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How well you do on the SAT depends on how you approach the exam. This approach depends on your resources, how you react to mistakes and obstacles, and how much you practice. Usually, where students go wrong is with resources. There are many test prep companies which don’t go into much detail on how the exam really works and what it tests. The result is irrelevant practice material that not only wastes the reader’s time but also harms their score. It is really imperative that you only expose yourself to material that exactly or nearly exactly resembles the actual test. This is because you need to only practice what you will be tested with. I will be detailing each section on the basis of approach, the amount of practice required, most recommended resources, and what obstacles you may encounter. Rest assured, this guide will include everything you need to get your target score.
This section is where most students fail. I too had a very tough time with this, but having practiced a lot and with the right strategies, I was able to improve from 280 to 390. You need to very intelligently approach this section. If you are not a habitual reader, I suggest you start reading now. The reason why a lot of students fail in this section is because of a lack of comprehension skills. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who didn’t get in the habit of reading early on, then you need to start either reading novels or SAT-style passages usually found from New York Times, Independent, Time magazine etc. If you are short of time, then you have no choice but to practice with individual Reading tests, which also works so no need to worry. For strategies, I highly recommend Sir Talal’s classes. He discusses various strategies on how to approach the different types of passages including but not limited to “marking-up and summarizing.” Once you really understand these strategies and start applying them, you will realize the passages aren’t that difficult. Once you get down the strategies, you need to move on to practice. The best practice materials that I have come across are from Khan Academy, various drill sets and exams uploaded on the portal by Sir Talal. You should also refer to UWorld.com when you are done with most of your practice. This website contains more difficult material, but has better explanations and really helps over-prepare you for the section. I don’t think many resources resemble the section as well as these resources do. The quality of your practice is also really important. Always time yourself strictly, and try not to be lenient. A digital watch works wonders to help you pace yourself with each passage, and really helps your focus. The best tip that I can give you for this section, is that there will only be one correct answer choice. This answer choice can be proven with explicit evidence from text, context included, and the other three wrong answer choices can be proven wrong the same way. Always actively use text evidence to either prove an answer choice wrong or correct. When doing so, only refer back to the text when you have to. Otherwise rely on your comprehension for evidence. As for practice, I recommend doing one practice test each day. Out of the three, this section requires the most practice. When you have done a practice test, score yourself, and analyze your mistakes. Now, this is where you will either improve a lot or not improve at all. This is the most important step. When I was preparing, I would either not look at my mistakes, or just look at them at the surface and move on. This is why most students don’t improve in this section, and I too didn’t for quite some time until I really started scrutinizing my mistakes. You need to see why an answer choice is wrong and why an answer choice is correct. You need to really think how, if you were to go back in time and do the question again, you would have arrived to the correct answer. Once I started really applying this one principle to my practice, only then did my reading score improve. Otherwise, I was stuck in the range of 280-340. Getting stuck is one of the major obstacles of this section and only by really analyzing your mistakes will you be able to overcome it.
This section is the easiest to improve out of the three since it relies on grammar rules and your ability to understand context. However, without good resources to guide you through, there is a tendency to get stuck in a certain score range. I recommend Sir Talal’s lectures and manuals. His writing manuals cover everything in detail while his lectures break down all the grammar rules you need to know for the SAT exam. Additional material provided by him on his portal is cherry on top of cake. You won’t be needing anything else if you cover the above thoroughly. Practice is the key in this section so make sure you don’t miss out on anything. Extra practice on Khan Academy will also be beneficial. Again, you need to be really mindful of your mistakes and really analyze them and try not make them again. I recommend doing about one practice test every 1-3 days. The obstacles that you may encounter in this section are a) not improving despite doing a lot of practice tests and b) a dip in the score despite consistently scoring higher. To address a), you need to revise grammar rules. Usually, students have a hard time answering sentence/paragraph placement and add/delete/revise questions because they don’t exactly understand how context works in the flow of questions. You need to see that each sentence has its own idea, and this idea is related to the idea of sentences before and after. If a sentence breaks flow or does not transition smoothly to the next idea, it needs to be revised. To really see how this works, refer to the material mentioned above. You need to practice a lot for it to become apparent. To address b), just see what mistakes you have made and whether it is something that you need to work on. Usually, dips happen either because a certain test contains your weakest points or because of a lack of focus. If it’s the former, you have a great opportunity to address your weaknesses. If it’s the latter, you can ignore the dip since there’s not much you can do about it other than working on your concentration.
This section is usually the most reliable in terms of score since you can be sure to consistently get 770+ once you make it work. The plethora of topics that the SAT tests in this section can be intimidating, but once you really put in the time and practice them, you will see that this section is the least tricky of the three, and usually tests the same topics over and over with just a few changes to its questions and a few tricks. Doing all of the questions in Khan Academy and the material provided by Sir Talal should be enough to get you to the 700-750 range. You should reliably get 770+ in every test after you go through all this material. Your approach should be to solve each question in as much time as possible. This requires thinking a bit creatively around your problems, but once you get that down, you can effortlessly get through this section. The only obstacle in this section is falling into the trap of a few tricky questions and therefore getting stuck. Usually, when the solution to a question becomes too long, it is a good sign that you are going in the wrong direction. This is when you need to stop, rethink how you are approaching the question, and come up with a less time-consuming route unless you don’t have any other way.
I would also highly recommend Tutoria (previously Brightlink Prep – SAT). Sir Talal has himself gone through this process. He knows each and every angle of the test, every good resource, and knows the usual difficulties that students go through. Having an experienced mentor answer every single query in less than a minute was extremely helpful in preparing me for the test and really made the process easier. The most unique aspect of Tutoria that I find worth mentioning is that Sir Talal himself routinely takes the SAT. He has a track record that qualifies him for the one of the best tutors of the country, if not the best.
Now, the most important thing that usually goes overlooked is that, while the SAT is a very important exam, you need to be careful not to let it take over your life. This is also really important in getting your target score. Always give yourself occasional breaks. There’s no point in practicing when you are too exhausted to learn anything. Eat right, sleep well, be sure to exercise. Remember, this exam is not a measure of your intelligence or your self-worth. Getting a good score doesn’t mean you will succeed. Getting a low score doesn’t mean you won’t. Think of the SAT as only an opportunity. Nothing more. There will be countless more opportunities like it in the future. Be sure to have a backup in case anything goes wrong. I think one of the things that helped me get my score is that I had reliable backup options which I was happy with, and it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t gotten my target score. Having a safe backup option will help you get over your anxiety, and you won’t be up the whole night before test day thinking about how the test will decide your life, which is really not a fun state to be in.