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How I went from a 1370 to a 1560 on the SAT (with 22/24 on the essay) in 2 months: r/SAT reddit success story

Summary

Materials:

  1. Khan Academy
  2. College Board book of 8 practice tests
  3. Princeton Review Official SAT Guide
  4. College Board Essay Rubric

Method:

  1. One month for content review through Princeton Review book. Go through the entire thing, mark the ones you did incorrectly so you can reattempt them [editor’s note: my error log app 21st Night is perfect for this].
  2. One month for practice tests. Do two practice tests per week, and mark the ones you did incorrectly to understand later [again, 21st Night is perfect for this].

Math specific advice

  1. If a math question looks complicated, try simplifying or factoring it. On the no calculator section, don’t be afraid to plug in numbers (but don’t use 0 or 1).
  2. If there are variables in the answer choices, plug in numbers.
  3. Do simple math on paper.
  4. Assume that all graphs are trick graphs.

Essay specific advice

  1. Make sure that you hit every point on the essay rubric.

Reading specific advice

  1. Only read the title and first paragraph. Then do all the questions that refer to a specific line. Look for the contexts that the lines appear in (5 lines before and 5 lines after). Last, do the questions that refer to anything general (like themes or character traits).

Original Reddit post

hey everyone! here are the steps I took to getting a 1560 (& a 22/24 on the essay) my second time taking the SAT with essay–hopefully this helps you if you’re reading this!

  1. DO NOT rely solely on khan academy to help you. the “tailored” plan they have is neat but not accurate or helpful–I got a 1370 using khan academy alone, and according to the site, I had mastered all content areas.

  2. start two months before your test date. one month for learning the content and one month for practice tests/content review. I needed the time because I was weak in math and juggling school. trust me when I say that life always gets in the way of sat prep, so plan ahead.

  3. throw away any notions you have about your “strong suits.” an A in math or english does not translate to an 800 in these respective sections. devote equal amounts of time to reviewing all subject areas.

  4. BUY the official college board book of 8 practice tests. you could always take the online versions on khan academy, but it’s just not realistic to what test day will be like. if you’re like me and can only manage neat handwriting if you’re going slow, you need to sit down at a clean desk, time yourself, and take the paper test. if you can’t afford it, barnes and noble is a great place to sit down and take the test on loose leaf using their books.

  5. DO NOT take half tests. if you’re going to commit to taking a practice test, take the full thing in one sitting. the only thing you can get away with doing on a separate day/time is the essay.

  6. spend month one reviewing math and english. for this, I recommend the princeton review’s official sat guide (I got one for free from my angel guidance counselor). go chapter by chapter, take notes, do the practice problems, and put a post it on every problem you get wrong or get right but don’t understand. guessing the right answer does not count as getting it right!

  7. every couple chapters, go back to the questions you flagged and reattempt them. if you get them right, mark it on the post it but don’t remove it! if you don’t get them right, look up a video on the topic.

  8. once you’ve gone through the entire math or reading section, go back again to the flagged questions and look them over. if you can talk out your solving process, remove the post it and celebrate! if you still can’t understand it, move on and rely on good ol’ guessing if it comes up on the test.

  9. in the next month, schedule two full practice tests a week. download the college board app so you can save yourself the time grading. as you’re taking the test, star all questions you can’t eliminate 3/4 answer choices for. after taking the test, go back, read the answer explanations for each question you got wrong/guessed on, and make sure you understand why the right answer is right and why your answer was wrong.

  10. in the math section, do the grid-in questions first. take the minutes allotted during the section and subtract it by 10 minutes of answer checking. take this difference and divide it by the number of questions in the section–DO NOT spend longer than this amount of time per question. bring a digital watch to the test to keep yourself on time. note: you’ll probably have to allot less than 10 mins for math no calculator.

  11. in the no calculator section, do not underestimate the power of plugging in numbers! this works best for questions in which both the question and answer choices have variables and they’re looking for which answer choice is equivalent to the question. just don’t use 0 or 1. also, really complicated-looking questions can look a lot easier if you just start simplifying or factoring, so don’t skip them right off the bat.

  12. in the calculator section, star all questions that require tedious math or that you aren’t sure about. if you end up with extra time, go back and check your math for these questions in your calculator.

