In the November SAT Is I was lucky enough to be one of the few to receive a 2400 (78/10 W). As expected, many of my friends and classmates (and even some CC members) have asked me for various advice and study tips. Being a CC lurker for a while who has learned much from individuals around the community, Ive decided to write up a mini-guide on how I achieved the 2400, and perhaps it may help some of you out there. I can safely say I am not one of those people who just walk in and score 2300+; I believe I have made significant effort, and with a significant amount of luck, achieved the perfect score.
Please note anything that I say here is what works for ME, and it is different for everyone because everyone has different study habits, penchants, pre-SAT strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, intelligence levels in the different subjects. NOT EVERYTHING THAT WORKS FOR ME WORKS FOR YOU.
My SAT History
Unsurprisingly, like a lot of Asians, I began studying SAT at a fairly young age (late 8th grade I probably started), but it wasnt anything too serious until I entered high school. I took some prep classes, but that mainly solidified the math that I already had been very strong at. Around freshman year I could score a high 1300/1600. To my dismay they added the writing section. Afterwards, studying for countless hours, I progressed from 1700s as a freshman to 1900s as a sophomore (both these scores were converted from my PSATs). After hitting around 2000 I found that I had an extremely hard time breaking 2100, and with the real PSATs coming up I was running short of time. Junior PSATs I scored a mid 220, and a month later I took the real SATs for the first time and scored almost the exact score (converted to SAT terms).Exactly a year from the first real SAT I scored a 2400 (this month).
Starting Off: Into the 2000s
Its my personal beliefs that most people with a significant amount of effort can bring their scores to anything between 2k-2.1k, regardless of where you are at. Most people just take it once, get a 1700 or 1800, decide they wont increase more than a couple points and give up. The main problem with people not being able to get into this range is most likely not a question of intelligence, its a question of discipline and work ethic.
A 2100 means an average of 700 on each section. I like to compare studying SATs to weightlifting, when you first start, almost any fitness plan works, YOU JUST HAVE TO STICK WITH IT. You are fresh to the point where loads of practice tests without too much specialization will disrupt your SAT homeostasis, and your scores will increase. Heres a simple way to target each section:
Math Do a lot of problems. CAREFULLY REVIEW.
Writing Do a lot of problems. CAREFULLY REVIEW.
Verbal Memorize words. Do problems.
Honestly, if you consistently practice for months and months you can achieve this. Theres really no tricks, or even a need for tricks. At this point its you vs yourself.
Of course, if you are scoring like 400, 400, 800, you should stop practicing the section you can almost get an 800 on, and focus on the others, but for the most part its a good idea to go through all of them, even if its just review.
The High Ranges: 2100-2300
At this point you should most likely see some section you really excel at, and some that you struggle a bit with. Focus in. Here is the main part of my guide.
The Math Section
I personally have been very strong at math, and found this section pretty easy to begin with. I think this is probably the least subjective (if you consider W and R subjective to any extent) out of any of the 3 sections, and thus is easiest to study.
. If you struggle at math but can break 650, there are probably specific areas you have trouble with, whether it be geometry or probability. I personally had a tough time with combinations and permutations, so I studied those.
2. READ THE PREP BOOKS
. Why? Because the questions all have similar styles. After doing so many math sections, it is very rare I see the style of a problem that I do not recognize, in fact, I was able to always distinguish the experimental math sections on the PSATs and SATs, purely through the fact that I had a feel for strangely worded questions (but when you do the real ones do these sections too because there is always a chance you were wrong).
Take the whole if (x+y)(x-y) = 10 and (x-y) = 2 what is (x+y) question. I swear, I have seen this question like 100 times. Maybe not the exact numbers. Maybe they asked for another variable. But its the same style. I could give you a good review of the most common types of questions, but your prep books are way more comprehensive than anything I could say to you. So read them, and read them well.
3. When going back to check your answers, always make a run of only the last sentence
, or maybe even the last part of the question you were asked. Why? Because sometimes they give you this comprehensive problem and you get so caught up in solving x, but the last part of the question asks for 5x. I dont know how many times Ive done this to myself. Collegeboard likes to screw with you like that.
