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5 Quick Tricks to Increase Your SAT Score

A young person with light skin leans over their desk and fills out a piece of paper with their pencil.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

“You may now begin the test.” These are probably the most dreaded words in the vocabulary of the average high school student. 

The SAT has become a dreaded test for millions of high school students across the globe. Created by College Board in 1926, the SAT has for almost one hundred years now been claiming to test student’s “general knowledge” with three main sections dedicated to math, reading, and writing.

Controversy over the years has led to the debate: what does the SAT actually measure? With people dedicating their entire lives to studying the ins and outs of this college readiness test, it turns out that most of your SAT score reflects…well…your knowledge of the SAT!

While it’s important to have some background knowledge in math and reading, studies have shown time and time again that those who perform best on the test are those who know the structure, question types, and traps of the SAT. It is those who have spent the most time strategizing the SAT and studying the ways that the College Board frames its tests. 

So, in a way, the SAT is simply testing your ability to familiarize yourself with the SAT! Luckily for most, there’s a few simple tricks that can help you answer some of the most common test questions on the SAT, whether or not you know the actual content.

Process of elimination is a life-saver

Point of view. You’re stuck on a math or reading question (this tip is applicable to either) and you can’t seem to decide which answer is right. The clock is ticking, your mind is lost, and you have absolutely no idea what to do.

This may be the worst feeling to exist when you’re taking the SAT, or any test for that matter: getting stuck. 

Luckily, there’s an easy solution: change the way you approach problems! Instead of looking for the right answers, consciously search for the WRONG ones. 

When there are four answer choices in front of you and you randomly guess one to be correct, you have a 25% chance of getting the question right. But when you have three answer choices to choose from, that number shoots up to 33%. When there’s only two, you’re looking at 50%. A two-fold increase!

So how do you better your chances of getting a tough question right? Reduce the numbers of answers you have to choose from! And how do you reduce the number of answers you’re choosing from? Get rid of the ones you know are wrong!

The SAT, really, is a game of statistics. By using this tip, you’re playing it to your advantage.

Looking for an example? Say less.

I ate a consequential amount of food yesterday at the state fair.

  1. Resplendent
  2. Substantial
  3. Extensive
  4. No change

Let’s say that for this question, you have no idea what the answer is. But let’s say you know what two of the four words mean. You know the word “resplendent” and you know the word “extensive.” In this context, you can tell they’re both wrong (resplendent equates to grand or fancy, which doesn’t fit, and extensive is more synonymous to far-reaching, which doesn’t make sense in this context).

You now have a 50 percent chance of getting the question right. Once you eliminate two answers, even if you blindly guess between the other two, you still have a good chance of getting it correct. Not bad!

Underline important information

Whether it is on the math or reading section, you’ll find yourself speeding through the test at least a few minutes faster if you don’t spend valuable time reading useless words. What do I mean by useless words? Basically anything written in the question or answer choices that does NOT help you answer the question.

Why would the SAT include these useless words in the first place, you might ask? Precisely to confuse you. Lucky for you, you know how to underline in the question and answers to avoid this confusion.

When you’re answering a question on the SAT, you’ll often read through the same question twice, thrice, and maybe a fourth time in order to understand what the question is asking you.

A helpful rule of thumb is that the first time you read the question and answer choices through, you should just be skimming. The second, third, and fourth times you read the question are when you should be focused on the content and trying to solve the problem at hand.

What’s helpful to do is underline what seems important as you read through the first time. That way, the next few times you’re reading through the question, you don’t have to read all the unnecessary fluff.

Let’s look at an example math question to put this strategy into context:

A construction worker needs to reach a window on a building to fix the window lock. He places his ladder 6 feet from the base of the building with the window that needs fixing and is able to reach the window perfectly . The ladder is 10 feet in length. How high is the window on the building?

  1. 5 feet
  2. 6 feet
  3. 7 feet
  4. 8 feet

Reading this question, you can tell there’s a lot of unnecessary description. Does it matter that the topic of question is a construction matter? Or that the window is broken? Or that the lock needs fixing? No.

So, what would you underline in this question? Here’s what I would suggest:

A construction worker needs to reach a window on a building to fix the window lock. He places his ladder 6 feet from the base of the building with the window that needs fixing, and is able to reach the window perfectly . The ladder is 10 feet in length. How high is the window on the building?