  13. know when to use your calculator–sometimes it can just slow you down, and if you’re going too fast, you can punch in the wrong numbers and get the wrong answer. if it’s simple enough math, do it on paper.

  14. for questions with variables, plugging in the answer choices for the variables is incredibly time-saving. plugging in answers will help you when you’re looking at systems of equations, inequalities, etc. if it’s a simple cross-multiplying question, don’t bother–you’ll waste more time going down the line of answers. don’t skip reviewing variable questions because you think you can just plug in the answer on the test. moreover, if the answer choices are large numbers/fractions/exponents and you can’t use your calculator, you should solve the question rather than plug in.

  15. in the reading section, read only the title and first paragraph before going straight to the questions. for questions that refer to specific lines, read 5 lines before and 5 lines after the lines they name. understanding the context can often mean the difference between getting the question right and wrong. skip questions that ask about theme, the author’s opinion, or character traits–by the time you’ve answered all the line-specific questions, you’ll have read enough of the passage to answer more interpretive questions.

  16. in the grammar section, don’t read the question first. I know 35 mins seems like too little, but this section is graded harshly, so you really want to know context for each question. watch out for paragraphs in which the sentences are numbered. this means you’ll likely be asked to rearrange a specific sentence, so before even reading the question, circle the sentence whose position doesn’t make sense and draw an arrow where you think it should go.

  17. don’t overthink the grammar section–that’s when you start to get questions wrong. go for the most concise and specific answer. WATCH OUT for repetition, connotation, and inaccurate graph interpretations.

  18. read all graphs CAREFULLY. college board loves to give trick questions with graphs. I personally like reading an answer choice, fact-checking it by the graph, and moving on to the next answer choice. remember, there is only ONE correct answer–if you find the correct one first, circle it and move on.

  19. bubble in answers after each page–NOT after you’ve taken the entire section and NOT as you go along. the latter two strategies ultimately waste time. bubble in lightly, too–you might catch an error when you’re answer checking, and you want to be able to erase the wrong answer completely. of course, go in and darken your bubbles in the last two minutes.

  20. to prep for the essay, read perfect scoring student samples on the college board site and take note of shared language, thesis structure, and depth of analysis. if you have samples in a practice book, break the sample apart into its major components: intro, thesis, topic sentences, evidence, analysis, reworded thesis, and conclusion.

  21. when you’re reading the essay passage, take notes on all devices the author uses (personification, anecdotes, colloquial language, rhetoricals, etc). take time to read online what effect each device has on the reader–ultimately, WHY it’s persuasive.

  22. continually ask yourself “so what?” as you’re writing. don’t just say that that the author’s use of ethos establishes his credibility–clarify what effect said credibility has on the reader and how it furthers his specific argument.

  23. read the entire college board essay rubric. make a to do list of each specific thing you need to do to gain points.

  24. when you’re writing the essay, spend AT LEAST 10 minutes planning. only write your thesis in a full sentence; use key words/fragments to plan your topic sentences, pieces of evidence, etc.

  25. DO NOT erase more than 1-2 lines worth of writing–you don’t have time to waste erasing your work.

  26. keep body paragraphs succinct; don’t ramble, repeat, or scramble to include all pieces of evidence that fit the topic sentence. they’re not looking for you to identify every tactic the author uses; they just want you to build an argument with the most important ones.

  27. do not skip a conclusion!

  28. finally, take the test in june! from what I’ve heard + my personal experience, it’s a lot easier than other test dates. however, this also means that you’ll be studying during AP season and will likely only have time for practice tests (hence the month previous for content review). if you’re reading this the summer before your junior year, I actually thing it would be super smart for you to study now and take the test in october/december.

  29. the day before the test, look back at all the practice test questions you got wrong and check if you know how to avoid making the mistake you made. buy a new pack of #2 pencils and calculator batteries (a little neurotic, I know). get a good night’s rest and pack your bag the night before.

  30. wake up early on test day, review common figurative devices, and do a few math and reading questions on the college board app to warm you up. then go rock the test!!

good luck you guys! scores in the 99th percentile are actually super attainable if you really dedicate yourself to achieving it and are harsh on yourself about your weak areas. i’ll try my best to answer any questions you may have 🙂

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