4. Out of any sections, I personally believe speed is most important in the math
section. You are way more likely to make an error you didnt mean to make due to miscalculation in math problems than writing or reading. What this means is you MUST have an emphasis just as much on speed as knowing the questions if you are aiming for a 750+. Personally I could finish whole math sections in half the time I was given, check, then recheck, and still miss problems due to inaccuracy.
5. Accuracy is also the most important
on the math section than any other section, because there are very few instances of curves on the math. CR has a 1-2 point curve occasionally, and I got an 800 on W with a 78/10 which is just ridiculous. Math doesnt have room for error, and the difference between 4-5 problems missed could rock your whole score.
In conclusion this section isnt too bad because there is a very direct way of tackling the section all the way up to 800. Just do problems.
The Writing Section - Essay
The writing is fairly similar to the math in the sense it is very coachable, and there is a very systematic approach because after all, there are only a certain amount of grammar rules covered in the multiple choice just as there are only a limited amount of math knowledge brought into the math. Im first going to talk about something that quite possibly worries people more: the essay.
My personal opinion is even though it is very subjective what your reader thinks, with a couple of criteria met, anyone can at least get a 9-10. In fact, according to my last test results, I could have gotten an 80/9, and still got an 800.
Criteria 1: Fill the space.
If you can get a solid 2 pages off in the short amount of time you are given that isnt complete garbage, it will almost always be beneficial. This is because on average, people arent able to fill all the space due to the lack of time. If you can do it, it will help you.
Criteria 2: ATQ.
Answer. The. Question. If you have ever had a half decent AP class teacher, you have heard this countless times. Let your thesis answer the question, and let your supporting paragraphs support the thesis. Simple.
Criteria 3: Cite supporting facts
/body paragraphs with stuff that isnt completely stupid.
Thats it. Here are my personal tips that have helped me consistently get 12s on the essay (this 10 was because the topic was slightly difficult for me and made me run out of time, both ACT and first SAT I got 12s).
1. If you arent a great essay writer use the 5 paragraph build
. Intro, 3 bodies, conclusion. Leave your thesis as the last sentence of your intro, have each first sentence in each body support the thesis, and repeat your thesis again in your conclusion. I have consistently used this build and it has always worked. You learned it in middle school, now put it to use.
2. The fastest way to think of facts: Take 2 from anything you like that is legitimate fact (history, science, REAL examples people can look up on the internet). 1 can be an anecdote.
You can make the anecdote up if you really cant think of a topic. If you are morally opposed then so be it. I seriously dont think the test people care. (I dont advocate you do this on a college essay though, that stuff is legit).
3. Leave the flowery prose.
Seriously. If you are somehow a speed writer who can think of awesome prose while filling up both pages, go for it, but I dont think most people can do it. Go into what I like to call AP mode. Get the facts out, cut the rest. Honestly, diction probably helps a little bit but I really dont think 25 mins is enough time for you to worry about anything like that. I dont use big words and I get 12s, or at least 10s.
4. Cite the quote.
You know that quote they always give you? Embed it into your conclusion or intro, or wherever you like. Personally I use it as a way to write the conclusion because I cant think of a good conclusion fast enough. I just say something like just as so and so said whatever, I believe <list thesis>. I dont have empirical evidence but I think it makes you seem legit, and Im pretty sure test prep teachers have advocated this.
5. Use 3rd person.
One is a good word, unless you are doing the anecdote paragraph.
Heres what I personally do. I think of myself as a fairly fast essay writer, but SAT essay is one of those few things I just cant easily outspeed. What I do is I start out with the very boring throughout dawn of time/history of man <insert something related to the ideal being discussed> blah blah blah. And then I narrow into my thesis. I have mastered this ability so well that I can do it without much thought, meaning WHILE I am writing my intro, I am at the same time thinking of the 3 topics I am going to use. By the time I reach my thesis, I usually have all 3, and if I dont I just do the ones I have, leave a blank for the 3rd, and start my body paragraphs. While I am writing my bodies, just about every time I can get my 3rd support to come to me. All in all, dont stop writing.
