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SAT: 720 math
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10 Tips to Improve Your SAT Score

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Hoping to improve your SAT score to increase your chances of acceptance to your dream school? We’ll go over 10 tried and true ways to help you reach your SAT goal score.


If you’ve already taken the SAT and aren’t 100% satisfied with your score, don’t sweat it. Most students end up taking the test more than once. And with good reason: the College Board found that 63% of students in the class of 2018 increased their score by taking the SAT a second time. 


So, here are our expert tips for increasing your SAT score.


How to Improve Your SAT Score: 10 Expert Tips


1. Next SAT Prep Starts the Second the Prior Test Ends


In an ideal world, as soon as you’re done taking the SAT and your materials have been collected by the test proctor, you begin to write as much down as you remember from the test. Take notes on what confused you, questions that you found difficult, and concepts or sections that were harder than you anticipated. These notes will help to guide your future studying and, along with your score report, will become an important tool in understanding where to improve.


But don’t worry, if your test is over and you didn’t write anything down afterwards, it isn’t too late. Set aside some time to think carefully about the test that you took, and see if you can recall any of the specifics from above. Do you remember a question that was so hard you didn’t even know where to start? Do you remember which sections of the test felt easy and which felt difficult? Were there sections that seemed completely foreign? It’s never too late to think back to the test and recall as much as you can.


2. Interpret Your Score Report


There is a ton of valuable information in your score report. Your inclination is probably to glance at your total score and individual test scores, and then toss it aside to celebrate or mope depending on your results, but make sure you don’t toss it too far.


Once you’ve recovered from the initial excitement, take a few moments to review it. In particular, pay attention to your subscores. These include a score ranging from 1-15 for each of the following categories:


  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions
  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math


Try to identify areas in which your performance could be improved. Your goal is to get as specific as possible. Move from “I want to improve my SAT score” to “I want to improve my Math SAT” to “I want to improve my Problem Solving and Data Analysis skills” to really target your studying.


For an overview of your score report, read SAT Score Range: How to Break Down Your Score.


3. Set a Target Score


A good way to determine how much work is in front of you is to set a target score. Your target score should take several factors into account.


First, you’ll need to consider where you’re starting from. The good news is, the lower your score, the more room there is for improvement. However, improvement won’t come without hard work. You will need to set a target that maximizes your potential while remaining realistic. Generally, if you have a score below 500, an improvement of 200 points is a feasible target. For higher scores, you can aim to improve between 100 and 150 points.   


The other factor to consider when setting a target score is the list of schools to which you intend to apply. You should take into account the middle 50% score ranges of admitted students at those schools when setting your goal score. The middle 50% indicates where 50% of accepted students scored. Take Princeton’s middle 50% range of 1460-1590: this means 25% of students scored below 1460, 50% scored between 1460 and 1590, and 25% of students scored above 1570. To be most competitive, you should aim to be in the upper end of the range, or even above it. At the very least, you should try to fall within the range.


Here are the middle 50% ranges at the top 20 universities in the US:


School Name US News Ranking Middle 50% SAT
Princeton 1 1460-1590
Harvard 2 1460-1580
Columbia 3 1480-1560
MIT 3 1520-1580
UChicago 3 1500-1560
Yale 3 1450-1560
Stanford 7 1420-1570
Duke 8 1500-1560
Penn 8 1460-1550
Johns Hopkins 10 1480-1550
Northwestern 10 1450-1540
Caltech 12 1530-1570
Dartmouth 12 1440-1560
Brown 14 1420-1550
Cornell 16 1400-1560
Rice 16 1470-1560
Notre Dame 18 1410-1540
UCLA 19 1290-1510
WashU in St. Louis 19 1480-1550


4. Figure Out Which Mistakes You Make Most


While your score report will indicate which content areas are most in need of improvement, they will not reveal the specific kinds of error to which you’re most susceptible. The easiest way to reveal this is by taking a practice test and evaluating its results carefully.


If your score on your practice test is dramatically higher than your score on the actual SAT, you probably fell victim to test anxiety. There are many ways to conquer this, but the good news is that test anxiety generally diminishes on its own with subsequent testing experiences. The more you take the SAT, the more familiar you’ll be with the format, and the less you will be affected by test anxiety. For more about test anxiety, read the CollegeVine post 10 Ways to Overcome Test Taking Anxiety.


If your score is similar on the practice test, you will need to evaluate your mistakes. Generally, these fall into three categories:


  • Careless mistakes are the ones that seem obvious as soon as you review the question. These types of errors generally occur as the result of rushing through your work or experiencing test anxiety.
  • Pacing errors occur when you find that you are unable to answer all of the questions in the time allowed, or when your mistakes are clustered at the end of each timed section.
  • Content knowledge gaps occur when you are lacking some of the basic skills or knowledge to understand the questions at hand. These types of mistakes are generally most obvious on your score report because they are clustered according to subject or subscore.


Once you know which mistakes you make most, you will be able to start tackling the underlying causes behind them.


5. Join a Study Group


As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers, and a study group is no exception. Having regular study dates with a consistent group of classmates can be a great way to set goals, share strategies, and hold one another accountable. You can check with your high school, local library, or even a local community college to find a study group.


If you can’t locate an existing study group, it’s also possible to form your own. In fact, the College Board has compiled a guide for Starting an SAT Study Group that includes a checklist for getting started and some general tips.


