Every student has different strengths and abilities, but there are tried and true testing techniques- as well as SAT insider knowledge- that can help every single student do their very best on testing day and we’ve gathered them together for you here in this article.
Scar from The Lion King may have made some alarmingly questionable choices, but he did have the right idea that you should “Be Prepared.”
Here’s the thing about the SATs: there are a lot of scary unknowns, but there are also a lot of known facts that you can prepare for to conquer this test.
It may feel like huge pressure right now. But you are in the right place to get help improving your SAT score.
There are tangible things you can do to raise your score and they work no matter where you are in the process.
Whether you’re just starting to prepare for the SAT that’s a few months away or your test is tomorrow, this article can help you get extra points and achieve your highest possible SAT score.
Together we’re going to explore these top SAT tips and strategies that you’ll need in order to do your best:
- First, understand what the SAT is and how it’s formatted. We’ll look at some frequently asked questions and discuss an overview of the test so you’ll know what to expect.
- Second, understand the different sections of the SAT. We’ll give you specific tips tailored to each part of the SAT so you’ll know how to approach each section.
- Third, understand the SAT and what it’s looking for. We’ll explore SAT tips and techniques that are geared toward the entire test so you’ll have extra tools that will help in every section equally.
Read through these strategies, tailor them to your own needs, and please reach out to us if you have any more questions on how you can ace your SATs.
What Does SAT Stand For?
Technically, the SAT doesn’t stand for anything specific.
College Board started administering Scholastic Aptitude Tests in 1926.
Later they changed the name of the standardized college admissions exam to the Scholastic Assessment Test. It was even dubbed the SAT Reasoning Test at one point.
In 1997, however, controversy surrounded the essence of the test- was it about aptitude? Was it about achievement? Was it fair?
So, College Board announced that their test would continue to be known as the SATs, but the initials would not be short for something else.
They didn’t feel the old messaging represented the direction they wanted to go, so they kept the trademark title and set out to update the design and goal of the SATs.
How Many Questions Are On The SAT?
There are 154 total questions on the SAT.
Most SAT questions are multiple-choice.
The SAT is composed of four parts: the two main subject sections, which are each comprised of two separate tests:
- The SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section
- The SAT Reading Test
- The SAT Writing Test
- The SAT Math Section
- The SAT Math No-Calculator Test
- The SAT Math With Calculator Test
For a more detailed breakdown of timing and the number of questions in each section, take a look at this article about what’s on the SAT.
But after you check it out, don’t forget to come back here to get all of the tips and tricks below!
How Long Does The SAT Take?
The SAT is 180 minutes, plus 15 minutes for breaks.
If you do happen to have a little more wiggle room in your schedule and are looking for even more than just our quick tips and tricks for how to raise your SAT score fast, check out our SAT prep courses with more guides, videos, and personalized expert SAT advice.
One of them can even help you significantly improve your score in just four hours!
Now, let’s dive into tips that can get you raking in extra points faster than a cheetah runs. (Which is very fast.)
SAT Evidence-Based Reading and SAT Writing
Improving your score on SAT Reading and SAT Writing is all about knowing your own verbal skill level, then ensuring you pick up all the points that are easy for you and practice to improve the questions you have difficulty with.
On the first half of the SAT, focus on the details and remember:
Pay attention to the information presented in all charts and graphs.
In these verbal sections, there will be data-driven questions about literature, history, social studies, natural sciences, etc. They won’t require you to have specific prior knowledge about the particular subject, but they will expect you to be able to glean information about the topics being discussed. The details are where you will find help with this.
Don’t skip the italicized introduction blurbs, they sometimes have the information you’re looking for.
You can miss out on easy points by trying to go too fast. While there may be misleading answer options, there isn’t usually extraneous or misleading information in the introduction and passages themselves, so read them carefully.
SAT Reading Tips
SAT Reading is the section that seeks to test how you absorb, process, and apply the information given to you in five different passages.
