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From Rags to Riches: My Journey to a 2300+

tristan101tristan101 861 replies78 postsRegistered User Member
edited March 2012 in SAT Preparation
Over the years, CC has helped me so much and single-handedly guided me through the college admissions process. I’m quite certain that if I had not stumbled across this site during my sophomore year, there is no chance that I would be heading off to one of the best universities in the world next fall. I promised myself that once I successfully reached the end of the road [which I have, finally!], I would do this in return for all the wonderful people who have helped me along the way on this site and perhaps inspire some of you who dare to dream big and who are not afraid to put in the effort to make it happen—I know you’re out there because I was in your very shoes just a year ago. ;)

Some of you have PMed me about this before, so for a little background, I improved over 500 points from the first time I took the SAT in 7th grade to junior year. Granted, I hadn’t learned half the material in math the first time, but I managed to improve tremendously on CR and Wr even up to a few weeks before I scored a 2330 in a single sitting. To be brief: It is possible! I will try to explain as best I can what helped me the most, and hopefully parts will be helpful for you.

Critical Reading
The most important thing for doing well on CR is reading the passage carefully and making sure you understand what it’s saying from the beginning. Get a feel for the author’s tone, and after reading, summarize to yourself how he feels towards the subject. Personally, I prefer not to read the questions first because it tends to skew my thinking and influence my understanding of the article when I’m trying to find the answer and comprehend the text simultaneously. Try to develop a habit of following the lines with your pencil as you read because it increases speed and prevents you from losing your place. I frequently underline certain sections of the passage that I feel are important, but nothing more than that because writing extra detracts focus.

For the questions, the secret lies in knowing that the right answer always is explained in the passage, just in different words—you just have to know which parts are relevant and where to find it. If part of the answer seems wrong, then it is the wrong answer. If you can’t find evidence for it in the passage, then it’s probably wrong. If there seem to be two right answers, then you’ve most likely missed some details and need to reread that section. I was so familiar with spotting essential information that eventually, I could pick out exactly which vocab word a question would later test over, and most of the time, I was right. There is always a pattern to how CB constructs its exams. Doing more practice will help you to identify them quickly and accurately.

I personally believe it is essential to memorize vocab. I used Gruber’s List (3400 words) and memorized it 3-4 times. When test day came closer, I focused in on high frequency lists with fewer words (RocketReview, Direct Hits, etc) and sometimes made my own list. I think that once you get a feel for the type of words the SAT tests you on, you can begin to eliminate making any errors in sentence completion. With these techniques, I received a 750.

Since the SAT Math only tests the concepts learned in basic arithmetic, geometry, and algebra (I/II), there a only a few formulas that need to be refreshed: special right triangles, proportions, volume and area of simple shapes, slope, and whatnot. For me, it wasn’t really about solving the problems, but more of not making stupid mistakes. I knew all the right concepts and when to use them where, but I would make a stupid mistake like finding the mean when it asked for median, or solving for the wrong angle, etc. In this case, the problem wasn’t going faster to leave more time to check (I finished the questions in a little over half the time) but carefully solving the first time and reskimming the question before moving onto the next. Even though I knew the material, I would always miss 2-3 questions on the practice exam, and it was really frustrating. Once I found the source of my error (hasty speed, mistakenly thinking I needed more time to check), I intentionally slowed down and read EVERY word and at most only missed 1. This helped ensure that I did indeed find what the question was asking for and eliminated other errors, leading to an 800.

Writing MC
You must learn the rules, train yourself to identify them quickly, and apply them. Once you get the hang of it, you realize there are only so many rules and every question will cover one of those rules. I recommend familiarizing yourself with Sparknotes’ guide. Generally, there are 20% of No Error so just use that to check but don’t rely on it. Know the patterns and rules, and you will find the errors. This is probably the most trainable and therefore easy section, so no stupid mistakes. In the end, I got a 780 in Writing. [Though if I had missed one fewer MC question aka 0, it would have been an 800...]

Have concrete examples to back up your view and don’t be overly flowery or complicated in grammar. This is a must. Write a clear thesis, simple if necessary, and mostly develop your body paragraphs. Shoot for 4 to 5 paragraphs and MAKE SURE TO FILL UP THE FULL 2 PAGES. This is the key because length really does matter. Construct a conclusion and try to end with a metaphor or a profound insight rather than summarizing your essay again. I also came up with around 15 general examples the night before and did some research, so I had ideas that could be altered and used for any topic (think MLK Jr, Gandhi, Helen Keller, WWII/Hitler, 1984 by Orwell, etc). Yes, they were probably trite but they suffice, given the limited time you have. Just know them ahead of time to think fast and reserve time for writing.