In the question, all you need to understand is that the ladder is 6 feet away from the building, The ladder is 10 feet in length total. They want to know how high the window is.

Now, as long as you’ve underlined the important information they’re giving you AND the important information they’re asking for, you’re set to go. See how much more concise the problem became after underlining?

Once you draw a diagram and realize this is a right triangle, you can easily use the pythagorean theorem to solve for the missing side (height). Chances are, if you hadn’t underlined in the question and consolidated important information, you would still be stuck staring helplessly at a bunch of jumbled words. 

Not only does underlining save time, but it also makes answering the question simpler. Try it out; you may be surprised at how effective this strategy is.

How To Prepare For The SAT

Guess, guess, GUESS!

The most important piece of information for any test-taker to know is not the test timing, test equations, or even the test formatting. Rather, what I would say is the most important piece of information going into the SAT is the way that it’s scored. 

Eventually, your score depends on one thing and one thing only: the grader. It’s important to know what type of questions get you points and what type of mistakes cost you them.

Luckily on the SAT, you’ll be happy (and perhaps surprised) to hear that it’s impossible to LOSE points! The SAT DOESN’T penalize for wrong answers. While you get points for answering correctly, you don’t lose any points for getting something wrong. Make sense? 

You might be wondering what implications this has for you as it seems like a lot of unnecessary things that the grader should be worried about. Why should you?

The answer lies in the fact that you can actually use this grading style to your advantage. Since you don’t lose points for incorrect answers, it’s ALWAYS worth at least giving the question a shot. Solely by probability, you have a 25 percent chance of getting a question right, even if you blindly guess with no background knowledge.

If you leave the question blank, you have a zero percent chance of getting it right. It never doesn’t make sense to take a wild guess on a question. Even if your guess ends up being incorrect, it’s better than not guessing at all.

A good test strategy is to skip all the questions you’re confused about and circle them in your test booklet to come back to them. At the end of the test or section, when you have the time to come back and look closer at the question, spend a reasonable amount of time trying to figure out what the answer is.

If it has been a few minutes and your mind is still blank, chances are that it’s not worth wasting valuable test time on that one question. Guess, bubble in an arbitrary letter, and move on.

Bubble as you go

I read a true horror story once of a boy in my school who didn’t follow this tip. Turns out he got a zero on the SAT. 

If there’s one tip in this guide that you MUST follow, one tip that can make or break your score, it’s this one.

The SAT is a multiple choice test. Each question will give you answer choices labeled A through D, and your goal on the SAT is to choose the correct letter. That’s how you rack up points and eventually work up to that perfect score you’re looking for.

Now you may be wondering, with over 1.5 million students taking the SAT each year, how does the College Board grade all those tests? How are those poor test-graders even alive?

The answer is simple: they don’t! The grading is done by a computerized system that is taught to recognize patterns of bubbles. That’s what you get a scantron for. By filling in the scantron alongside your test (that you’ll eventually turn in), you are creating a pattern of bubbles that will eventually be passed through a scanner, which dictates your score on the SAT.

Depending on how well your answer pattern matches with the correct answer key already programmed into the system, you’ll receive a grade. Whether that grade is good or bad depends on the accuracy of your scantron.

Don’t disregard the importance of the scantron. Remember, the computerized system reading your answers and calculating your score doesn’t care if you mis-bubbled, it doesn’t care if you accidentally made some pencil markings outside of the lines, and it definitely doesn’t care if you didn’t get time to finish bubbling. 

Many students, in an effort to be quicker, save their bubbling until the end of the test. Will this save time? Yes, probably! But is it effective? Definitely not, and here’s why.

Say you get caught up in answering a difficult question on the math section and the clock is ticking. You’re on your final few minutes of the test, but you’re on your last question. A few minutes is more than enough to answer one math question, no matter how difficult.

You’d be right! But let’s say you haven’t started bubbling in the scantron yet. As you struggle to write down all the equations you know and solve this one final math problem, you look up at the timer. The timer rings. The test is done.

Even though you finished the entire math section and got most (or all of) the questions correct, the computer that decides your grade won’t know any of that. All that the computer can see is that you didn’t bubble in your answers. So, it is counted as a zero.

A good test-taking strategy in general is to bubble in the answers as you go. You can (and should) still circle your answers in the actual test booklet, but instead of waiting until the end to transfer these answers over to the scantron, bubble in the corresponding answer on the scantron each time you circle in an answer on the test booklet.