Practice reading boring material.
You won’t get to choose what you’re reading about and working with on test day, but you don’t want to get frustrated or lose interest.
Develop your ability to stick with all kinds of written material so that no matter what passages you are given, you’ll be able to get through them efficiently when it counts.
Know what is expected of you.
This section is as evidence-based as the official title suggests. So here are some of the things you’ll be asked to do:
- Deduce definitions and meaning through context
- Understand the author’s intent and style
- Interpret data sets
- Compare passages
- Complete sentences
- Infer implied information
- Look out for evidence pairing questions
Some of these questions are a two-for-one deal. You are asked a question, then the follow-up question asks you which excerpt of the text supports the answer to the first question. (College Board will list the options.)
When you are asked to call out your proof like this, you have a couple of great strategies you can use. The one that works best is whichever one you feel the most comfortable with, whichever one makes you the most efficient and confident. Practice both to find out which you prefer.
- Answer the second question first.
If you start by finding the correct evidence to support the answer in the first question, then you’ll be able to answer both questions at once and you’ll save yourself time and guessing with the first question.
- Speak for yourself.
College Board employs masters of deception to write its tests. They love to include incorrect answers that seem right and correct answers that feel wishy-washy.
As you practice for the SATs, go over the answers you regularly get wrong. If they are these types of situations, then you may want to try answering questions in your own words first so that you aren’t unduly influenced by the tricky test-makers.
If it helps you, go to the passage for evidence before looking at the answer choices.
Don’t be afraid to skip a question.
Unlike SAT Math, SAT Reading is not arranged in order of difficulty. So if you’re unsure, go ahead and circle it in your booklet then come back to it later.
Keep a logical head. Almost like a Star Trek Vulcan might.
Sometimes College Board will include a biased, emotional, extreme, or controversial answer. But these are opinion-based answers, which usually cannot be proven right or wrong.
Opinions are awesome, but they are not what the SAT is asking you to contribute at this time.
Absolute language, language that is more black and white, feels better. As humans, we like the certainly of it.
However, correct answers usually allow for some gray area language. Words like “may” or “sometimes” feel more incorrect due to their flexibility (or they aren’t what you personally believe), but words like these are more likely a part of the correct answers.
So if it feels like your own perspective wants to agree with the spirit of an answer, try to keep the emotions out of it. Look at the answers with impartial eyes and don’t get tripped up by those trick answers that might include “always” and “never.”
SAT Writing Tips
The SAT Writing and Language section tests your ability to read a passage, graph, or chart, then answer questions about it as if you were editing it.
So what you’ll be answering is usually geared toward fixing typos or improving what you read.
Here are our favorite tips for increasing your SAT Writing score:
Know the grammar being tested.
Clue-in to any grammar rules that usually give you trouble. Everyday speech can be incorrect, so don’t assume you won’t need to study beforehand.
Some good areas on which to focus your SAT Writing studies are:
- Subject-verb agreement
- Pronoun agreement
- Adjectives and adverbs
- Comparisons and superlatives
Ready to get started? This video has a tip you can use right now. (*** This is one that most people miss!)
Use the ABCs Rule:
Sometimes several of the answers will appear to be correct. When that is the case, the best answer to choose (the answer that College Board will be looking for you to choose) is the shortest answer.
Each time you go to fill in that answer bubble, you want to be sure what you’re selecting checks off these three standards. The best answer will be:
- The clearest.
- The most complete.
- The most concise.
*A helpful mnemonic device is to remember your A.B.C.s: the Answer has got to Be Clear, Complete, Concise.*
Say yes to “No Change,” but only sometimes.
Don’t be fooled or intimidated by the "No Change" answer option. Some students will feel tempted to choose this a lot, thinking they don’t see a good answer. Some students will feel tempted to avoid it altogether, thinking it might be a trick question.
Both strategies can lead you astray if you’re not careful.
