How to Get a Good Score on the SAT

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10 Steps To Get Your Best SAT Score

How to Get a Good Score on the SAT

What is a ‘Good’ SAT Score?

A ‘good’ SAT score is a score that increases a student’s chances of being admitted to their top-choice college. That will mean very different things for very different students. For some students, a 1200 is a good score. For other students, a 1500 is a good score. But no matter what a student’s goal is, the keys to effective preparation are the same.

First, let’s understand how the SAT is scored. 

The SAT is a standardized test used by colleges to evaluate students’ readiness for college-level work. The test consists of two main sections: Reading/Writing and Math, each of which is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. The scores from these sections are combined for a total score ranging from 400 to 1600.

A score of 1030 places a student at approximately the 50th percentile of testers, while a score of 1200 places a student in the top 25% of testers, which many would consider ‘good.’ A student scoring 1350 is in the top 10% of testers, and a score of 1430 is in the top 5%. Any student scoring 1530 or above is in the top 1%, which is definitely a very good score. CollegeBoard provides this helpful reference guide for determining your percentile based on your score. The User Group Percentiles provide the most useful percentile.

What is a ‘Good’ SAT Score for YOU?

Before you start studying, it’s important to know where you stand. The best first step is to take a diagnostic SAT to determine your starting score and to identify your priorities. Once you know your starting scores, you can set meaningful goals for yourself. It can be helpful to have short-term goals as well as a long-term goal. Your short-term goals should be within about 100 points of your current score so that it feels achievable. Your long-term goal may be higher, and it should represent your target score for your top-choice school.

Understanding how different colleges evaluate SAT scores is an important part of goal-setting. While many institutions are still test-optional, a strong SAT score can significantly improve a student’s chances of being admitted.

Test-optional policies have inflated colleges’ average scores, leading some students to withhold their scores. However, if a student’s score is slightly below a college’s average, it is usually in the student’s best interest to submit it rather than leave the college wondering just how low the score was.

Of course, the most competitive colleges like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have the highest average scores, which can lead students to set unrealistic goals for themselves. This is why it’s important to have short-term goals that help a student make incremental progress, as well as lofty long-term goals that remind us of what we’re working towards.

Now, enough about what a good score is. Let’s talk about how to make it happen!

10 Steps To Get Your Best SAT Score

1. Take a diagnostic test

It’s important to get familiar with the experience of taking the SAT, and your starting scores provide extremely valuable information about your strengths as well as the content you need to work on. To take a diagnostic test with Open Door, simply complete this short form and we will follow up to provide login information. Alternatively, you can complete a full practice test on the CollegeBoard website. We recommend starting with Test 6 because it seems most similar in difficulty to the official tests that have been administered so far.

2. Analyze your results

Your diagnostic results tell you what’s important. Take the time to review your test results thoroughly. This means taking a close look at your sectional scores (your Reading/Writing score and your Math score) as well as your subsection scores (your ‘bars’ in topics such as Standard English Conventions and Problem Solving and Data Analysis). If you took a diagnostic test with Open Door, this also includes reviewing the amount of time you spent on each question, looking for questions you missed because you rushed, and questions you spent too much time on.

It can be helpful to review your test and look at the specific questions you missed to understand whether it was a careless mistake (more on that here), a tough 50/50 choice, or a question you simply didn’t understand.

3. Set specific, achievable short-term goals

It’s great to have a long-term goal. Maybe you’re aiming for a 1250 or 1400, or maybe you’re trying to get a perfect score. Whatever your long-term goal, it’s important to have short-term goals that keep you motivated and give you opportunities to celebrate success. For short-term goals, it’s best to think in increments of 50 points. Improving by 50 points in a section is meaningful progress, but it’s also very achievable with a reasonable amount of time and effort. Once you achieve your first goal, it’s time to set your next goal. Remember: progress isn’t necessarily linear, and your score will probably fluctuate. If you don’t reach your goal on a test, it’s okay to be frustrated, but the next step is to channel that frustration into effort.

4. Create a realistic study plan

A realistic study plan is a study plan you can stick to. The most important ingredients are quality, consistency, and intentionality. When it comes to quality, consider when you will be able to do your best work and set that time aside. If possible, it’s good to practice early in the day when you are feeling fresh – this is also the time of day when you will take the test. 

For consistency, plan to work on the SAT at least four times a week and for at least 45 minutes at a time. Cramming all of your studying into one day each week is NOT an effective way to prepare for the SAT. 

