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The Pocket Guide to SAT Success: Core Strategies & Killer Secrets on the Way to 1600

The Pocket Guide to SAT Success: Core Strategies & Killer Secrets on the Way to 1600

This comprehensive guide is designed to help students and families master the SAT with confidence. With expert insights, tailored strategies, and handpicked tools to streamline your prep, you’re on the path to higher scores and brighter college prospects.

SAT: A three-letter acronym that can elicit waves of anxiety for high school students across the globe. It’s more than just a test — it’s a rite of passage, a determinant of college admissions, and, for some, a measure of preparedness for the world beyond high school.

So what if you had a pocket guide, a roadmap, that could navigate you through the maze of SAT preparation? According to CollegeBoard, over 1.9 million students took the SAT in 2023. That’s a lot of students who could use this type of guidance.

This guide aims to unveil core strategies and little-known secrets that could pave the way to that elusive 1600 score. Along with insider tips, we’ve curated valuable resources and even brought insights straight from an SAT expert. Embarking on this journey, you’ll grasp the significance of the SAT and the tools you need to conquer it. Dive in as we set the stage for SAT success.

Core SAT Exam Strategies

In the universe of standardized testing, the SAT stands out as a cornerstone exam for college admissions. Success hinges on more than inherent intellect — it requires a deft approach, leveraging key strategies tailored to each section’s unique challenges. 

In this section, we dive deep into core strategies for acing the SAT’s primary sections: Math, Reading Comprehension, and Writing. Grounded in expert insights and proven methodologies, these tips aim to make your SAT experience less daunting and more fruitful. Let’s set the foundation with a robust strategy for each.

  • Math Strategies to Master

    The SAT math sections can be tricky. One part doesn’t allow a calculator and has 20 questions to finish in 25 minutes. The other lets you use a calculator and gives you 38 questions to answer in 55 minutes. Understanding these differences is key to knowing how to approach each section.

    • Know what will be covered. The SAT evaluates 24 different math skills, and thorough preparation is pivotal. It’s important to familiarize yourself with each math topic to avoid being caught off-guard by unexpected questions. A comprehensive review of all topics ensures a smoother experience on the day of the test.
    • Memorize the common formulas you need. While the SAT does provide some formulas, it doesn’t supply all. Critical formulas, particularly those related to geometry and trigonometry, need to be committed to memory for quick recall during the examination. A solid grasp of these formulas can greatly aid in efficiently solving various problems.
    • Fix knowledge gaps ahead of time. Begin your preparation by identifying your math strengths and weaknesses. Utilize practice tests to highlight the areas that require more attention and allocate additional study time to them. Achieving mastery, rather than just a passing familiarity, is crucial in enhancing performance in challenging areas.
    • Underline key parts of the question. In the urgency of the exam, overlooking crucial details is a common pitfall. Methodically underline or circle significant portions of the questions to ensure all aspects are considered while formulating your answers. This approach reduces the risk of missing out on essential elements in the problems.
    • Try resolving problems. After completing practice tests, revisit the incorrectly answered questions before looking at the solutions. Trying to resolve these problems aids in solidifying correct approaches and understanding the misconceptions, refining your problem-solving skills for the actual test.
    • Consistent Review and Practice: Regular and varied practice reinforces learned concepts. Incorporate a mix of study materials, including books and online resources, to gain diverse perspectives on the topics. Managing your time effectively and continually revisiting learned concepts will optimize your preparedness and confidence for the SAT math sections.

    Approach your SAT Math sections with a well-rounded and informed strategy. By meticulously covering every topic, committing formulas to memory, addressing weak points, paying careful attention to every question, and maintaining consistent practice, you elevate your chances of attaining a high score in the SAT Math sections.

  • Reading Comprehension

    Reading Comprehension on the SAT can be challenging, involving multiple passages requiring sharp focus and analytical thinking. Strategic reading is crucial to comprehend and interpret the given information efficiently.

