SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How SAT Practice Got Me a Perfect Score

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Dec 7, 2015 5:45:22 PM

SAT Strategies



Can doing SAT Practice Tests improve your score dramatically?  It can if you do it right. Most student practice the SAT incorrectly, and then are surprised when their score doesn’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, a method that I’ll describe right here!

Open up that practice book, apply these methods, and your score will go up hundreds of points.

In a couple of weeks, you may never see a disappointing score on your SAT again.  You may decide to throw away all those other strategies that don't seem to work, the ones that get you the same score over and over again.

And 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, sit down, and apply my method.  

Wrong answer marks on your score sheet will disappear like smoke in the wind.  You'll take the SAT confidently, getting 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 the method is real, it's been proven on thousands of our own students, and it’s available to you right now.

First, please allow me to introduce myself:

Why You Can Listen to Me

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

When I first took my SAT, I got a full 200 points lower than what I was looking for.  I knew this wasn't the score I could achieve.  There had to be some way to improve.  Naturally, I did what all great athletes do: practice the real thing, the actual SAT test.  At first, there was very little improvement -- I quickly found out that I was doing it wrong.  Bit by bit, I built up a practice test strategy that catapulted my score to perfect!

Image: What a perfect SAT scores looks like.

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

Image: Screenshot of my Acceptance into Harvard based on high SAT scores.

Today, I’m certified to be a college professor, and my main job is helping thousands of students succeed using the strategies I developed (along with the help of many brilliant other SAT experts as well).  Most importantly, through PrepScholar I've helped thousands of students get the 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 if you do it right.

How NOT to do Practice SAT tests!

runner_in_pain.jpgMany students and self-studiers believe in the Marathon Fallacy for SAT practice.  For someone looking to train for the marathon, the advice 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, where you run, generally your circulation improves and your muscles strengthen, and you’ll be a better runner.


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.  They:

- Believe that SAT-skill is a generic muscle that gets stronger as long as you put time into practice, no matter what the practice looks like.

- Don't really care what version of the practice test it is or what year it was from.  

- Don't mind doing a few practice problems on their iPad while chatting with their best friends.

- And don't think about the practice SATs after taking them.

After churning through a bunch of practice SATs, the students who believe in this myth take the test again and are shocked their score is 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 thinking of SAT practice like a marathon, it is better to think of the SAT like baseball.

When you practice baseball, technique matters.  Swinging a bat a thousand times will make you swing strong and harder, but won’t guarantee that you’ll be a good player.  That’s because so many other techniques matter more: your stance, the angle of your swing, your follow through, your strategy after you hit the ball.  You have to practice baseball to get good, but you need to practice carefully.  It’s the same with SAT prep: you need to practice the SAT, but also do it the right way.

How to Best Practice the SAT

Now, let me show you how to best practice the SAT!

Use Realistic Tests

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

The problem with almost all SAT practice tests that are not official, which I call Cheap Knockoff SATs, is that only a minimum amount of work has been put into it to make it look like the SAT.  Most often in cheap knockoff SATs, publishers will throw all kinds of trash in multiple-choice format and call it "SAT practice". 

Some of the biggest sins I've seen included:

- 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, SAT questions on another screen, and saw the same questions, word for word!  My jaw dropped.

- Another famous test prep company put trigonometry questions on their "Math SAT Practice" -- despite the fact that the real SAT never covers trigonometry!  

- One book of practice tests by one of the "top 2 big names" had some questions with multiple right answers or no right answers at all.  

Have you ever taken an cheap knockoff SAT practice test, looked at that answer and said: "that can't be right!".  Now you know why!

The worst cheap knockoff SAT practices are the “free problems” that float around websites that clearly have no specialization on the SAT.  Usually these sites have a ton of ads, and prey on the absolute beginners.  But even books from the “big two” test prep publishers, books that look perfectly legit placed on shelves in Barnes and Nobles, suffer from this issue.

