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What to Do If You’re Not Improving on the SAT
Have you taken the SAT more than once and still haven’t gotten the results you wanted?
Students who take the SAT after prepping and still are disappointed with their scores can feel frustrated and wonder what’s wrong and how to improve.
If you’ve taken the SAT multiple times and haven’t noticed any improvement, don’t stress. There’s still time to improve. Here are some questions to ask yourself and set the path to SAT success.
1. Have you completed all SAT practice materials?
Practice is extremely important. Don’t just take practice test after practice test—make sure you’re studying and learning in between.
Set goals such as learning 10 equations this week or learning 10 vocabulary words this week. Also, divide large tasks into smaller ones. You might, for instance, decide to practice X number of problems this week.
Remember to use resources, such as Khan Academy, to practice and hone your skills. They can be enormously helpful in helping you understand the underlying issues and what to change.
2. Do you keep a record of all missed problems?
Chances are, you’re repeating the same errors. If you keep a record, you will likely see a pattern in your mistakes. For example, you may be scanning a passage too quickly and missing key points in the Reading section.
Noting frequent mistakes allows you to better understand where to target your practicing. In the above example, you’ll know to practice scanning passages to find the important information.
3. Do you revisit, review, and redo all missed problems?
Again, you need to take another stab at missed problems. This will help you learn from your mistakes. Repeated practice helps you avoid repeating the errors in the future. Just make sure you’re going over the correct way to approach this type of question, not just practicing incorrect ways of responding.
After you’ve noted which questions you’ve missed, go back and repeat the problem to see where you went wrong. You might try working backward from the correct answer to find the misstep. Do this a few times until you identify the error, and then practice similar problems to learn the correct way to approach them.
4. Could you teach a friend about a problem and how to solve it?
Explain your reasoning and approach to a friend. This enables you to repeat your approach in the future if you solved it correctly since you know the steps you took to get there.
Working with friends is also a fun way to practice. It’s particularly helpful if you’re each stronger in different areas. That way, you can explain how to solve a problem—which actually helps you learn, too—and your friend can point out issues and vice versa.
5. Have you taken any practice tests?
Complete at least one practice test in the beginning, before you start actively preparing, to see your starting point. Even if you do well, you should still study and practice to ensure that you repeat your success. Take another practice test when you’re finishing your study plan to see your progress. This will help you see if your studying was successful and which areas are still weak.
6. Have you taken as many practice tests as possible?
You should also take practice tests along the way as part of your studying plan. These serve as benchmarks to establish how far you’ve come and what still needs work. Full practice tests are available at the College Board.
7. How many times have you taken the SAT?
You don’t need to simply take one test and call it a day. Taking the SAT again will likely help you improve, especially if you practice and study in between sittings. You will likely see your score improve the most between first and second sittings. However, you’re unlikely to see much improvement after three times.
8. How many hours of SAT prep have you already done?
Preparing for the SAT requires familiarizing yourself with the test. Make sure you understand the content and construction of the test so you know what to expect. Key content features include:
- Words in context
- Command of evidence
- Essay analyzing a source
- Problem solving and data analysis
- Heart of algebra
- Passport to advanced math
- Problems grounded in real-world contexts
- Analysis in science and in history/social studies
- U.S. founding documents and the great global conversation
9. How many hours do you currently spend on SAT prep?
You need to be actively preparing for the SAT, not just taking practice tests. Are you spending a certain amount of time studying each day, practicing tricky problems, learning new vocabulary, reading sources you’re likely to find on the test, and working on math problems?
Own the truth: You need to work harder to improve your score.
More Tips for Improving
In addition to asking yourself the above questions, use these other tips to improve your score:
- Familiarize yourself with testing instructions to avoid wasting time reading them.
- Set a realistic target score—aim high but not so high that you’re frustrating yourself.
- Learn the building blocks for each section:
- Find out if you need and qualify for testing accommodations.
- Start as early as possible.
If you’re not improving your SAT test score, you need to be realistic with yourself and try to figure out why. There are a number of ways you can improve if you put in the effort and time and really work on determining the underlying causes for your score stagnation.
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