Today’s article was submitted by Chris Lele from Magoosh.
1. Read, read, read
It is true that to really improve your reading score, you have to work at it for a while, doing practice passages and improving your reading skills. But there is a little hack in there somewhere—something to help you improve a little in a short period. Each week, Newsweek or Time has a feature, a several-page in-depth article on just about anything. Once a day, spend about 20 minutes reading this feature, writing a one-sentence summary after each page. This level and style of writing crops up in both the reading and writing section (one article on the May SAT was actually taken from Time magazine).
Bonus tip: do this first thing in the morning and you’ll be used to reading lots of text when you’ve just woken up–just as you’ll have to do test day.
2. Dust off the mental calculator
Many were surprised when the College Board decided that it would ban calculator use in one of the math sections. But the calculations required in this section usually don’t exceed the difficulty of 332 divided by 8 or 19 x 8. While you can do both of these on paper, learning to do them quickly in your head will save you lots of time.
Of course, easier said than done. Here’s a mental math app to help you get started.
3. Use official practice tests
While there is a world—a galaxy, really—of SAT content, a lot of it doesn’t reflect the content of the actual test very well. Sure, there are some decent question writers out there, but it is best to use official questions. These questions have been subjected to a rigorous process to make sure they are valid (those other books, by contrast, might have a couple of people—if that—vet the questions beforehand).
By using these questions, you’ll get a sense of the way the actual test writers think (and try to trick you). You’ll get a feel for the difficulty of an actual section. Other publishers are often not difficult enough or are too difficult in the wrong places, giving the section an uneven feel. Why’s that a big deal? It’ll affect your actual performance and pacing on the real exam—a huge and often overlooked factor in your final score.
4. Try to understand why you missed a question
It is not enough to know that you missed a question. Go back and try to understand why the right answer is correct. On math, this means going back through the steps necessary to arrive at the answer while making sure you have a deep understanding of the concepts so that if you see a similar question in the future you know what to do. For reading, try to understand the logic of the correct answer (the one you didn’t choose). The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to think like the test writers.
5. Focus on the most commonly tested concepts
It’s easy to want to work at topics that you find difficult (yes, I’m talking about trigonometry). But phrasal verbs on the writing section or imaginary numbers in the math section aren’t that common. Instead you should focus your time learning those things that are most common. For math the most common topics are manipulating algebraic equations, reading graphs and charts, and word problems. For grammar, the use of punctuation, sentence placement, and pronoun rules are common. For reading, make sure you have the evidence-based reasoning questions down. Also, learn to master main idea questions (Hint: after reading the passage, put into words what you thought the main meaning was).
About Chris Lele
For the last ten years, Chris has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT, and GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.