    • Start with what you know. Kick off with passages that seem easier or more familiar to you. This early win can boost your morale and build your confidence, setting a positive tone for the tougher sections that follow.
    • Look at the questions first. Before diving into the passages, skim through the questions first. This preview acts as a roadmap, directing your attention to crucial parts of the passage that need careful consideration and saving you time and effort.
    • Pay attention to how questions are worded. Every word in the question matters. Pay close attention to how questions are phrased. Subtle differences in wording can often lead you directly to the correct answers within the passages and help you avoid traps.
    • Don’t ignore intro passages. The introductory sections are often packed with valuable context and set the tone for the entire passage. Ignoring them might mean missing out on key themes or ideas, which are fundamental to understanding and answering the subsequent questions accurately.
    • Eliminate wrong answers. When in doubt, start by ruling out the obviously incorrect options. This method is proven and reliable. If finding the right answer seems hard, eliminating the wrong ones can often lead you to the correct choice.
    • Use the Evidence question to inform other answers. Addressing the Evidence question (usually the third question) early can help highlight crucial quotes and points in the passage, offering insights and a better foundation for answering the associated questions effectively.
    • Take regular practice tests: Regularly solving practice tests helps in honing your reading comprehension skills. It allows you to identify common pitfalls and develop effective strategies for different types of passages and questions.

    Navigating the Reading Comprehension section of the SAT requires focus, strategy, and practice. Begin with familiar passages to build confidence and always preview questions to guide your reading. Pay attention to the wording and don’t overlook introductory passages—they’re crucial for understanding main ideas. When answers elude you, eliminate the wrong ones to narrow your choices. And remember, practice is key to mastering this section, so incorporate regular practice tests into your preparation. 

  • Writing the Right Way

    The Writing section of the SAT goes beyond just checking your grammar — it’s about understanding the finer points of expression and sentence structure. Tackling it efficiently needs a blend of grammatical knowledge and strategic reading.

    • Avoid the “No Change” answer. Choosing the “No Change” option might seem easy when you’re unsure, but be cautious. These options typically make up a quarter or less of the correct answers. Relying too much on “No Change” can be a mistake.
    • Brush up on grammar rules. Understanding the basics is vital. The SAT focuses on fundamental grammar concepts, so ensure you’re clear on subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and other essential rules to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
    • Consider the context. Before deciding on an answer, at least glance over the text around it. Understanding the context is crucial as it offers hints and reveals the broader picture needed to make the right choice. If something seems unclear, reread the relevant sections to gain clarity.
    • Look for the concise option. Remember that brevity is key when you’re stuck between two options that both seem grammatically correct. The SAT Writing section values concise and clear expression, so the shorter, clear option is usually the right one.
    • Review your mistakes. After each practice session, go through the questions you got wrong. Understanding why you missed a question is as important as knowing why you got one right. This review helps identify areas that need more focus and avoid similar mistakes in the future.

    Mastering the Writing section on the SAT is about diving deeper than grammar—it’s about crafting clear, concise, and coherent expressions. Remember, avoid the “No Change” trap and be thorough with basic grammar rules. Always consider the context, and lean towards the more concise option when in doubt. Review your errors after each practice session to understand your mistakes and refine your approach. Keep refining your skills, be mindful of the nuances, and approach this section with a balanced blend of knowledge and strategy. 

5 General SAT Secrets You Need to Know

The SAT, while a standardized test, is layered with nuanced complexities. The strategies that often lead to success are usually hidden, eclipsed by conventional wisdom. Most candidates navigate through this exam unaware of the seldom-shared yet impactful strategies that can remarkably improve outcomes. Exploring these often-overlooked secrets can offer surprising insights and be a game-changer in your SAT journey.

  • Secret #1 – Circle Questions, Don’t Skip Them

    It’s natural to encounter a challenging question and feel the urge to skip it. When this happens, provide a tentative answer, mark the question, and revisit it later. This tactic offers dual benefits: It prevents overthinking, and by guessing, it enables you to possibly gain points, as the SAT doesn’t deduct marks for wrong answers. If you’re stuck on a question, mark it and refine your responses later if needed. This approach can be the key to maintaining fluidity and confidence throughout the exam.

  • Secret #2 – It’s OK to Guess

    The SAT is as much about strategy as it is about knowledge. If faced with unfamiliar questions, guess. By selecting a consistent option, like always choosing “A” for uncertain questions, you increase the probability of accruing some extra points. Think of it as ensuring no stone is left unturned, maximizing every opportunity to inch closer to that perfect score.

  • Secret #3 – The Test Will Try to Trick You

    The SAT’s craftiness is notorious, with questions often featuring subtle nuances designed to mislead. Especially in reading and vocabulary sections, dissecting each question to unveil its true essence and bypassing the tempting distractors is vital. Gaining proficiency in identifying and sidestepping these traps can substantially raise your score.

