8 Tricks for Preparing for the SAT

Test Prep & Grades
September 23, 2019
The SAT Is An Inevitability For Any High School Student Applying To College…

Originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and later the Scholastic Achievement Test, the SAT helps colleges know if you meet their academic requirements. Every school has an academic standard to uphold, and the SAT is a universal tool colleges use to judge whether or not applicants meet their standards. For students, the SAT requires a substantial amount of studying and practice tests to do well on. Fortunately, there are several resources you can use to learn how to pass the SAT.

Are you planning to take the ACT too? Then check out our companion article to this one, 8 Tricks for Preparing for the ACT, to hone your ACT taking skills as well!

What You’ll Find In This Article:

What Is The SAT?

Since its formation until the early 1990s, “SAT” stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test. After that, College Board changed the name to Scholastic Assessment Tests, and divided it into two parts. These two parts were called the SAT I: Reasoning Test and SAT II: Subject Test.

Over time, however, the letters “SAT” stopped standing for anything at all.

Now, “SAT” simply represents the test, and it doesn’t stand for anything specific. The tests can be referred to as Aptitude or Achievement, but ultimately, it all serves the same purpose: to help colleges make admissions decisions.

When a student takes the SAT, their scores gets sent to the colleges of their choosing, and these scores help college admissions officials quickly compare applications. Having one number to look at rather than an extensive transcript is more efficient and effective for college admission officers, who often look through hundreds of applications a day.

If you’re not familiar with it, the SAT itself is multiple choice, and comes with an answer “bubble” sheet to fill in. Students get 3 hours to complete the test, and an additional 50 minutes if they’ve opted to participate in the essay portion. There are 3 sections on the SAT: Math, Reading and Writing, and the optional essay. This gives you around one hour and fifteen minutes to do all three, or an hour and a half on each section if you’ve opted out of the essay.


When it comes to college applications, admissions officers don’t have time to review every detail of a student's application at first. They need something by which they can quickly weed out the students who may not thrive in their campus environment.

This is what the SAT score does for them.

The SAT provides college admissions officers with a number they can quickly look at to know what level you’re at academically. If you meet their standards for SAT scores, then they’ll be able to take the time to look through your entire application.


Of course, if you’ve done your research beforehand, you know there is another standardized test available called the ACT. The ACT functions the same way as the SAT, but it has a different grading system.

Many students today are taking both the SAT and the ACT, because colleges rarely prefer one over the other. The best way to figure out which test to take (or if you should take both), is taking a practice test of each one and seeing which you excel the most at.

The only situation where you should only take one of the tests is if the colleges you’re applying to only accept that one specific test. Even in that situation, however, it’s a good idea to take both, simply because you never know what college you may become interested in down the road.

What Is A Good Score On The SAT?

SAT scores range from 400-1600, with 400 being the lowest and 1600 being a perfect score. The average score among high school seniors in 2018 was around 1000.

As you might imagine, a higher SAT score will give you a higher chance of being accepted into colleges and receiving merit-based financial aid. However, a below average SAT score doesn’t mean that you’re barred from all opportunities. With a below average score, you won’t have as much of a chance for financial aid or scholarships, and your college may need you to take more entry-level classes your freshman year to get you up to speed, but you can still be accepted if the rest of your application is stellar.

Don’t automatically assume that you need a perfect score to get into your target school, either.

By learning what the average SAT score is for your target school, you’ll know what number you need to shoot for on your own test.

Of course, even if you’re unsure exactly what colleges you want to apply to, there are ways to determine what score you’ll need to be accepted. Understanding average SAT scores is the best way to know where you need your SAT score to be. These averages are different for the three different levels of colleges: non-competitive, competitive, and Ivy League.

For non-competitive schools like smaller colleges and local public universities, the average SAT score is 800. For slightly more competitive schools like larger public universities, liberal arts schools, and even some private universities, the average SAT score is 1300. As expected, Ivy League Schools have a higher standard, with their average SAT scores resting at 1500.


Based on the information above, you should set a personal target SAT score. Setting a goal for yourself will give you something tangible to work towards, and help you solidify where you’re serious about applying.

How to determine your SAT target score:

  • Learn what your target schools’ average SAT scores are
  • Be realistic about the time you’ll have to dedicate to studying for the SAT
  • Remember: it’s better to aim too high than aim too low

A great place to start when calculating your target SAT score is your list of target schools. Make sure to research the average SAT scores of accepted students at those schools.

Next, be real with yourself and look at your schedule. Setting aside even just 30 minutes a day to study for the SAT is a great goal. But if you have to study 2-3 hours a day to get a perfect score, that’s just not realistic. It’s also a waste of time if your target school doesn’t need a perfect score from you.

Find a healthy balance of being realistic and ambitious. It’s best to do as much as you can to get a high score within your means, instead of agonizing over a perfect score that you don’t really need. You need to make goals that are attainable, while still pushing yourself to do your best.