Publishers of cheap knockoff SATs are often under tight deadlines, and they 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 a SAT question.

This wouldn't be horrible if all there was to the SAT was its multiple choice format.  But the SAT is much more than being multiple choice.  The SAT asks only 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 on bad SAT practice questions, it's like training on a softball for a baseball game.  You'll spend all your time optimizing for the exact wrong thing.

I believe in this concept so much that in my own program, PrepScholar, we use only real SAT practice tests by the official college board for our full-length practice tests.  Even when we design drill-problems, we review each problem carefully by three sets of experts to ensure it adheres to every detail of the SAT.

Take the Test In a Realistic Setting

Many students are tempted to take shortcuts in doing practice tests.  Waiting for 5 minutes for mom to pick you up from sports?  Why not do two math SAT questions on your iPhone?

The problem is that here you're training in an environment significantly different from the real SAT. Let's take the 5-minute-on-iPhone example above to demonstrate why realisticness matters.  In particular:

- Giving yourself 5 minutes for two math questions is way too much time.  You’ll be training for the wrong timing.  You'll fall into bad habits, like grinding out a math solution in a way that you could never ever hope to do on a real test.

- You won’t have scrap paper and pencil to write notes and ideas down.  To do the best on the real SAT, you must take advantage of the space on the test to jot down ideas, work and notes.  Doing practice on the iPhone trains none of that.

- You're doing the SAT completely out of the normal 4-hour-test context.  You may be physically fatigued after hours of sports or mentally refreshed.  Either way, the environment isn't realistic.

Image: Studying hard or hardly studying?  Practicing the SAT in bed is a bad idea.

Now, 5 minutes of practice on an iPhone may be an uncommon example, but it's very easy to slack even when you're taking a practice SAT at a desk:

- Do you do the entire test in one sitting? (Good) Or split in into many chunks? The more chunks you split the practice SAT into, the worse it is since you won’t know how to take the test in fatigue conditions.

- Do you give yourself an extra long break or take breaks between sections where no breaks are scheduled?  In a real SAT, you don't get to eat a 2 hour long dinner during the test.  Don't do it in a practice either!

- Do you sometimes peek at answers?  Peeking at the answers is an absolute cardinal sin.  If you peek at the answer sheet even once or twice during a practice SAT, this can boost your score a hundred points easily.  This doesn't only screw up the entire vibe and sequence of the test, it also makes you think you're doing better and screws up your own measurement of yourself.

- Do you give yourself a couple of extra minutes on a section when you're running late, maybe to bubble in answers?  Giving yourself extra time is much worse than it seems at first glance.  Knowing how to time yourself to finish each section is challenging and a skill you need to build up.  Part of training for time management involves knowing to stop taking the test a few minutes before time is up and knowing how to deal with last-minute time trouble.

The best way then is to take it under as realistic of a setting as possible.  Set out a full table in a quiet room.  Have the tests printed in front of you with bubble sheets.  Have a real timer with real breaks, and never give yourself even a minute more time.  Then go through the entire test as if you were at the test center.

I believe in this so much that our program at PrepScholar encourages this to the fullest extent possible.  Our program has timers that are exactly right, and we automatically watch out for any noncompliance that can jeopardize the studying process.

Put in the Time

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

Image: Improving on the SAT will take hard work.  Unwilliness to accept that is quickest route to stagnation.

In fact, in this guide, I am presuming that you will be putting in 10 hours or more on studying the SAT total.  If you're studying fewer than 10 hours, it doesn’t matter that the practice is realistic, or the setting is realistic.  But then again, if you’re studying less than 10 hours no one can help you really improve your score.  Not a book, not some cheap tricks, not me, and not even a 5-figure "college consultant".  If you're studying less than 10 hours total, throw this entire guide away: in that case, the best way to improve would be to put in more time.

Similarly, if you're studying between 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 is designed to record the time you spend every week, and then predict your progress based off this time.  We also warn both the student and parent weekly whether the time the student spends is enough to get the improvement they want.  You definitely need to put in time to do SAT practices!