  • Secret #4 – You Don’t Have to Answer the Questions in Order

    Linear progression isn’t mandatory on the SAT. If a particular question becomes a stumbling block, move past it, ensuring you don’t miss out on easier points later on. The aim is to optimize your time and performance. Establishing a rhythm is crucial, and if bypassing a tricky question helps temporarily, then it’s a strategy worth embracing. Remember, the test is a marathon, not a sprint — it’s about how you finish, not the order in which you tackle the challenges.

  • Secret #5 – You Can (and Probably Should) Take it More Than Once

    The one-and-done approach may not be the most effective for the SAT. Many students find their performance improves on the second or third attempt. This is not just about familiarity; it’s about leveraging the super-scoring system. Colleges often consider your highest section scores across all SAT attempts, assembling them to get your best possible composite score. Early engagement with the SAT provides flexibility and a safety net, granting opportunities to refine strategies and boost scores.

    Leverage these uncovered secrets to elevate your SAT performance, like marking difficult questions, educated guessing, careful reading, answering out of order, and taking the test multiple times. Applying these strategies can significantly improve your score, providing a competitive edge in college admissions.

A Few Other SAT Must-Knows

Diving deeper into the SAT journey, some essential facets and considerations can substantially influence your test experience and outcomes. While strategies and tricks play a role, understanding the broader context of the exam and optimal preparation methods are just as crucial. As we navigate this section, you’ll uncover pivotal insights that can redefine your SAT preparation and execution.

  • The SAT Isn’t Everything

    The SAT is a significant academic milestone, gauging your readiness for college. But it’s pivotal to remember that it’s but a singular facet of your broader academic tapestry. Universities regard the entirety of an application, valuing other accomplishments and qualities equally. The SAT doesn’t quantify intellect — it assesses your capability to apply accumulated knowledge contextually. Lean on your holistic academic achievements, and recognize the SAT as one component among many in your educational journey.

  • You Don’t Have to Spend Hundreds to Prepare

    Let’s quickly dispel this myth: Acing the SAT doesn’t necessitate extravagant prep courses. Numerous online platforms offer robust, cost-effective — and even free — resources catering to diverse needs. Empower your preparation with accessible tools and tailored study plans without overstretching your budget. Refer to the resource list below for a curated compilation of invaluable preparatory tools that won’t break the bank.

  • Be Prepared with Practice Tests

    Instead of endless drilling on specific subjects, acclimatizing to the test format is invaluable. Familiarity breeds confidence. Engaging with practice tests exposes you to the SAT’s structure and uncovers specific areas that require attention. It’s about optimizing your prep, and that means understanding the exam’s nuances. Official practice test resources, many of which are easily accessible and budget-friendly, offer a simulated SAT experience vital for efficient preparation.

  • Know Your Weaknesses

    Recognizing areas of struggle is pivotal. Employ practice tests as diagnostic tools, discerning patterns in mistakes — whether they stem from time constraints, content gaps, or reading inaccuracies. Once identified, channel your energies and resources into ameliorating these weak spots. Transforming these vulnerabilities into strengths can catalyze remarkable improvements in your SAT performance.

  • Process of Elimination Can Take You Far

    When confronted with perplexing questions, deploying the elimination technique can be instrumental. By discerning and discarding evidently incorrect choices, you whittle down options, enhancing the probability of selecting the correct answer. This method not only aids in tackling challenging questions, but also fosters time efficiency during the test.

  • Get Organized with an SAT Study Timeline

    A structured approach can significantly elevate your SAT readiness. Crafting a study timeline fosters consistency, allowing systematic progression and regular revision.

    • 1 year out: Lay the groundwork — familiarize yourself with the test format and identify primary resources.
    • 9 months out: Begin intensive subject reviews, especially for areas you find challenging.
    • 6 months out: Introduce regular practice tests to gauge progress and recalibrate study plans accordingly.
    • 3 months out: Focus on weaker areas, integrating targeted exercises and drills.
    • 1 month out: Heighten the frequency of full-length practice tests to simulate the real exam environment.
    • 1 week out: Transition to review mode, revisiting essential formulas, concepts, and strategies.
    • 1 day out: Engage in light review, ensuring you’re well-rested and managing your stress well for the test day.

    Remember, acing the SAT is about understanding its structure and strategizing effectively. It’s not the only factor colleges consider; you don’t need to spend a fortune preparing. Use free resources and practice tests, know your weaknesses, and eliminate wrong answers when stuck. Organize your study schedule well and keep your focus. Below, you’ll find a list of helpful resources to aid you in this journey. 

