A great SAT score is like a three-legged stool. It depends equally on content knowledge, strategy, and execution.
Today I want to talk about STRATEGY. It is often the missing piece and a better strategy can drive massive score increases.
A successful school strategy
R. is a good student with top grades and he has a good SAT score. He’s smart and he applies his successful school strategy to the SAT – answer all the questions, do the work quickly in your head, draw on all your experience and bring that knowledge to bear on the problem. Except this successful school strategy was working AGAINST him on the SAT.
R. is smart enough to do a lot of the work in his head – but his performance towards the end of each section got worse as he short-circuited his short-term memory (which the test is designed to do.)
The math sections are in the last hour of the 3 hour test – your brain is tired by then and you are much more prone to make silly mistakes. Since R. didn’t show his work, if he want back to review it, he’d have to start his thinking over and re-solve the entire thing. That wasted time (and more brain cells.)
4 SAT-specific strategies
So I emphasized four things:
- Show your work
- After you solved for the answer, go back and re-read the question
- Pick A when you have to randomly guess
- Slow down and don’t try to answer all the questions
1. Show your work
By writing everything down, you’re less prone to make silly mistakes. It’s also easier to review and catch your errors. Showing your work actually saves you time and allows you to answer more questions correctly.
2. Go back and re-read the question
The SAT is tricky and you have to keep your eyes open for that. In math, after you’ve solved the problem, go back and re-read the question to make sure you know what they are looking for. (The SAT is notorious for asking for x+2 so kids solve for x and then choose x as the right answer to the question.) Going back and re-reading the question will prevent you from making unforced errors.
3. Pick A
R. was running out of time and trying to quickly glance at a problem and make educated guesses on the fly. To make an educated guess, you need to half-solve the problem. R. was just randomly guessing on the last handful of questions. By not picking one letter and sticking to it, he was missing the chance to make the odds work for him. Here’s why you should always pick A when you have to randomly guess.
4. Slow down
Contrary to popular belief, it is usually better to slow down and focus on fewer questions. Even though there’s no answer penalty for wrong answers, it’s still not a good use of your time to focus on all the questions. A better strategy is to focus on 2/3 (or 3/4 or 7/8) of the questions and make sure you answer them correctly. Then work on answering more questions. But first slow down and don’t try to answer all the questions.
60 point increase
By implementing a better strategy R. increased his math score by 60 points – from a 620 to a 680, from 81% to 91%.
Here’s the kicker
And here’s the thing. We didn’t even talk about Reading or Writing. We talked about all this in the context of the Math section. But his Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score jumped from a 590 to a 650, from 67% to 87%.
That’s a 120 point increase overnight – without changing one iota of content knowledge.
Strategy matters and it can have a big impact on your score.
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