Tips For Getting a High SAT Score

, Staff Writer
Updated September 9, 2020
Tips For Getting a High SAT Score
    writing on the SAT test

What is a good SAT score? Well, the national average SAT score in 2018 was 1068. As a rule of thumb, a "good" score is 1200 or better on the Writing and Math sections. Given a good application in general, a 1200 should be enough to get into a good state university. A 1400 is high enough to at least catch the interest of almost any school in the country (or out of it!). The legendary perfect score is 1600.

Math aside, there's also a very important practical answer to what's a good SAT score. A good SAT score is higher than what you got last time.

That's why we've written this article. Regardless of what score or level of preparedness you're starting with, we can help you improve your chances of scoring high on the SAT. These tips will help you post the best SAT score you can achieve.


Improving Your SAT Score

Before we get down to cases on the SAT Verbal, Math and Essay sections, let's talk test-taking strategy more generally. The following tips will help you on any test, but are designed to apply to all three sections of the SAT.

Take Two Passes

When you're wrangling a multiple choice section, step one is to do a fast pass and fill in all the answers you just know. That has several advantages.

  • It speeds up the process.
  • It helps with intimidation, because you know you got some of it right.
  • It's a sneaky - but totally legal - way to give yourself extra help.

The SAT routinely asks similar questions in different ways. If a question is giving you trouble, go back and look at the answers you've already filled in. Chances are a few were on the same topic. Reading up on them will help you get traction on the question that's troubling you.


When in Doubt, Guess

A blank space counts as a wrong answer. If you leave something blank, you're guaranteeing it will be counted as wrong. If you fill something in, even at random, you've got a 1-in-4 chance. Therefore, if you're not sure? Guess! If you're running out of time? Likewise!

Practice, Practice, Practice

No kidding, right? But it bears repeating: what separates OK from serious SAT success is practice, practice, practice. Take old tests. Hit up Kaplan and the College Board. Dive into our articles on SAT vocabulary and the SAT Essay section.

Tips for Scoring Well on the SAT Math

In some ways, the SAT Math is the easiest portion of the test: 80 percent of the questions are multiple choice. Traditional math tests are typically fill-in-the-blank, which means there is literally an infinite number of ways to be wrong. Want to write "2+2=Neufchatel cheese?" Feel free!

Not on the SAT. The kind folks at the College Board have brought the odds down to 1-in-4. Even the gridded fill-in questions limit the size of the answer, taking lots of possibilities off the board. You even get to bring a calculator! Need more help? Follow these tips:


The Rule of Three

SAT Math questions cover three main areas: Heart of Algebra; Problem Solving and Data Analysis; and Passport to Advanced Math.

  • Heart of Algebra will require you to create and solve algebraic equations. Prepare to solve for X.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis focuses on practical mathematics. Think fractions, ratios, and percentages.
  • Passport to Advanced Math will require you to handle quadratic equations, f(x) style functions, and polynomials. There will also be a handful of questions about geometry, trigonometry, graphs, and tables.

Those are the categories you'll need to brush up on: algebra; ratios and proportions; functions and quadratics; graphs and basic geometry. Come to the test with a good foundation in those subjects and you'll be ready to succeed. Be sure to check out our examples of quadratic equations and polynomials for further guidance.


Know Your Formulas

Or "formulae," if you're picky. The test will provide some of the basics, such as the area of a circle, square and rectangle; the Pythagorean theorem; and the volume of a rectangular solid, cylinder, sphere and pyramid. We've got more.

  • Associative Property: (a + b) + c = a + (b + c)
  • Distributive Property: a (b + c) = ab + ac; a (b - c) = ab - ac
  • Order of Operations: PEMDAS (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction)
  • Quadratic Equation: ax^2 + bx + c = 0
  • Slope Intercept: y = mx

Get used to working through equations according to these formulas and you'll be in good shape for the test.

Guess and Check

This is the most reliable way to tackle a question you can't otherwise work out. Using the appropriate formulas (list above!), run different values through the equation in your mind or on your calculator. Better yet, work it out on your scratch paper; being able to do these equations by hand is a surprisingly useful skill in later life.

With any luck you'll be able to find the right answer, or at least eliminate a few wrong ones. Tech types call that brute force. We call it smart testing.


Tips for Scoring Well on the SAT Reading and Writing

The SAT Reading test requires you to read and interpret different styles of writing and answer questions on them. The SAT Writing comes with the same bonus as the SAT math: multiple choice. While it may not seem like a test of vocabulary and comprehension has the same set of reliable formulas as math, there are in fact several proven ways to boost your score here.

Read More Books

We know, we know. According to all your English teachers, all you have to do to win at everything is read. We also know that's not quite so. The SAT doesn't quiz on specific books. However, since it tests vocabulary and sentence structure, extensive reading is the best possible prep for both the SAT Writing and the SAT Essay. No amount of rote studying can beat seeing SAT words regularly, out in the wild making up sentences.

Diagram for Reading Comprehension

Having trouble with reading comprehension? Struggling to get past memorized vocab into real language? Don't worry. It's a common problem. The trick is to break things down into manageable pieces.

Get yourself a set of colored pens, print out a chunk of reading material, and mark nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Then, mark subjects, objects and predicates. Then, mark independent and dependent clauses. Do that a few times a week and always use the same colors. You're sure to start seeing the method in the madness.

Study Vocabulary All Day

Much of the SAT has evolved toward more practical, contextualized content over the years. The vocabulary section of the SAT Writing missed that memo. There's no neat trick to conceptualize vocabulary. You just have to learn the words. Happily, you have lots of help.

Check out our 100 most common SAT words for what you need to know. Then, enjoy our SAT vocabulary word games for ways to learn them without tearing your hair out.

Tips for Scoring Well on SAT Essay

The SAT Essay is optional, but we strongly recommend taking it. College recruiters and job interviewers will love that you went above and beyond. Besides, there are tons of great resources to help you knock the essay out of the park.

Outline Your Essay

We know you only have 25 minutes, but spending five of them constructing a basic outline will greatly increase your chances of finishing the whole blessed thing in that time. Figure out your thesis statement, then break your essay into the classic five paragraph form: intro, three body paragraphs, and conclusion.

Stay on Target

This is the easiest, most common mistake to make on an essay test: trying to write about everything. When you're working off the top of your head, it's dangerously easy to stray off topic. The outline above will help. So will focusing on details, keeping things short and to the point, and giving yourself enough time for at least a quick review at the end.

Practice Writing

The SAT Essay is easy. That's right, we said it. It's the only test you'll ever get that basically invites you to cheat.

Use some of the essay prompts available online, create a standard template of how you are going to present your information, and practice writing the full essay within a 25-minute timeframe. Once you've done that a dozen or so times, it won't even matter what the essay topic is. You'll have your system down so well, you'll lay down a high score with minutes to spare. Go over SAT grammar rules to ensure your essay is the best it can be.

The Test Is Not the End

It's important to keep the SAT in context. It's only one variable in how schools and recruiters are going to see you, and one of the smaller variables at that. Besides, going into a test wound up and anxious because you've convinced yourself a good score is your only chance of a good job or a good school is an excellent way to choke. If things don't go your way, retake the test, ideally after running through all the advice above a few more times.

You can also improve your graduation profile with other tests. Take a look at our advice on how to get a good ACT score and you'll be ready to tour colleges and take on interviews with pride.