The Writing Section - MC
Ok, now to the MC part. This part is easier to master; just apply the same method as math. Do sets, find which grammar rules trouble you the most, and study those.
1. For the section where you have to find the errors with underlined sentences, after you finish that section. ALWAYS, always recheck the ones that you put E no error
. Personally for me and other people I know, that is the most common place for you to make an error.
2. Read the sentences out loud in your head
(that was an oxymoron but w/e). Sometimes you dont see it on paper but when you hear it in your head you will be like *** was I thinking this is obviously incorrect. HOWEVER, this does not justify you picking the ones that sound the best, you usually still want to justify it with grammar rules. For this one Im talking about the really, really blatant errors that you can sometimes miss.
So yeah. Do problems.
The CR Section - Sentence Completion
I personally envy you if you have a natural inclination to this section, because I think you have it the easiest. M and W are coachable. Reading is not. If you are aiming for a near perfect score, this is probably the section that will give you the most trouble. There is a curve SOMETIMES, but a -1 curve probably wont do much.
If you want a 750+ and you naturally suck at reading, you HAVE TO at least get this section down, because at least there is a straightforward way of studying for it. Straightforward, but slow.
1. Use vocab lists for quick studying!
I know some people are naysayers about vocab lists and would rather you read straight off classic books to get your vocab, but I say that is inefficient, and if you have only a month or even only a year left and you want to get a near perfect CR, it just wont happen. Study those lists, and no matter when you start studying, LEAVE TIME TO STUDY RIGHT BEFORE THE TEST, whether it be a week or a month. Most people remember things better when you try to memorize them at a closer date.
2. Your SAT techniques
will come in handy. Most experienced SAT takers know the whole positive-negative words, prefix/suffix techniques that are cited like a billion times in prep books. Read about them, but dont rely on them.
Now I will compile a list of the most commonly used (and possibly the best) vocab lists.
Direct Hits Vocabulary
Barron's Hot Words
Rocket Review Core Words
Princeton Review Hit Parade
Kaplan's Score Raising Dictionary
Kaplan's Basic SAT Book:
Gruber's 3400 Word List
Barron's 3500 Word Mini-Dictionary
Personally, I started off with a old GRE vocab dictionary book my parents had lying around, and followed that up with the Sparknotes 1k, which is free online. Oh, and a personal favorite for the masochistic folks out there:
Amazon.com: Top 500 SAT Words Shower Curtain: Kitchen & Dining
The CR Section - Passage Based
Heres what chokes most people up. What makes this section so screwed up is because there is no clear way of studying. The ideal method would probably be start reading books like Wuthering Heights starting from freshman year, and keep doing so while maintaining constant SAT practice. In reality, most people reading this probably arent freshman, and dont have time for that kind of stuff.
One of the main points I want to make about this section is the popular belief that there is some sort of method to go about answering these questions. Some claim its better to skim first, read the questions, then read again. Others answer questions while reading. My old prep teacher insisted we write in the margins and try to summarize the ideas of each passage. If there is one thing I want to say about this is you dont need any of it, but you can use whichever one you like. Its one of those preference things; some of them work for people while others dont, just dont make anyone force a method upon you that you are uncomfortable with.
Personally, I just do the straight up read once, and then answer each question by going back to the passage and finding the answer. No tricks, no special methods, no writing in margins. Just the old fashioned way. If you can discover a method that drastically helps you then go for it, but personally I believe for most people its a placebo effect.
If you have a year until the SATs try some of the different methods and see how you feel (prep books will give you a good cover of some of these methods). If you have your test in a month trying to change may hurt you more than it helps.
I really dont have a lot to say about this section, because to be honest even getting an 80/800 on PSATs and SATs, I cant really say what specifically helped me out and what specifically didnt. All I can say is I did sections like crazy, and went over each individual answer until I totally understood why I missed it.
Whenever I start the passage answer questions, I always like to tell myself that all the answers are in front of me, I just have to find them.
