There are plenty of strategy guides out there for preparing for the SAT. And you probably already know the basic rules and setup of this test, and how it differs from the ACT (no science section, no trigonometry, wrong answers count against you …) Not to mention you’ve mastered the art of test taking throughout your middle school and high school career. So now all you have to do is study the subjects, you’ll be all set, right?
Wrong. The SAT is not really a measure of how much you know or how well you perform on tests. The SAT is a measure of how well you take just one test: the SAT.
Sounds silly, but it’s true. The SAT is not like other tests you’ve taken, and the best strategies will not be instinctive ones. But by knowing a few of the “tricks” of the SAT, you can really improve your score. Definitely spend as much time as you can studying and taking practice tests, but keep these three handy — albeit surprising — tips in mind on test day.
Tip #1: Take your time on the easy and medium questions, not the hard ones. Your instinct may be to breeze through the easier questions so you’ll have extra time for the hard ones. This is not the best strategy for high scores. All questions are scored the same, so focus on acing the easy and medium questions, and then use the leftover time to tackle the hard questions.
Tip #2: If the answer looks right, it’s not. This rule applies to hard questions only. With easy questions — which are the first 1/3 of each section except the Reading Comprehension section — if the choice looks right, it probably is. But with the last 1/3, you’ll encounter the hard questions. For these, if you read the question and see a choice that looks right, it isn’t. Eliminate it. Hard questions are designed to fool you. That’s why they’re “hard.”
Tip # 3: Guess if you don’t know the answer. Yes, wrong answers are counted against you, but the fact is, guessing can improve your score. Here’s why: each question has five possible answers, so if you can eliminate one wrong answer, you have a 25% chance of guessing correctly. Since a wrong answer only deducts ¼ of a point from your score, and a right answer adds one point, in the long run, you’ll score a smidge higher if you guess.
All of these tips may seem a little unusual. Your instincts on test day will probably tell you to take extra time for harder questions, pick the answers that look right, and avoid making guesses that will lower your score. But when it comes to the SAT, your instincts may not lead you in the right direction. Follow these three tips — and study like there’s no tomorrow — and you’ll be on your way to a higher score.