6. Capitalize on Free Study Materials


There are tons of free study materials available to help with SAT studying and preparation, but knowing where to look for high-quality materials is important. Many study guides have been self-published online by students with not much more experience than you. Instead, you should look for professionally produced materials that are based on a wealth of industry insights.


No matter how much content knowledge you study, you need to know the format of the test and how it assesses this knowledge in order to be successful. Find study materials that include SAT-specific strategies and tips.


The best place to start is Khan Academy. This is the official College Board SAT practice partner, and it’s totally free. The website contains a wealth of materials from practice tests to strategy sharing. By creating a free online account, you can receive personalized, interactive practice that is tailored to your specific SAT needs.


In addition, you can download the Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board.


There are also many free study guides available online. CollegeVine provides the following SAT study guides and resources:



You can also download our free SAT guide and free SAT checklist.


We also have these YouTube videos:



7. Get Help


You might perceive SAT tutors as a privilege that not everyone can afford, but there are options out there to suit almost any budget. Sometimes, an SAT tutor can simply be a mentor, teacher, or guidance counselor who has helped to coach other students through the SAT in the past. Ask around at your school or public library to find if there is anyone with this sort of experience and expertise who might be willing to help you.


You can also find paid tutoring services available locally, or online. Individual tutoring plans can save time and money by using the exact amount of prep needed to help you achieve your goal SAT score.


If cost is a concern for you, you may be able to find pro bono tutoring services in your area, or apply for a scholarship with a larger tutoring company. Alternatively, some local tutoring companies also offer pro bono tutoring services to students who qualify. You can search for opportunities near you by conducting an online query with the terms “pro bono SAT tutor” and your city name. You can also enroll in a free SAT prep class, though nothing does beat personalized instruction!


If you don’t want to leave the comforts of your home, there are even online SAT prep classes, and some are even free.


8. Learn the Material That’s Easiest to Memorize


The SAT consists, in large part, of abstract skills that can be quite difficult to study in isolation. That being said, there is a pool of content knowledge necessary for success on the test, and if content knowledge was a weakness on your practice or diagnostic SAT, you should be certain that you’re reinforcing it before you take the test again. If you need advice on where to start, we recommend learning the material that lends itself best to rote memorization.


In particular, you should be familiar with the math skills and conventions of standard English that are required on the test.


The math skills will include the following content areas:


  • Heart of Algebra: Linear equations, systems of linear equations, and the relationships between them. Linear equations always involve two variables that change according to a consistent pattern. These questions often involve distance, speed, mass, volume, or even everyday budgeting or financial issues.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis: Application of ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning. For these questions, you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to create and use a model and to understand the distinction between the model predictions and data collected. This includes skills like understanding the difference between simple and compound interest.
  • Passport to Advanced Math: Complex equations and functions typically needed in STEM-based careers. This could include adding, subtracting, and multiplying polynomials, dividing a polynomial by a linear expression, or manipulating expressions involving exponentials, integer and rational powers, radicals, or fractions with a variable in the denominator.


Standard English Conventions on the SAT include:


  • Sentence structure: Modifier placement, parallel construction, subordination and coordination, sentence boundaries, verb tense, and pronoun agreement.
  • Conventions of usage: Pronoun clarity, possessive determiners, agreement, frequently confused words, logical comparison, conventional expression.
  • Conventions of Punctuation: End-of-sentence punctuation, within-sentence punctuation, possessive nouns and pronouns, items in a series, nonrestrictive and parenthetical elements, unnecessary punctuation.


To read more about the Standard English Conventions required on the SAT, see Chapter 12 of the Official SAT Study Guide.


9. Employ the Process of Elimination


No matter how difficult any question on the SAT is, you will have a 50% chance of getting it right if you can eliminate two of the answer choices. It’s likely that all studying aside, you will probably encounter during the course of the test at least one or two questions on which you will need to make your best guess. Capitalize on these opportunities to earn an extra point or two by making the smartest guess possible.


If you really have no clue about how to solve a problem, try working backwards from the answers. See if there are any answer choices that you can immediately rule out. Even if there are not, try to plug some answers into the question to see if any can be eliminated that way.


Think of it this way: A completely random guess of the four answer choices has a 25% chance of being correct. If you can eliminate one more answer choice, you suddenly have a 33.3% chance of guessing correctly. And if you can eliminate yet another choice, you’ll be up to a 50% chance of guessing correctly. Those aren’t bad odds for not knowing the answer to a question.


If you have absolutely no idea at all, use the “Answer of the Day” strategy: just pick a random letter, like “B,” and consistently put that down for questions where you can’t eliminate any answers. You’ll have a 25% chance of getting these questions correct if you guess the same answer each time. 




We say this in pretty much all of our SAT advice posts, but the reason we repeat it so frequently is because the SAT is one of those tests where the best preparation is the test itself. Second to that, practice tests are the most fool-proof preparation there is for a test that measures almost as much test-taking strategy as it does content and skill.


Start by taking untimed practice tests, one section at a time. Identify your weaknesses and work to improve in those areas. Gradually, as your skills grow, begin to take each section of the test with time constraints. And finally, take a few complete practice tests under testing conditions as similar to test day as possible.


You can find seven official SAT practice tests available at Khan Academy. We also have 3 free, exclusive SAT practice tests that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. 


While the prospect of improving your SAT score can definitely seem daunting at first, it’s reassuring to know that most students take the SAT more than once, and the majority of them experience the most significant score improvements between their first and second SAT. In fact, the lower your score to start with, the greater the chance that you’ll achieve significant improvements on your next test.


Want to know how your SAT score/ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.