5 Perfectly Good Strategies for Better SAT Scores
Everybody wants to know how to get the highest SAT score possible. There’s no shortcut, but we can offer some strategies to improve your odds through preparation and practice. The following five suggestions provide structure, reassurance, and comfort to busy students—and may lead to better SAT scores.
1. Take AP Courses
When it comes to the SAT test, the first question many students and parents ask is: How soon is too soon? When should we begin preparing for this test?
Because the revamped SAT focuses on skills and knowledge you gain every day in the classroom, one of the key ways to prepare and perform your best is simply to take the most challenging coursework you can. This can include honors and advanced classes at your school or any Advanced Placement® (AP®) courses available to you.
Recently, Indiana University researchers found that high school students who achieve a B or better in at least two AP classes score higher on the SAT by more than 100 points.
Of course, another important benefit associated with AP courses is the ability to earn college credit, for which there are separate exams. For now, it’s enough to know that simply focusing on your AP coursework will likely benefit you on the SAT as well.
2. Know Where You Stand After Taking the PSAT-Related Tests
What makes the PSAT-related tests meaningful to high school students? One reason they’re important is because of the opportunity to earn a National Merit Scholarship by doing well on the PSAT/NMSQT®. In addition, taking the PSAT 10™ (in the 10th grade) and the PSAT 8/9™ (in eighth or ninth grade) gives students the opportunity to experience a live testing environment, establish a baseline for college readiness, and discover their strengths and areas that need more attention before taking the SAT. Students taking the PSAT-related tests also receive score reports that can be linked to Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy® for personalized SAT test prep, which we’ll get into more later.
The benefit of experience in a live testing environment for a student hoping to score high on the SAT is obvious, and evidence suggests that students who do well on the PSAT/NMSQT also do well on the SAT. For a more concrete indicator of improvement, look at the strong correlation that exists between most students’ PSAT/NMSQT scores and their SAT score.
3. Try Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy
Speaking of Khan Academy, make sure you take advantage of all the free SAT practice materials you can find there, including videos, quizzes, and full-length practice tests. They are the official College Board partner for all things SAT prep.
Why is it called “Official”? Because the College Board, the creators of the SAT, gave Khan Academy exclusive access and advice to build this personalized SAT practice program. Official SAT Practice provides all students access to eight, full-length SAT practice exams with real SAT questions from prior tests. Khan Academy also provides hundreds of additional authorized questions, compiled into quizzes that help focus on specific skills. You’ll be hard-pressed to run out of practice items.
Furthermore, in partnership with The College Board, Khan Academy can leverage your actual performance on PSAT-related assessments to create free, personalized SAT study plans. This allows students to prepare smarter, to focus on the areas they need to, and to track their progress over time. And in contrast to expensive test prep courses or tutors, Official SAT Practice is absolutely free.
4. Follow the 15-Minute Rule
A 2017 study indicated that students who studied for at least 20 hours on the free Official SAT Practice site improved their aggregate SAT score by 115 points. Such students gained nearly twice as many points as students who didn’t make use of Khan Academy's resources.
So let's say you take three AP courses requiring an hour of homework each, which you complete after extracurriculars finish at around 5 p.m. Good news: it's time to relax. Bad news: you haven't studied for the SAT.
Great news: the same Khan Academy study found that students who studied for just six hours total averaged a 90-point SAT score increase. These data imply that if you study just 15 minutes per day—that is, answer 5-6 practice questions per day over the span of a month, your score has a good chance to improve.
5. Don’t Study Like It’s 1999
In case you missed it, the SAT was redesigned to more closely align with what students are learning in school. With the new SAT there is no penalty for guessing; you no longer lose points for wrong answers. Gone are “SAT words”—words no one has seen before or will likely see again. Only relevant math concepts are tested. The SAT makes it easier for you to show your best work.
So if you’re still walking around with vocabulary flash cards or trying to memorize Latin word roots, you are probably getting better at crossword puzzles, but not really preparing for the SAT effectively. You’ll benefit more from simply striving to do your best on your everyday reading and writing coursework.
Since the SAT now has no penalty for guessing, you no longer have to devise complicated strategies or formulas for when it makes sense to answer a question. Instead, simply approach each question thoughtfully and carefully and show your best work.
Five Perfectly Good Strategies for Better SAT Scores
You can improve your prospects of getting a higher SAT score by following the steps we’ve outlined. Take challenging courses at school. Leverage the PSAT-related assessments as tools to see where you stand and what you can work on. Take advantage of the extensive and free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy. Set a goal of carving out time for practice—it can even be in small chunks, but it has a potentially huge payoff. And finally, make sure you prepare for today’s SAT, and not your parents’ or older sibling’s test.