Mastering the SAT
The SAT Reasoning Test, more commonly known as the SAT, is a standardized test designed
to be a predictor of college success. The test claims to measure not what you’ve
learned in high school, but how prepared you are to complete college-level coursework.
To do this, the test focuses on reading, writing, math and problem-solving skills
that students are likely to need in college.
The SAT is administered by the College Board and is offered several times throughout
the year, primarily to high school juniors and seniors. The SAT is used commonly
as a college admissions test, as well as a qualifier for many scholarship opportunities.
It has gone through several changes of name and format over the years, and is currently
comprised of three sections (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) that are
scored from 200-800, resulting in a total score of 600-2400.
Preparing for the Test
Mastering the SAT involves some amount of preparation, as the test is likely to
be substantially different from other tests you’ve encounter previously. Standardized
test prep is available in many forms, ranging from free practice questions online
to test-taking classes and private SAT tutoring. Some standardized test prep can
get extremely pricey, and the benefits of such services are far from concrete. Depending
on what you want to accomplish with your SAT scores, you may be best served by taking
advantage of a variety of test prep options that do not involve expensive tutoring
The best advice for approaching the SAT successfully is to go into the test with
a clear sense of what to expect, both in terms of the test format and environment,
and in terms of how well you need to do on the test. Start early reviewing for the
test and consider registering for a test date during your junior year of high school,
rather than one of the dates in the fall of your senior year. This will give you
time to retake the test if you so desire and to readjust your strategy towards testing,
college admissions, or scholarship applications if needed. Enrolling in challenging
courses in high school and devoting more of your spare time to reading may also
help boost your testing scores, especially in writing and reading, plus these are
good practices anyway.
Taking and scoring practice tests online will also help you prepare, especially
if you take care to simulate the test environment by timing yourself and taking
the test on paper in a quiet space. High school juniors also may take the PSAT,
which serves as practice and preparation for the SAT, as well as the qualifying
test for the National Merit Scholarship, a popular nationwide scholarship award
based on PSAT scores.
The Test Day and After
In addition to practicing, you can also make the most of your SAT test day by being
sure to show up to the test center well-rested, well-prepared, and preferably at
least a few minutes early to avoid rushing, panicking, and throwing off your rhythm
for the whole day. If you’re familiar with what to expect and you feel prepared
for the test, the boost of confidence may also boost your score.
If you don’t do well on the test, don’t panic. If you know immediately that something
went wrong and your test date was a train wreck (perhaps you fell asleep during
the test or personal issues derailed your concentration completely), you are able
to cancel your scores and forget that testing session ever happened. You won’t get
a refund, but at least you won’t have embarrassingly low test scores reported to
your top-choice college. The College Board has also rolled out a new service called
Score Choice, letting you choose which scores will be reported to colleges and scholarship
providers as part of the application process, rather than reporting every single
score as they have in the past. However, Score Choice is limited by colleges’ SAT
score submission practices, and some schools will still require applicants to submit
all of their SAT scores.
If you’ve left yourself time to retake the test, you can take advantage of that
popular option, spending more time on preparation and using your SAT score report
as a study guide for the next test. Most colleges won’t blink at receiving multiple
sets of test scores, and many scholarships are kind enough to use your highest scores
when considering you for an award.
If you choose not to retake the SAT or you’ve taken the test multiple times without
getting the score you want, remember that standardized test scores aren’t everything.
Colleges and scholarship providers are increasingly moving towards a holistic approach
to assessing applications, meaning they’re likely to give more weight to your strong
grades and excellent record of community service and leadership, and less to your
less-than-stellar test scores.
As a final note, some students who struggle with the SAT do better on the ACT and
vice versa. If after all your efforts, you still aren’t getting where you want on
this test, you can always try the other. Nearly all colleges accept scores from
either test for admissions, as well as for university scholarship awards.