That way, even if you run out of time on one or two questions at the end, you won’t be stuck with a complete zero as a grade. Instead, you’ll only have missed one or two questions. 

Demonstrate interest in the test

If you think about it, your biggest challenge on the SAT is probably going to be staying on task. As with any test that’s as long (and admittedly, boring) as the SAT, it’s easy to lose track of time and zone out for a couple of seconds.

These few seconds slowly turn to minutes, minutes turn to hours, and before you know it, your couple seconds of zoning out ended up lasting the entire test. The EASIEST way to lose focus on the SAT, or any test for that matter, is to get bored. 

How exactly do you stop yourself from being bored? Get interested in the test! Easier said than done, but it’s doable nonetheless. One strategy that might help with this is thinking of the SAT as a game.

Just like the way you must rack up points in a game of basketball or the way your favorite team must build up points in a game of football, you can think of the SAT the same way. It’s really a game, and each question you get right is a touchdown: it’s earning you points towards eventually winning the game.

If you think of each question as a game or as a way to build up points towards a victory, you’ll find yourself much more invested in the test questions. You’ll be more interested in the content of the test and much less likely to doze off or zone out during the test.

Another way you can do this, specifically on the reading section, is to relate the content of the test to your life. This may be hard, especially in historical passages that are mostly informational and discuss some old man that lived 500 years ago. Nonetheless, there should always be a way that you can connect the passages of the reading section to your everyday life. Try finding some connection, even the smallest one will help!

Let’s look at example of a passage (or part of one) that may seem tedious, or boring, at first:

“Lincoln is well known across America as the 16th president of the United States. He is applauded for his leadership skills and is commonly remembered as the savior of the union. During the civil war in 1861, Lincoln was responsible for emancipating enslaved people and eventually putting an end to the practice of slavery. As a man from humble beginnings, Lincoln’s rise to fame and influence is truly a remarkable one. 

Abraham Lincoln was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln. He also had an older sister, named Sarah Lincoln, and a younger brother, named Thomas. Thomas Lincoln died in infancy, leaving the family distressed. When Lincoln was nine years old, his mother passed away from a sudden, but terminal illness. Lincoln, left without a strong mother figure in his life, lived the rest of his life in alienation from his family and friends.”

Dozing off yet? I wouldn’t be surprised! Unless you’re a big history nerd or fervent Abraham Lincoln fan, it isn’t likely that you would be interested in reading a detailed biography of Abraham Lincoln.

If you encounter a passage like this on the SAT, a good strategy is to stop and try your best to relate the content of the passage to your life. One way would be to put yourself in the shoes of Abraham Lincoln. Instead of reading a passage about a president that lived hundreds of years ago, replace Lincoln’s name everywhere in the passage with your own.

Pretend like the events of the passage are happening to you. How would YOU feel if the same tragedies that occurred in Lincoln’s life happened to you? Do you think you would have grasped fame in the same way that Lincoln did?

Imagine how difficult that must have been for Abraham Lincoln to overcome all these challenges in his family life to get to the position that he eventually ended up in. This puts things into perspective, right?

Not only will it help your understanding and retention of the passage content, but it will also help you get more interested in the passage. 

Yes, the SAT is a long, boring test. But it’s always in your control to make it a little bit more fun and engaging. 

Concluding Thoughts:

Now, while this is by no means an exhaustive list of SAT tips, chances are that you can use a good number of them on any given test. As a final tip I have for you, read through this list exhaustively and commit these strategies to memory.

Consciously use them when you take practice tests or even when doing practice problems. This way, when you take the real test, you don’t have to stop and think about them; they’ll come naturally to you.

If you consciously commit these tips to memory and practice enough with them, I guarantee your score will increase. As covered in the beginning, the SAT is really only about your ability to understand the SAT. If you consciously incorporate these strategies into your test taking, congrats! You are doing just that.

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Author: Anisha Holla

Anisha Holla graduated as the valedictorian of her high school, and has since been named a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar. She is currently one of 20 Eugene McDermott Scholars at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she studies Psychology on the pre-med track. She loves to play her piano, flute and guitar; and one of her favorite hobbies is trying out new food places in the area. Holla is fluent in Spanish, Hindi and Kannada, and newly conversational in Mandarin. After graduation, she plans to either pursue a career in psychiatry or an MBA .