And lastly, studying with intentionality means being thoughtful about what you are studying. Don’t just churn through practice problems without a sense of direction. Be thoughtful about what you practice, when you practice it, and WHY you practice it – nobody gets better by simply going through the motions.

5. Take the time to really learn

The hardest questions on the SAT test for a deep understanding of concepts that may seem simple at first. Don’t underestimate the SAT and its ability to create difficult questions based on simple ideas – some of the hardest questions might be about linear expressions or comma rules. Even if you think you have a pretty good understanding of a concept, it is worthwhile to take the time to go over the basics and make sure you know and remember all of the relevant rules and formulas. Open Door’s SAT Math Guide is a great starting point for making sure you understand all of the math concepts that are tested on the SAT.

6. Turn weaknesses into strengths

Missed questions are extremely valuable because they tell you what you need to work on. Use the questions you miss or get stuck on to identify what concepts you need to practice. Too often, students waste their time by practicing content that they are already good at. In many cases, our best opportunity for progress is by working on our weaknesses. Many students find that when they revisit older topics, like geometry, they actually find that it feels easier, and things that didn’t used to make sense now feel straightforward and logical. The SAT is the perfect opportunity to return to material that you didn’t learn the first time and make sure that you understand it, both for the SAT and for college and life beyond.

7. Review and understand your mistakes

For every 30 minutes you spend doing practice problems, you should be spending at least 10 minutes reviewing the questions you missed and making sure that you understand what the question is asking, why the correct answer is correct, and why the answer you chose is incorrect. In the Reading/Writing section, this can come down to a specific vocabulary word you didn’t know or a single word that ruined an otherwise good answer choice. In Math, you may find that you wrote down an equation incorrectly, made a mistake in your operations, or solved for the wrong value. It can be helpful to keep track of the types of missed questions so that you can recognize patterns and learn to avoid repeating old mistakes.

8. Periodically take full practice tests 

Practice tests are essential for measuring our progress and for helping us acclimate to the experience of taking the SAT. It is best to take an in-person practice test that simulates test day. Open Door offers in-person tests at Concord-Carlisle High School and Acton-Boxborough Regional High School – use this link to view our upcoming in-person tests. If you don’t live in Massachusetts, use the National Test Prep Association’s Member Directory to find a reputable organization offering in-person practice tests near you.

If you can’t take an in-person practice test, make sure that your at-home test is worthwhile by making it feel as much like the official test as possible: take the test first thing in the morning; do it in one sitting and use all of the time, including breaks; and take the test in a new environment such as a library, a coffee shop, or even a different room in your house.

9. Focus on the hardest content

After you have spent several weeks engaging in thoughtful and strategic SAT practice, it’s time to prepare for the hardest content you will encounter on Test Day. The CollegeBoard question bank allows you to find questions by section, content area, and difficulty, which makes it a great tool for practicing the hardest questions you will encounter. 

We can’t know exactly what types of difficult questions we will see on test day, but practicing with the hardest available content will improve your ability to correctly answer these questions while also helping you to feel less intimidated by the most complex questions. Remember: in order to improve, you must practice what is most difficult.

10. Prepare for Test Day

Your job for Test Day is to control the things you can and to adapt to the things you cannot. Getting good rest, eating well, and staying hydrated are all important ingredients in Test Day success, and they are all within your control. You should be sure to pack all of your supplies (including snacks and water), charge your computer, and even lay out your outfit the night before the test. This preparation helps ensure you don’t forget anything important, and it minimizes the number of choices you need to make when you wake up so that you can focus on what’s most important. Our Complete and Thorough, Cover-All-Your-Bases Guide to Test Day walks you through everything you should do to prepare for a successful test.
For more helpful tips for preparing for the SAT, check out our blog post, 5 Simple Tips for Taking the Digital SAT, and visit our YouTube page. If you’re looking for additional support and guidance to help you earn your best SAT score, simply complete this short contact form, and we’ll follow up to connect you with a great-fit tutor.

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I was referred to Open Door by friends for SAT/ACT test prep for my child. Travis was the instructor and he was great. Their diagnostic process, tutoring and practice testing really helped my student focus on key areas for development, resulting in a significant improvement in actual test scores. I highly recommend their service.
-Acton Parent
I was referred to Open Door by friends for SAT/ACT test prep for my child. Travis was the instructor and he was great. Their diagnostic process, tutoring and practice testing really helped my student focus on key areas for development, resulting in a significant improvement in actual test scores. I highly recommend their service.
-AB Parent