Over several years of watching and helping tens of thousands of students get through the SAT, I’ve learned that the three most helpful pieces of advice I can share are almost dismayingly simple…but very powerful.

  1. Start early!
  2. Practice makes perfect!
  3. Practice the right way!

Basic Tips for SAT Practice: Start Early!

The skills necessary to ace the SAT take a long time to develop.

Remember, the SAT does not test information retention; it assesses the ability to think and reason critically. And this ability grows over years, not months.

Students don’t need to know, say, the formula for finding the circumference of a circle. In fact, these basic formulas are provided for students!

Rather, students need extensive practice working through different kinds of mathematical problems in order to learn when and how to use this formula.

SAT Practice Tips: Practice makes perfect!

Some academic skills can only be developed through practice and repetition.

The SAT is a timed test.

In the Reading section, students might need to read and understand, say, a passage of 800 words from the science section of the New York Times.

And they’ll need to do so in under two minutes.

Now, it’s not possible to improve reading speed overnight. Students need to familiarize themselves with SAT-level reading and vocabulary through extensive and repeated exposure.

The best thing that high school freshmen can do to start preparing for the SATs is to develop a daily habit of engaging with advanced material.

Just one short article from the New York Times daily or one weekly article from the New Yorker will work wonders over the next two to three years.

SAT Practice Tips: Practice the right way!

Some parents send their students to test prep centers from a very young age, hoping that repeated practice will be enough to raise scores.

However, the SAT doesn’t just require lots of practice; it demands the right kind of practice.

For example, some students diligently complete all their SAT Writing and Language homework with the help of a dictionary. While learning vocabulary is an important part of preparing for the SATs, using a dictionary when doing practice problems is absolutely useless, since students can’t take that dictionary with them into the exam!

In fact, the SAT doesn’t expect students to know all the words in a reading passage or a difficult question.

Rather, it expects students to use the information they do know to reason their way to the correct answer. The student who is constantly referring back to the dictionary will never develop this ability.

Here’s another example. Many students complete their SAT homework under non-testing conditions. They may spend an hour on a section that would have to be completed in twenty-five minutes in the actual SAT.

While slow, careful work is useful for younger students, juniors and seniors must force themselves to work under time pressure.

Now that students are familiar with the SAT and have some general but tried-and-true strategies for preparing for the test, I’ll turn to answer some questions I frequently get asked about the SAT and its precise role in college admissions.

As I explained above, the point of the SAT is to provide colleges with a crucial piece of standardized data which can be used to compare students’ academic abilities.

However, the specific way in which colleges factor in SAT scores differs depending on the caliber (top tier versus lower tiers) and type (public versus private) of school. In the next post, I will focus on the way SAT scores are treated at the most selective top-tier colleges.


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