In reality, “No Change” is correct 25-35% of the time. So explore all the other answer options first, but do use the “No Change” bubble when it’s right.
SAT Math Tips
You don’t need to be a math prodigy to raise your score on the SAT Math section. Follow these SAT math tips to give yourself the confidence to take on whatever your SAT test day throws at you.
Know the formulas being tested.
While the SAT makers do include a list of formulas for you in the test, going back and forth to the front of your test section to check them can be a time-waster. Also, if you haven’t practiced enough to have them mostly memorized, you likely won’t use them well on test day.
Think of the list as a life-saver if you have a brain flub but don’t lean on this resource as an excuse to not practice. Be as familiar (and practiced) as you can be with all the possible formulas and preferably have them memorized.
Study the subjects that will be covered in the SAT Math section.
Target your pre-test studying toward any mathematical principles or equations that usually give you trouble.
SAT Math prioritizes exploring your understanding of mathematical concepts or methods of solving math problems and seeing you apply them to real-life situations.
Things to review and work on include:
- Linear equations
- Complex functions
For more detailed information, see what College Board has to say about the SAT Math Test.
Don’t be afraid to work out of order.
Generally speaking, the difficulty increases as you move through the Math Section of the SAT. (The exception is that the challenge level resets when you reach the free-response questions toward the end of the section.)
However, your idea of easy may not be the same as the test makers' idea of easy. So, if a question seems challenging to you, don’t beat yourself up. Feel free to skip it at first but be sure to circle the number in your test booklet so you know which one you skipped.
And always try to leave enough time to circle back to skipped questions at the end because - particularly on easier questions - your brain will make the connections necessary to solve it while you’re solving other questions.
It’s a little bit of math magic that can help you gather up extra points on test day!
Make the multiple-choice work for you.
Here’s a useful work order to follow:
- Solve the problem on your own. If the answer you get is available, trust it and move on.
- If you’re having trouble, eliminate any answers you know are wrong by crossing them off in your testing booklet.
- If you’ve eliminated some answers but are still unsure about the correct one, try plugging random numbers into the equation to see if that yields one of the offered results.
- As a last resort, you might try plugging the offered answers into the equation until one of them proves correct. Now, some people might be tempted to use this as a first option in order to shortcut the solution, but be aware that this isn’t always possible. College Board makes an effort to avoid questions that can be solved this way to ensure they are testing your understanding of a math concept and not your ability to substitute and evaluate. But if it IS possible, it’s nice to have it as a backup when you’re stuck on a problem.
Break word problems into small, easier-to-comprehend pieces.
You will be less likely to miss an element or get stuck. Sometimes it’s simply about slowing down and looking at things in a less stressed, more careful way.
Remember, accuracy is more important than speed. Speed matters of course, but you never want to leave points on the table that you should have earned.
Remember that every SAT graph has three variables.
One of the most common SAT Math errors is only taking into account two of the graph’s three variables.
When you are asked a question about a graph, immediately and explicitly identify all three variables for yourself.
When you come up with an answer, be sure that it fits all three variables.
SAT No-Calculator Math Test Tips
Be prepared that not all the questions are multiple-choice in the SAT Math No-Calculator section.
Most are multiple-choice, but you’ll usually get five grid-in questions as well.
Grid-in questions are when you come up with the answer all on your own without any answer options.
Don’t worry about not having a calculator.
These questions are designed to be solved without a calculator. In fact, the whole test can be done without one. But the questions in this section are a little easier than the SAT Math section with the calculator.
SAT With Calculator Math Test Tips
Practice with your calculator in advance.
Don’t lose precious time being tripped up by unfamiliarity with a brand-new calculator you brought in.
Unsure of which calculator to bring? Here are the rules and the most up-to-date list of approved calculators you can use for the SATs.
Don’t be afraid to put down your calculator sometimes.
