Top 10 SAT Tips and Strategies

Strategies and Advice to Help You Score Your Best

Group of teenagers taking a test

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It's a fact that taking any test is difficult, but that doesn't mean it has to be overwhelming. As of 2016, the SAT has a unique format and set of rules that you must know in order to score well. Fortunately, these aren't hard to learn and knowing them makes all the difference. These test-taking tips will help you to maximize your time and achieve success on the SAT.

Use Process of Elimination

This time-honored testing strategy has been around for years for good reason: it works. Get rid of as many wrong choices as you can before answering questions that you're even slightly unsure about. Wrong answers are typically easier to find and some can be eliminated immediately even when you don't know the correct answer.

Look for extremes such as "never," "only," and "always" in the reading test; opposites, such as a substitution of -1 for 1, in the math section; and words that sound similar in the writing and language test, such as "conjunctive" and "subjunctive." These will try to trick you, but don't let them!

Answer Every Question

As of 2019, you are no longer penalized for wrong answers on the SAT. The redesigned test has withdrawn its penalty of 1/4 point for each incorrect answer, so guess, guess, guess away (using the process of elimination, of course). That said, take it slow to ensure that you are truly doing your best.

Write in the Test Booklet 

Use your pencil to scratch out wrong choices, write down formulas and equations, solve math problems, outline, paraphrase, and underline in the test booklet (not the answer sheet!). Use empty space in your booklet to your advantage and remember that nothing written there impacts your score.

Transfer Your Questions at the End

Instead of going back and forth between the Scantron answer form and test booklet—which can get messy and time-consuming—just write and circle all of your answers in the test booklet, then transfer them to the answer form at the end of every section or page. You'll make fewer mistakes and save time this way. There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a section and realizing you are one oval off.

Take It Slow

It's very difficult to both finish all the problems and answer them accurately, so aim just for the latter. Slow down a bit if you feel yourself racing the clock and remember that the test is designed to assess what you know, not what you can guess. You're better off answering fewer questions accurately and fully than guessing all of them (after all, you only have a one in four chance of guessing correctly).

Choose Which Questions to Answer First

You do not have to complete the test sections in order. No, you can't jump from math to writing, but you can (and should, as needed) certainly skip around within sections. If you're stuck on a difficult question on the reading test, for example, circle it in your test booklet and move on, coming back only if you have time later. Questions are not weighted by difficulty, so cash in on easy points whenever you can!

Use the Order of Difficulty to Your Advantage in Math

Because the SAT Math section is loosely structured from easiest to most difficult, the answers to problems toward the beginning of a section that seem too easy may actually be correct. If you're in the final portion of a section, though, obvious answer choices are more likely to be distractors from the correct answer.

Do Not Give Your Opinion in the SAT Essay

Even though the SAT essay is optional, you should probably take it. Before you devote almost an hour to writing your essay, be sure you know what the prompt is asking you to do. This version of the SAT essay asks you to read an argument and critique it. Rather than give your opinion, you are being asked to pick someone else's apart. A persuasive essay will earn a poor score; an analytical argument will succeed.

Don't Second-Guess Yourself

Trust your gut. Statistics prove that your first answer choice is usually correct. Do not go back through the test and change your answers unless you've found evidence to suggest that you are absolutely incorrect.

Cross-Check Your Ovals

This simple trick can save your score. If you have time at the end of a section, cross-check your test-booklet answers with your Scantron ovals. Make sure you didn't miss a question or confuse ovals because you can't get those missed points back.