The most important thing is to PRACTICE. I took 20-30 practice tests before I felt comfortable going in and knowing I could get at least a 2200 if not higher. In the beginning, use other brands to practice in order to save real CB tests for last to gauge your level. I used Princeton Review, Sparknotes, Barron’s, some Kaplan, just to get used to the format. Real CB tests are invaluable and ultimately, they helped me most because other brands really do not test over the same skills and instead distort your feel of the real test. QAS are the absolute best, but as they are not widely available, it may be difficult to get your hands on them. Though they are around. I’m not advocating anything, but make what you want of that. Also, the general consensus I believe for a “good SAT score” for Ivies is that above 2200 is qualified, but you need a 2300 to be competitive. A good score won’t get you in, but a bad score will keep you out.

I will end by quoting an old thread: “It has to be a long and persistent journey.” You have to work hard and discipline yourself if you really want that 2300 [or whatever] score. Just remember, nothing worth it is achieved without perseverance and diligence. After a very long time, I finally obtained that magical 2330, over 500 points from where I first started. It may seem like an impossible feat, but my dedication paid off. So YES, it is possible and may be challenging, but never doubt yourself but only if you are willing to do whatever it takes. I know I was. Anyway, even if this was just helpful for one person, this post will have done its job. :] Lastly, pay it forward! When you do reach your goal, share your methods with those poor souls who have yet to complete the SAT/college process. :p

Good luck, and feel free to PM me.
edited March 2012
36 replies
Post edited by tristan101 on
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Replies to: From Rags to Riches: My Journey to a 2300+

  • ArthuaArthua 96 replies41 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Wow congrats man...you worked hard and got what you wished for. xD and I'm still in the 1500-1600s...and I have SAT in June...I'd be content with an 1800. Oh well AP exams have my attention for now, but hopefully I could get out of this 1500-slump.
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  • everaryeverary 686 replies22 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    The things you bolded in math and writing are the very things I need to work on. And CR is my lowest section as well. What was the hardest aspect of the whole thing for you?

    Thanks for the post.
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  • Jimmy797Jimmy797 810 replies58 postsRegistered User Member
    You know what's annoying? When you get an essay prompt that reads something like this:
    "Do you think that the overabundance of TV has had a negative or solitary effect on youth?" Or something along those lines. I mean, that just sucks. Or "Do you think that book banning is justified?" (Randomly making up the words to prompts I've seen before). You can't find a single thing from literature to support your thesis, and the prompt sucks enough that the essay would suck along with it. Any tips on these? I don't want to get a horrible prompt then get like an 8 on my essay.

    Also, I have the exact same problem as you do in the Math. I know all the concepts and how to do all the exercises, but I always end up doing 2-3 stupid mistakes. I'm not as fast as you are, I usually finish like 1 minute ahead of time, though that's because I review every question after I do it to make sure it's correct. And I still have a few careless errors. In the last test, I counted 6 integers instead of 7. Any tips on avoiding these?

    Also, if I've started out at a 2100 without practice, and intend to do around 17 practice tests before test day (it's June 5 and I only recently - after I got out of the May 2010 test annoyed with my careless errors and bad CR performance - realized how much I need to practice). I'm going to do Barron's which I hear are way harder than the normal SATs (which is so true, in CR I get anywhere between 2-5 wrong on one section, and in the BB CR section - not the practice tests - I usually get everything correct except for 1 question with the long passages, on average - due to careless errors actually), then I'm going to do all BB's practice tests, and try as much as I can to simulate test day. Checking all wrong answers and why they're wrong is a given of course. Just wanted to see your opinion on my study plan :)

    I'm also generally learning to identify how to get the correct answer almost every time in CR, which is great. I can affirm the OP's claim that just about every correct answer is written in different terms in the text somewhere. Sometimes I'm torn between 2 answers and at that point, I look for the one that's explicitly written in the text. It's almost always the correct answer. Sometimes both of the answers can be true, but if it's REALLY unclear, look for if it's written in the text in a different way, or similar words between the text and the answer choice, etc. Sometimes you're required to use deductive reasoning, ask yourself which would be wrong and why. For example I came across a passage the other day, about a 13-year old emigrating to Canada, and it asked what the author meant by "feelings I was destined to know forever" or something like that. I was torn between 2 answers: That emigrating will have a deep impact on her, or that she believes the future will bring new emotional experiences. At the moment I have no idea why I considered the latter, as it's obviously the first and you don't even need the passage to know that. Might've been that I thought by "destined" she meant "it's not clear now but I'll find out better in the future." Anyway, I thought of both and concluded that it's not logical for her to develop new emotional experiences (we're talking about feelings of sorrow here, not of acceptance) because she was experiencing emigrating right then. Any while the second choice may have been implied slightly, the other one was just way more obvious and logical.