Know and Solve Your Weaknesses

The most important part of taking a practice test is having a clear grasp of what you are getting wrong and why you're getting it wrong.  Too many students fall into the trap that as long as you've taken the practice SAT, you've gotten all you can out of it.  That is totally wrong -- analyzing your performance is the key to score improvement.  Even taking real tests in real settings can only get you so far.  After that, you'll need to analyze your mistakes and solve them.

Again, this is where 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 the swing?  What does your coach say about the swing?  Are you swinging too hard, too light, at the wrong angle?  You need to think before you retry to get the most out of practice!

To start analyzing your SAT weaknesses, after each practice test, look at each problem you got wrong.  Then list the reasons you got it wrong, like: "I don't understand circle areas" or "Too little time" or "Careless mistake".  Then, tally up all the reasons and look at the top three.  These are three reasons that you need to work on!

If you have too many wrong answers, it's okay to take a sample of them.  For example, just take every other question, or every third question.  Even though you don't measure all your questions, in the end your result will be roughly right anyway.

After that, you'll want to eliminate your weaknesses by thinking carefully.  For timing, you may try a number of timing strategies that have worked well for experts on practice tests, and see which works for you.  For weakness in a certain area, say math areas, you may want to drill math area problems, or review math lessons.

"But wait!" you might way.  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.  You're spending even more time on focused practice SAT problems to drill away your weaknesses.  However, there are definitely some times when the best way to improve is a quick review of content or introspection about causes of a weakness.  

The Easy Way to Do SAT Practice Right

Here, I’m going to talk about my program PrepScholar a bit.  You don’t need to use PrepScholar at all to benefit from the advice above.  However, usually when I’ve given this talk in the past the students most ambitious about improving their score asked me to talk just a bit about how PrepScholar uses the advice above.  You can skip this section, and the remaining advice will still help you study without program.

In fact, I myself did the strategy above with little external help during high school.  I still have annotated practice tests with careful notes explaining the reasons I got each question wrong.  I remember keeping a ledger of all my practice tests, a list of all practice test sources, and a paper tallying all my mistakes.  All you need to do is put in work, be careful, and you can run the process above yourself.

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 rocket up painlessly?  That's exactly what happens when you use the PrepScholar Complete SAT Prep.  

Our program:

- Automatically sources the most up-to-date real practice SATs for you, from the official College Board.

- Gives you the test with an accurate timer and warnings if you do the practice SAT in a way that may jeopardize its effectiveness.

- Encourages you to put time in, and tells you whether you've put in enough time.  

And most importantly:

- Automatically analyzes all the problems you got wrong, the top reasons you got questions wrong, and generates a curriculum for improving those reasons.

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

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

You can see why our customers think the program has been great for their scores:  

"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!

You Won't Believe the Price

College costs around $10,000 - $100,000 for most students.  And a regular cycle of visits to a college counselor or SAT tutor can easily run you over $4000.  Chances are they may 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 $1000.  After all, this how much the most common one-size-fits-all courses by the test prep dinosaurs charge.  

Yes, you can buy inferior programs dirt cheap, and they can possibly mess up your strategies.  If you have hundreds of hours to figure things out and make dozens of hours of mistakes, you can self study too.  But we're talking about your college future here.  

I'll gladly admit our PrepScholar Complete SAT Prep package isn't the cheapest program on the market.  That's because it uses only real questions for full practice SATs, and all SAT questions have passed three levels of scrutiny by top 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 product’s top strategy in this guide for FREE above.  So accept our offer for our PrepScholar 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 5 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

Those of you who want more practice SAT information, you're always welcome to study on your own, and you can get Real Official SAT Practice Tests here, find Old Practice Tests here, and find Alternatives for SAT Practice here.  We would be cautious about the last two sources though since they are not the latest real practice materials.  Also, we strongly recommend our own free guide to improving on the SAT:

Compare Prep Methods

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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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