Other Useful Information, Opinions, Tips
To Time or not to Time
Always time yourself when you are taking a practice test, ALWAYS. It could just be 1 section at a time, or 1 subject, but always do it in the allotted time limit. If you have trouble keeping up with time limits, know that with more practice you will get faster and faster.
My personal policy on guessing is if you can eliminate 1 answer, then guess. If you seriously cant eliminate any of the 5 answers then leave blank. The reason I say you only need to eliminate 1 versus a lot of books that say 2 is because eliminating 1 equals out the probability of missing 1 point vs gaining 1 point, however, I believe everyone has an intuition that goes beyond what you see before you. What I mean is that even if you have a ¼ shot and you think you only have a ¼ shot because you cant eliminate any of the other answers, your natural intuition will assist you a small amount that you cant feel, and it could bring your chances slightly higher than 25%. At least thats what it does to me.
Checking Your Answers
Check them, then check them again, and then again, and then again, and keep doing so until you run out of time. Never stop. NEVER. If you just sit there with your head down after you finish a section; that is completely stupid. During your run through the test I personally circle the ones that I am unsure about and when I am checking I go for those first. If I am short on time to make an entire run through the whole section, I pick the passages that I felt were difficult for me, or for math I start near the back.
The Prep Book Debate
There is this mentality on CC that you should only stick to the blue book because those questions are real and the other ones are fake, and thus doing the fake ones dont help you, only doing the real ones do. I laugh at this philosophy.
If you seriously think you can get a 2300 by doing the 10 or whatever number tests in the blue book, then you must be a genius. I could literally go through that book in a couple weeks. For most people, 10 tests arent nearly enough to score 2300+. I probably did 50+ at least.
My second problem with this thought process is that for math and writing, they are utilizing the same rules and the same formulas for the most part, and it might not be 100% as efficient as the BB but for the most part you get something out of it.
A lot of people argue that you shouldnt do other books because the CR passages arent accurate, yet what I find funny about this is the same people who say this believe that reading books is the best way to improve passages. Its not about the questions; its about understanding the types of passages given. The more you read that stuff the better you get, even if the questions are a bit off.
The Prep Class Debate
Here is my short opinion on prep classes: If you are motivated then dont take them. If you are not motivated then take them. Prep classes only help to expose unmotivated students to SAT materials that they otherwise without the class would not bother looking at. If you are motivated to do well then you can do anything those prep classes teach you. After my last prep class I was at around a 2000 level, 2k-2.4k was all by myself.
Your Prep Resources
I know a lot of people have trouble getting beyond only using the blue book because those SAT books cost a bunch, and they dont want to spend money. Firstly, there is a lot of prep resources out on the internet, such as the sparknotes website, and reading this forum section will help you find a lot of those. I personally utilized something called the public library. I own maybe 2-3 prep books, probably all because of the old prep classes I took that forced us to buy books. In fact, I dont even have the BB. I just do mass reservations on my public librarys system, and that itself keeps my prep stock very high. To be fair, I live in a place with a ridiculously awesome library system, and if you dont have anything of that sort try your school, try upperclassmen/college students, stuff of that sort. If you do get your hands on your own copy of a book DONT WRITE IN IT. Take out a sheet of paper and number the questions, and use that sheet as opposed to using the book scantrons or the even stupider method of circling directly on the book. Two reasons for this: first you can redo the problems without being distracted by what you write the first time and second you can resell the books after SAT time.
This site isnt too effective of prep, but just for anyone who wants to gauge their level of vocab against mine, I can maintain about a level 33-35 on freerice. I think most SAT words fall between 20-30, and 35+ you start getting into words that you never see on the SATs. Note that with this level of vocab I do see words on the SAT that I do not recognize, but most of the time I know them all.
This essay is from my December 07 SATI, I scored a 12. I would post my latest one but its not out yet. Anyways, you can kind of see how I utilize some of my tools that I talked about in my writing tips section. This is with grammar errors and all, and my handwriting SUCKS, so Im going to type it out for you guys. (I hope this is allowed on CC as I know there is the no posting exact questions rule for MC, if not then take it out).