    By the way, how on earth did you actually memorize 3400 words? I wanted to do like 100 each day between now and test day, but I can never seem to get myself to begin on it. It's just so tedious, like you're memorizing a dictionary.

    Thanks for your help and your insightful post :) And sorry I wrote so much :D (if this were an SAT essay I'd get a 12 - we all know it's about length ;) )
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  • tristan101tristan101 861 replies78 postsRegistered User Member
    @ everary: For me, the hardest section was probably CR, because although I knew I could get the right answers most of the time, that was certainly not a guarantee for understanding the passages or getting easier answers on test day. I also found that passage selection and my interest of the subject influenced my scores in CR; for example, if it was an intricate science passage, chances are I wouldn't do very well...

    @Jimmy: Sure the essay can throw you a curveball, but as I said, preparing some topics or even resorting to personal examples can help you combat that. I would prefer to use historical examples rather than literature ones because it's more open-ended and less room for the grader to find error. For the TV one, I would probably have made up a fictional example from my own "experience" to support my views. It's not like the graders would ever know. On test day, I got a less than favorable essay question, but obviously I had to work through it anyway. Chances are in your favor though, that you will receive a prompt to which you can apply the examples you've prepared.

    About Barron's practice tests, I tended to avoid them because they were so blatantly different than what CB tests. I know some people think that if you're overprepared, then you will do well, but I think it's a waste of time. Prep yourself for the exam you will take -- the SAT by CB -- because that's the only way you'll know what to expect on test day. For math, reread the question quickly right before moving onto the next problem to minimize chances of user-error.

    I memorized about 2 pages of Gruber's vocab a week. Sure, I didn't remember everything a week later, but I kept moving on through the book....hence the reason it took me 3-4 times through the list to remember all the important vocab. It does take time, so start early. I know it feels like a barrage of foreign words that is difficult to commit to memory, but after a few times, you'll start notice some things are actually sticking. :]
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  • HarambeeHarambee 2600 replies4 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Nice post. Thanks for sharing
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  • rahul99rahul99 22 replies62 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Gratz for the hard work
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  • WongTongTongWongTongTong 2649 replies85 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Cool beans.
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  • netthreatnetthreat 171 replies17 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    Where do you find Gruber's book? There are a few on Amazon, is there a specific book that was used?
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  • MonochromeAddictMonochromeAddict 848 replies12 postsRegistered User Member
    Congrats Tristan!
    I haven't taken the SAT yet, though I'm planning to.
    Right now I'm trying to get my hands on practice tests...
    Hopefully I can also get 2300+. :)
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  • tristan101tristan101 861 replies78 postsRegistered User Member
    I purchased mine from Amazon; it was a 10th edition one. But I'm sure all of the will work as the list hasn't changed.

    Thanks, everyone. I just hoped an improvement story might motivate some of you to keep going and work through it :)
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  • coollegecoollege 898 replies66 postsRegistered User Member
    Nice post, thanks
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  • mifunemifune 2733 replies28 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    Thank you for providing your reflections. Those newly acquainted to the test will always value such helpful contributions.
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  • KalookakooKalookakoo 366 replies105 postsRegistered User Member
    "Writing MC
    You must learn the rules, train yourself to identify them quickly, and apply them. Once you get the hang of it, you realize there are only so many rules and every question will cover one of those rules. I recommend familiarizing yourself with Sparknotes’ guide. Generally, there are 20% of No Error so just use that to check but don’t rely on it. Know the patterns and rules, and you will find the errors. This is probably the most trainable and therefore easy section, so no stupid mistakes. In the end, I got a 780 in Writing. [Though if I had missed one fewer MC question aka 0, it would have been an 800...]"

    How right you are. I finally stopped playing it by ear, and learned a few rules. And my score shot up by 100+ points on my next sitting (a week after my previous practice). It's ridiculously easy after you get the rules down.
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  • Jimmy797Jimmy797 810 replies58 postsRegistered User Member
    I usually rely on both my ear and rules for writing. I've really got a hang for the ear thing, I really don't bother with the rules unless I'm really hung up on one. It's pretty easy to spot the correct ones. Much like some people find CR easy due to long-time reading, Writing becomes easier when you actually speak the language or hear it spoken. Learn the rules if you're on a deadline.