8 Tricks For Passing The SAT

Months of studying and sometimes a whole year of SAT prep classes all culminate in a three hour test. On test day, here are some practical things you can do to ensure you score your best on the SATs.


SAT practice tests are free and available for anyone to use online. When you pay your test fee, however, some test packages come with 2 to 3 practice tests as well. It is highly recommended that you take advantage of these extra tests and take as many practice tests as you can.

If you’re enrolled in an SAT prep class, your teacher will more than likely give you opportunities to take practice tests as well. These sessions are indispensable: they help you know what to expect on the test and give you the chance to get your nerves out early.


Obviously, when you’re in the test, no talking is allowed. But, the brain processes information better when you read the questions verbally. This keeps you from skimming over questions and possibly missing important details.

Reading questions out loud forces you to go slower, and going too fast is a common mistake many students make on the SAT. It also helps you catch information you may have missed, and it gives you more time to process that information so you can give a more well-thought-out answer. Of course, do this quietly to ensure you aren’t disturbing any of your fellow test takers.


For the reading test, you’ll be required to read a lengthy passage and then answer some questions about it. In order to save time, make notes in the margins of the reading passage. This way, instead of going back through the entire passage to find an answer, you’ll already have noted important details that could help you understand the questions.

Taking notes like this saves you the hassle of going back and re-reading a paragraph. It also keeps you engaged: having a small task to do keeps you from losing interest in what you’re reading and possibly missing something you’ll need to know later.


If you’re opting in to the essay portion of the test, it would be a good idea to study SAT Practice Essays. This will give you a good picture of what writing style you’re best suited for and how to create a clear, well-formatted essay the first time around. You can also find example essays of varying quality online, allowing you to see exactly how different types of essays were scored. This can give you a clearer picture of the kind of essay they expect from you.

While you will have an eraser and be able to make small edits on your essay, you won’t have a tremendous amount of time for painstaking revisions. This makes it even more important that you formulate a well-thought-out and clearly organized essay the first time.


On the SAT, it’s likely that you’ll come to a question that’s worded in a way that simply stumps you. You may re-read it over and over again and still not know how to answer it. The best way to tackle this obstacle is to mark it on the test and come back to it later.

Coming back to it with fresh eyes can help you understand the question in a new light and you’re more likely to understand it the second time around. It also saves you time and stress; instead of mulling over a single question for ages, steadily stressing yourself out more and more, you can move on to other questions and return in a better frame of mind later.


As easy as it sounds, staying focused is a difficult feat. Many students simply get bored during the SAT or just want it to be over, so they find ways to justify marking any answer they see as sufficient. Don’t fall for this.

Some students also get distracted because they’re too stressed about the test to focus. They worry about every answer they mark, making it nearly impossible for them to switch gears from question to question. On the other hand, if the student is over-confident, they gloss over questions carelessly.

To prevent this from happening to you, a good way to stay focused is to look up from your test and take a deep breath. This shifts your focus and helps you center yourself before diving back in.


A beautiful thing about the SAT is that there is no penalty for wrong answers. You actually do yourself a disservice by leaving answers blank because there’s a chance that your guess could be the right answer.

Of course, you don’t want to guess at random, unless you’re truly stumped. Instead, try to rule out at least half of the potential answers. The easiest way to do this is by crossing out any answers that are obviously wrong, and then guessing from whichever ones are left. You’re still guessing, but this way you’ve increased your odds of guessing correctly by a tremendous amount!


If you receive a score that is lower than what you were expecting, and there’s plenty of time for you to retake the test, take advantage of this opportunity. There’s a huge advantage in taking the SAT again because you’ll know what to expect the second time around, and will likely to better as a result.

You’ll also know which sections of the test you need to improve on. Take the time before your second attempt to study any sections you did poorly on, take additional practice tests, and meeting with advisers or counselors for advice. Ultimately, figuring out how to raise your SAT score shouldn’t be discouraging; in fact, you should feel confident that with enough hard work, you’ll  perform even better the next time around.

How Should I Start Studying For The SAT?

The SATs are an inevitable part of the college application process but it’s one of the most important parts. Colleges take SAT scores seriously and they utilize them for good reason. They look at SAT scores with as much regard as your grades, essay, transcripts, and application.

Still, tackling the SAT isn’t black and white.

Each student is unique and will have equally unique questions of their own. For more personalized SAT tips and advice, consider WeAdmit’s counseling program. Our team of professional college counselors are here to guide you step by step through the SATs, along with everything else you’ll have to face on your quest to get into college!

In the end, passing the SATs takes dedication and hard work, but like any other facet of the college application process there are ways to work smarter, not harder. Learn about your target school’s average accepted SAT score so you know the minimum score you need.

Don’t Be Afraid To Shoot Big; Just Make Sure You’re Prepared With Everything You’ll Need To Succeed!



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