SAT Resources You Need

Preparing for the SAT requires dedicated effort, but the right resources can make the process smoother and more effective. If you’re looking for a few more tools to add to your arsenal, here’s a curated list of 20 resources to aid in your SAT prep:

College Board’s SAT Practice and Preparation

The app integrates with Khan Academy, personalizes practice, and features the “scan and score” system and daily SAT questions with explanatory hints.

Erik the Red – Math and Physics Resources

This website offers SAT-focused math formula sheets, techniques, and practice problems for enhanced understanding.

Green Test Prep

Green Test Prep offers curated actionable strategies by an expert tutor for the SAT’s Reading, Math, and Writing sections.

Ivy Global

Ivy Global offers a variety of free downloadable resources such as practice tests, prep books, and other study tools for SAT preparation.

Khan Academy

Partnered with College Board, this mobile app offers SAT prep on the go, linking to various online resources without the need for account creation.

Kranse Institute – SAT Prep Expert

The Kranse Institute offers online SAT prep by a perfect scorer, offering strategy-rich short videos with mobile and desktop access.

Magoosh – Online Prep for SAT

This platform offers self-guided SAT prep featuring video lessons, practice questions, and varying course durations with support guarantees.

McGraw-Hill Education – SAT Practice Plus

McGraw-Hill Education offers complete SAT practice tests accompanied by thorough explanations for each question.

PowerScore SAT Free Help Area

This platform offers free resources encompassing strategy sessions, books, lessons, and practice tests for SAT prep.


PrepFactory is a free SAT preparation platform with interactive quizzes and instructional video lessons.

Prep Scholar Tutors

This tutoring platform offers a guaranteed SAT/ACT score improvement, with pre-screened tutors for various subjects.

SAT Quantum

SAT Quantum offers detailed video breakdowns for math questions that appear in the official SAT practice tests.

SAT Test Prep Blog by PrepScholar

Read through a variety of in-depth articles addressing various SAT topics, from techniques to study recommendations, on this helpful blog. 


Just like your favorite streaming network, this YouTube channel and blog offers detailed SAT strategies, advice, and problem-solving by a seasoned tutor.


Testive combines technology and human coaching, offering various SAT prep packages and a free online platform.

The Critical Reader

The Critical Reader is an expert-led platform with SAT Reading and Writing resources, techniques, and preparation tips.

Varsity Tutors – SAT Practice Tests

Varsity Tutors helps boost your SAT prep with free practice tests, diagnostic evaluations, and educational flashcards.

Veritas Prep SAT Resource

Veritas Prep is a rich collection of free SAT webinars, strategic articles, and hands-on practice tools.

Zenith Tutoring

Zenith Tutoring is a free platform with SAT video lessons, practical strategies, and a user-friendly preparation pathway.

Zephyr SAT Lessons

Zephyr is an interactive platform with lessons, question sets, and explanations for diverse SAT subjects.

Interview with an SAT Expert

A smiling woman with blonde hair, wearing a blue scarf, stands in front of a wooden door.

Laura George

Laura George, the founder of Laura George Consulting, LLC, an expert in the domain of ACT/SAT tutoring, high school, and college consulting. Boasting an illustrious career spanning two decades and insights honed from her involvement with renowned institutions, Laura sheds light on effective SAT strategies, dispelling common myths and optimizing student performance.

Navigating the intricate landscape of SAT preparation can often be challenging for students and parents alike. We had the privilege of speaking with Laura George, the founder of Laura George Consulting, LLC, an expert in the domain of ACT/SAT tutoring, high school, and college consulting. 

Boasting an illustrious career spanning two decades and insights honed from her involvement with renowned institutions, Laura sheds light on effective SAT strategies, dispelling common myths and optimizing student performance.

  • Q: Can you clarify the myth regarding East or West Coast schools’ SAT or ACT preferences?

    Laura: Absolutely. Many families operate under the misconception that schools in certain regions have preferences between the SAT or ACT, stemming from historical tendencies. However, all colleges that mandate or accept standardized test scores will accept either test without bias. In my practice, our approach involves administering diagnostic tests for both SAT and ACT to identify the most fitting test for individual students. The advent of the digital SAT in 2024 underscores the significance of this selection.

  • Q: When is the ideal time to start SAT preparation?