Question: The first problem for all of us is not to learn but to unlearn. We hold on to ideas that were accepted in the past, and we are afraid to give them up. Preconceptions about what is right or wrong, true or false, good or bad are embedded so deeply in our thinking that we honestly may not know that they are there. Whether it's women's role in society or the role of our country in the world, the old assumptions just don't work anymore. Adapted from Gloria Steinem, "A New Egalitarian Lifestyle"
Assignment: Do people need to "unlearn," or reject, many of their assumptions and ideas? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
Throughout the long journey in which we know as life, one strives to grow with knowledge, and ultimately use that knowledge to enhance and improve their prospective in the world. It is truly a necessity of the educated mind to think and then doubt, and finally rethink. Many times one would need to reject, or unlearn what they knew from the past, and realize something new for the future. One can see that, this method of learn to unlearn can be show through the study of American history, the manifestation of the heros journey in classical stories, and perhaps most of all, our interaction with other people in society.
Ever since we were in grade school, misconceptions (or at least they are from todays perspective) have been embedded in our minds. The great forefathers of our country were seen as great and god-like figures. Lincoln was the greatest advocate for emancipation, and our countrys government was the epitome of democracy. But after one has dived deep inside the past of American heritage, one realizes that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other great politicians were just like the negatively viewed political today; they slandered opponents in elections and wrote pamphlets to get every advantage they could in order to win. Also, people often remember Abraham Lincoln as the one that freed the slaves and stood for equality. It is time he declared the Emancipation proclamation, but history tells us that the civil war was declared not for the freedom of the slaves, but for the unification of America. Lincoln wanted the slaves gone, just not in the North. Finally, America is seen as a great democracy, but in fact it is instead a republic, in which representatives <at this point I cant even read what I wrote>
Secondly, the heros journey show in great classical plays such as Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, and others exemplify the idea that new ideas most be accepted while old ones are forgotten. In the process the hero or protagonist goes through a journey in which he finally finds enlightenment from the darkness he has been living, and reaches grasp of new ideas and things. For example the arrogance of Gilgamesh ensued his downfall, and ultimately Gilgamesh realizes his whole life of the perception of his power was not as strong as he expected. Also Odysseus realizes the hubris he had possessed and changed his way of treating the gods, finally making way back to his kingdom.
What perhaps is the largest example is that one sees in everyday life. As the adage goes, you cant tell a book by its cover, just because ones first impression of a fellow student, counselor, or acquaintance was negative, it does not mean the person is evil or unfriendly. Often in schools some kinds are teased for the way they look but when one really meets them, they are nice after all.
As Gloria Steinem said, we often really do hold ideas that were accepted in the past, and are afraid to give them up but it is ultimately our responsibility to learn from the past, and then rethink, and progress into the future. That is the formula of life.
Closing Remarks and the 2400
I think sometimes people, especially people on these forums, try to find secrets or techniques that are expected to greatly increase their score. The harsh truth is its not that simple. No technique, tip, hint, or piece of knowledge will ever substitute for practice. EVER. In fact I would say 5% of what helped me get a 2400 is tips and tricks, and 95% is me doing problems.
A 2400 is at a level where it is sometimes out of the hands of the test taker. Luck plays a big factor, as one question or one curve setting could offset the score. Go for it, but never expect it. There will be times when you feel like youve plateaued and cannot go any higher. There will be times were you will be so frustrated after studying for a month of CR and not improving one bit. Most people give up, people who score 2400s dont. Going back to the weightlifting analogy, no one gains 30 pounds in 6 months. Dont expect a high score to come in a couple of months; for most people this isnt possible. If you are junior start NOW and you will have a chance at getting 2300+. It has to be a long, hard, frustrating, a persistent journey.
You will have to be masochistic.
But perhaps one day on a chilly Thursday morning you will wake up, log on to collegeboard, and before your eyes you will see something like this, and that is when you know its over.
ImageShack - Image Hosting :: satthingck3.png
To all those to strive for the perfect score and the dream college, goodluck!