Shot_2015-12-07_at_5.23.33_PM.png240+ Point Guarantee: If you finish our program and don't improve 240 points, you get all your money back as well. It's win-win—you either get the score you need, or you get free prep!

Improve Your SAT Score by 160+ Points, Guaranteed

 

What's Next?

Studying for the SAT entirely on your own? Get tips on the best SAT prep books to use and learn how to come up with a foolproof SAT study plan that works well for you.

Not sure what SAT score you should be aiming forIn this guide, we explain what scores are good and bad on the SAT, and go over how to determine what score you should shoot for based on the schools you're applying to.

We've also got another in-depth guide to getting a perfect SAT scoreHere, one of our expert full scorers teaches you how to identify your weaknesses and build a study plan guaranteed to get you that elusive 1600 on test day!

 

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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

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.



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