    Laura: I do not advise students to start preparing for the SAT (or ACT) before sophomore year. Ideally, students can use the summer after sophomore year to concentrate on test prep, as they will have more time to focus on this task without taking time or attention from their critical classroom work. Another benefit to this timing is that they will have the opportunity to test in the fall and winter of their junior year, complete their testing and have more bandwidth to focus on challenging junior year classes, and also have a better sense of how to build an appropriate target list of colleges. 

    Of course, there are caveats to this timing. Suppose a student has not yet taken both Geometry and Algebra II by junior year. In that case, I advise waiting until later in junior year to begin tutoring to benefit from more math coursework (as math is the only subject on the tests that correlates to specific content taught in high school classes). Also, if a student has a busy summer due to work, traveling, sports, etc., I advise finding a season of the school year that is less busy. I do not advise starting earlier that spring of sophomore year because a student will not have benefitted from enough coursework, may be less mature than necessary to focus fully on test prep, and/or will end up prepping for a year or more before actually testing — far more time than is necessary and time that can be spent focused on settling into high school, working towards solid freshman and sophomore year grades, and getting involved in extracurriculars.

  • Q: How can students manage their time efficiently during the SAT?

    Laura: On the paper version of the test, there are many ways. At LGC, we advocate the “two pass” system, in which a student should not spend more than 15-20 seconds ruminating on any particular problem before moving on to the next one. All the problems are worth the same, and when students get sucked into spending a lot of time on one problem, they inevitably run out of time or have to rush through other problems that they could have answered correctly, but now miss due to speeding through and making careless errors. I also advocate that students wear an analog watch and set the time to 12:00 before each section. That way, they can easily track how much time they have left in each section without having to do any complicated math.

  • Q: Do you endorse specific books or resources for SAT preparation?

    Laura: Practicing on genuine, retired tests provides the most authentic preparation.

  • Q: How can one effectively enhance their vocabulary for the SAT?

    Laura: Vocabulary is not something that is as emphasized on the current version of the SAT, which was significantly altered from the original version that tested vocabulary in Spring 2016. While knowledge of vocabulary is still important for reading comprehension and answering questions in that section of the test, direct testing of vocabulary no longer exists. To build and strengthen vocabulary knowledge, I advocate that students read as much as possible, starting from a young age. They can read any type of books, magazines, or newspapers they like. Listening to audiobooks is fine, but reading along with audiobooks is preferable to simply listening to them.

  • Q: What are some common mistakes students make on the SAT, and how can they avoid them?

    Laura: The biggest avoidable mistakes students make on the SAT (or ACT) arise from not carefully reading the question, underlining specifically what the question is asking, and then gathering the necessary information to answer that question. When students rush and don’t read thoroughly or carefully, they often jump to an assumption about what the question is asking and then choose one of the “attractor” answers (responses that reflect easy mistakes to make) instead of the correct answer.

  • Q: How can students sustain motivation and adhere to a study routine over an extended period?

    Laura: Consistency and practice of the material, strategies, and pacing learned are key to improvement. At LGC, we recommend students practice 20-30 mins per day (which we outline in the Daily Study Plan), or as often throughout the week as possible. We also recommend scheduling practice test sections and entire practice tests periodically throughout tutoring to solidify learning and help students practice everything in a realistic way.

  • Q: Are there any test-taking strategies or techniques that can help students on test day?

    Laura: Eat a solid breakfast that includes both complex carbs and protein for consistent energy throughout the three-hour test. Positive mental “self-talk” reiterates that the student has made a plan for the test, has practiced it, and has confidence in executing it. Drinking water and eating a snack at the break are also important tips.

  • Q: What accommodations are available for students with disabilities or special needs?

    Laura: Various types of extended-time testing, multi-day testing, testing alone in a room, having the test read to you, and other accommodations are available. A physician or professional evaluator must substantiate the student’s disability and/or special needs. Students must work with their school administration to submit the correct documentation to the College Board (for the SAT) and/or ACT to apply for the desired accommodation(s).

  • Q: How can students effectively review and analyze their practice test results to identify areas for improvement?

    Laura: We advocate keeping a notebook and marking down mistakes a student has made on practice problems. Then they should analyze these to identify any patterns — types of questions, content areas, specific grammar rules, etc. — that consistently challenge them. Then students can use their time efficiently to devote additional tutoring time and/or practice time to these problem types in order to improve upon them.