    To OP: For the CR - I've narrowed down my problem to vocab (not just SC's, 2 or 3 questions in the Passage based reading are vocab-based and I get those wrong more often than not) and some careless errors. I can live with the errors, but I really need to get my vocab level up quickly and efficiently. I'm currently using Barron's 3500 word list, and plan to memorize most of it by my next SAT (June 5 - yeah yeah short time but I can do it) - however I can't help but be affected by what I read about Direct Hits, with it only containing 400 words and a better ability to predict what'll come up on the next test than Barron's. However I can't for the life of me find Direct Hits anywhere, and seeing as I'm international, I can't order it online in time. Can't find it in e-book form anywhere either! Is DH really worth it? If I had the books I'd memorize Barron's list anyway and then focus on DH when test date nears. Propositions?
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  • ZackzidaneZackzidane 29 replies13 postsRegistered User Junior Member
    @ Tristan: Thanks for the motivational post!

    @ Jimmy: Why did you say you are not able to get Direct Hits in time for June SAT? Even if you are an international, you should be able to order it via Amazon. I just did a search and its available as a bundle for $26.90 (exclusive of shipping and other related fees). I suppose you are not based in America but that probably accounts for a longer shipping time. It should be in time for the June SAT, in fact you should have at least two weeks.

    I also have the Barrons list but I won't recommend relying on it. DH, by far, addresses the vocab-related questions in the most effective way. If I were you, I would rather spend the time on the Blue Book or QAS (if possible) than the Barrons list, simply because any additional time spent on Barrons may not necessarily help for sentence completion while more time spent on BB or QAS will aid you in the passages. Hope this helps. PM me if you need help in procuring DH.
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  • tristan101tristan101 861 replies78 postsRegistered User Member
    @ Jimmy: DH is helpful, but by the time I had ordered it, I already knew the words anyway. They're not as high of a level, and I'm sure the Sparknotes 250 vocab list probably covers them all and is more manageable (can't check since I gave my DH away) than Barron's with the time frame you have.

    You also say you miss vocab questions from passages. I find that if the word it's asking for is relatively easy (like "wound" for injury but also past tense of "to wind"), then MOST of the time, it is a second definition of the word, or the definition not as well known. If it's a harder word (like obsequious), then it's just testing to see if you can find the meaning within the context, assuming you're not familiar with the word. Maybe that should help a little?
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  • RainbowSprinklesRainbowSprinkles 1593 replies110 postsRegistered User Senior Member
    thank you for sharing, the 20% No Error tip and the save CB tests for last were the best! congratulations on your AWESOME test mark and entrance to a top school
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  • Jimmy797Jimmy797 810 replies58 postsRegistered User Member
    @Zackzidane - I could get it in 2 weeks time, and have around 10 days left over to study them, which is enough, but I'd have to pay shipping, and I've already spent like $50 on Barron's and the Blue Book (which is amazing, by the way - though I'm keeping the tests till last) - and I'd probably have to shell out another $50 to get DH.
    Oh, and I'm not at all worried about the passages. I can literally get all those correct - it's just that sometimes I make some careless errors like missing something to read after the line reference or something. But I'm working on those through practice.

    @tristan101 - thanks, I'll definitely be using Barron's, but with what I've heard about DH, it's like it's a panacea (three cheers for SAT words) for vocab. Everyone says it's great at predicting what'll come up, and really helps you memorize quickly. I'd actually be fine with just a word list of what it offers, and I'd work on those more extensively than the 3500 words - but I can't find that anywhere on the net. Perhaps someone here could help me out?

    Also, about the vocab from the passages - I wasn't referring to the questions that ask you "What does word X most nearly mean in context" - I find those the easiest questions on the CR. I was referring to the questions about mood or tone or something, that usually have 5 one-word answers, with difficult vocab. Sometimes it can be the context questions (in BB practice test 1 - section 5 # 13 - didn't know whether it was illusion or conception because I didn't know what conception meant, which I now realize is stupid on my part) and question 16 - didn't know what erroneous meant, and was torn between that and unintelligible. That stuff.
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  • tristan101tristan101 861 replies78 postsRegistered User Member
    @ Jimmy

    I don't have my BB anymore, but what I can say for those are that you definitely want to avoid extreme wording. A lot of the time, the answer is something more or less neutral with perhaps some hint of emotion. Of course, that won't really help when you've narrowed down choices to things like "illusion" or "conception" but generally speaking, it won't be a tone that could be considered offensive. For DH, I highly doubt there is a list of words online that are in the book because that would violate copyrights, but I bet any shorter list would work.
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  • Jimmy797Jimmy797 810 replies58 postsRegistered User Member
    That's actually extremely helpful, thanks a lot :)
    Just one more question: Considering I successfully memorize Barron's list (already know a lot of it, but considering I memorize the words I don't know) - do you think it's enough without DH to have mostly no problem with vocab on the next test? Because that's what I'm aiming for, and if I do that, I stand a really decent shot at a 750 in CR.
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