Last Updated On: October 30th, 2020

What is a “good” score?

You are probably reading this blog because you’d like to get a good SAT score. However, just what counts as a good SAT score? The answer is, that depends! Some students’ goal on the SAT may simply be to achieve NCAA eligibility so they can play sports in college at your dream school whether that be Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, or another local university or Ivy League School. In that case, the score you require will depend on your high school GPA and what level of college sports you are being recruited for, but to take one example, if your high school GPA is 2.5, you would need at least a 900 on the SAT to play Division I sports in college (that’s the 25th percentile). On the other hand, if you have your heart set on a highly selective school such as Rice (typical SAT score between 1470-1560) or on earning a merit scholarship, your goals will need to be much higher scores. If you are curious about the specifics of how the SAT is scored, we have more information for you here.

Setting up a Study Plan

Your first step for improving your SAT score is to set up a study plan, just like how you would to improve your ACT score. We understand that can be difficult with school, college applications, and extracurricular activities, so to do that you will need to figure out when you are going to take the SAT so that you know how much time you have. In general, it is best to set a first test date that is: at least a few months after you’ve begun studying, not in part of the school year when you will be especially busy (e.g. in the middle of your sports season or while you are the star of a play), and early enough that you have the option of taking the test 1-2 more times after your first attempt. Keep in mind that test dates have been canceled or rescheduled due to Covid-19, so keep checking the College Board website for the latest updates. Once you’ve set on a first test date, your next step is to take a practice test to give yourself a baseline score and give you some more information about what you need to study. Hopefully, your school had you take a PSAT, which will give you some idea about your strengths and weaknesses, but a practice SAT will help you get an even better idea, especially if it’s been more than a month or two since you last took the PSAT.

Taking, Scoring, and Evaluating Your First Practice Test

The most important thing to remember when taking your first practice test is that you want to take it in as test-like conditions as possible. That means test takers should take the test in one sitting rather than taking each section on separate days, finding a quiet place to take the test that is free of distractions, and following the timing rules given on the test. Once you have taken the practice test you should grade it and score it. This score is your baseline score, the score you compare to all your future tests to measure progress. Don’t be discouraged if your baseline score isn’t as high as you’d expected. Practice tests are merely a way for you to get familiar with the test and assess what you need to work on, and with an early start and some hard work you can improve on it. Once you have your graded baseline test, go through and see what sections are stronger for you and what sections need more work. Is your math score strong but your reading and writing section and composite score needs more work? Or is your essay weak but your reading section was strong. Within each section, take a look at what types of questions gave you the most trouble. This level of specificity might be hard to spot at first, so you may want to consult a teacher or tutor who can give you more guidance.

Start Studying!

Begin working on the areas of the SAT that gave you the most trouble. If you missed all the questions involving semicolons on the writing and language section, review semicolons. If you struggled on the math section questions involving ratios, try some more ratio problems. Try to dedicate a few hours each week to studying on your own, taking practice sections, or working with a tutor. In general we have found that students make much more progress studying a little bit at a time over an extended period, rather than trying to cram in the few weeks right before the test.

Some Quick Fixes that Can Boost Your Score Ranges

While we are confident that the tried and true way to make major improvements to your highest score is to spend time studying and working through practice problems, there are a few general tips that can help you boost your SAT score or avoid dropping points unnecessarily. These are:

Answer Every Question
Unlike earlier editions of the SAT, the current format of the test doesn’t take any points off if you miss a question. That means it is always in your best interest to guess on every question, even if you have no idea what the right answer is. In the multiple choice section scores your odds are ¼ or 25% on every question, so even blind guessing you should be able to get a decent number of questions correct. Over the course of an entire 154 question test, this guessing on difficult questions you might be tempted to leave blank can make a big difference in your final test score!

Don’t Spend too Long on Any One Question
Within each section of the SAT there are questions that will seem easier and there are questions that most students will miss. However, each question is worth the same amount. That means that wasting ten minutes to correctly solve the trickiest math problem on the test isn’t a good strategy. Sure you might get that question right, but in the time it took you to solve it you might have solved five easier questions and gotten five times as many points. You can always come back to difficult questions at the end of a standardized test if you have more time, but your best bet is to maximize the time you spend solving easier questions quickly and efficiently.

Eat a Good Breakfast and Bring a Snack on Test Day
We know, this tip might seem a little obvious, and not like the sort of insider information you’d expect from a tutoring company that has worked with thousands of students, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not important! Making sure you have enough to eat before a four hour test is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to make sure you are performing at your best. That’s something we’ve found to be true time and again with our students, but there are also numerous academic studies to the same effect.

Take your First Real SAT and Assess

After you’ve done some SAT prep and hopefully had time for a couple full practice tests, you will be ready for your first go at the real thing. On test day make sure you have all the necessary materials (ID, registration, calculator, pencils, snack), get a good night’s sleep the night before, and then go in and do your best. Once you have your first test results, go over the average SAT score report and make the same assessment you made on your first practice test. Figure out where you’ve improved and where you think you can still make progress. Talk to your guidance counselor or college admissions advisor and see if your SAT score range puts you in good shape for the schools you are targeting. Many factors go into a school’s decision to accept you or not, including your GPA, recommendations, and essays in addition to your SAT, so make sure those are as strong as possible as well, but the fact is that the SAT test and your scoring percentile is one of the most important factors determining college admitted students, just like the ACT, so it’s worth putting in the extra test prep. Remember, many students do better on their second attempt at an official SAT, so time permitting it is probably worth it for you to take the test again. Good Luck!

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