Every question in both SAT Math sections can be solved without a calculator. So in practicing and preparing for the SAT, train yourself to know when it’s best to not use the calculator. Sometimes it will make you faster, sometimes slower. Don’t use it as a crutch to the detriment of your overall testing time.
Be prepared that not all the questions are multiple-choice in the SAT Math With Calculator section.
Most are multiple-choice, but you’ll usually get eight grid-in questions as well.
Again, grid-in questions are free-response questions without any proffered answer possibilities.
The SAT Math With Calculator Section is designed to be harder than the SAT Math No-Calculator Section.
But don’t let this stress you out. Take your time and set your own pacing according to your score-specific goals. (For help determining what those goals should be, sign-up for either of our online SAT Prep Courses.)
Above all, remember that accuracy is more important than speed.
Overarching SAT Tips and Tricks
We’re going to say it again because it’s the most important thing you can do.
Figure out what you need the most work on and dig into it. Then take as many SAT practice tests as you can.
Don’t leave any answer line blank.
No matter your feelings on pop music, popping gum, or soda pop -- lean into the pop here and “pop” as many of those answer bubbles as you can! (Well, only one per line of course.)
When you’re running out of time toward the end of the test or you’re stuck on something that is completely stumping you, making a guess is better than leaving the answer blank.
There is no penalty for a wrong answer on the SAT, so give it a go and choose something.
Treat every practice test like it’s the real test day.
You can even play background noise or practice during your little sister’s tuba lesson. This will give you the experience of a worst-case testing scenario so you’ll develop the ability to focus no matter what else might be going on around you during your real test.
Write all over your test booklet.
Create a marking system for yourself as you practice, so you know what you’re notating and don’t have to hold extra information in your head.
Underline and circle and cross things out. Engage in every way that is helpful to you. Even if that includes doodling like Picasso.
The booklet is your only scratch paper, so make the most of it.
The test booklet is not graded.
The more you work and have a record of your work, the more you’ll be able to come back later either to double-check your answers or make an educated guess after having eliminated wrong answers on the harder questions.
This is also a good way to keep yourself engaged and focused at moments when your energy wanes.
That’s totally fine.
Take a breath to clear your head or take a second to daydream, then return to the test with renewed energy.
Be smart with your time.
There are two major strategies most often used for test answering: either fill in your answers as you go, which forces you to go back and forth between your test booklet and the scantron. Or write all your answers on your test booklet and fill in the scantron bubbles at the end.
Neither of these is a perfect choice.
The first one can waste precious time and the second one can lose you points if you aren’t able to go back at the end to fill out your answers.
The best choice is a hybrid: circle the correct selection on your booklet, then fill in your bubbles a page or a passage at a time. This way you can save a little time by focusing entirely on a longer stretch of problems, but you also ensure that you’ll get the proper credit for all of your correct answers and hard work.
*But be warned: this tip changes in the last 5 minutes of a test. As the time for each section runs out, shift to a one-to-one approach. Rather than bubbling a full passage at one time, bubble each answer as you find it to make sure all of your correct answers are accounted for.
Remember: bubbling after time is called is cheating, so stay ahead of the clock and don’t leave any correct answers just sitting in your booklet!.
Stay calm and believe in yourself.
We believe in you!
The fact that you’re here reading this list means that you care and that you’re willing to prepare.
You’re already a step ahead of the game.
Yay, you! Keep up the great work!
Remember that this list of SAT tips is by no means exhaustive. There is a lot more you can do to tailor solid prep work to your individual needs, even if you are pressed for time.
If you don’t have a lot of room in your schedule or the SAT is coming soon to a Saturday near you, you can be ready to go in four hours for less than $200 with our exclusive Quick Prep SAT course.
Or, if you have a little more time to prepare, we also offer an on-demand SAT Complete Package Course, which you can finish over 8-12 weeks whenever it fits your schedule!
If you’re ready to put the pedal to the metal and try out these tips on SAT practice tests, we’ve got them waiting for you.