The Secret to Unlocking Your Highest SAT Score

The Secret to Unlocking Your Highest SAT Score
Practice taking tests, study the material, and change your mindset to build confidence (Photograph by Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)
Photograph by Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Reilly Lorastein at Veritas Prep.

One thing always astounded me when I interrogated students about why they chose their answer to a particular question. Too many students looked down, sheepishly, and mumbled something like, “I knew this answer was wrong, but I chose it anyway” or “I don’t know why I picked this one.”

If you knew it was wrong, why did you pick it? Step One, SAT Preppers: If you know the answer is wrong, do not pick it. Cross it out and move on. That’s so obvious, though, I told myself, something deeper has to be going on here.

I puzzled over this strange phenomenon for weeks. I encountered it with almost every student. I became convinced that if I could get to the bottom of this issue, I could help all students improve their scores. After many conversations with many students, I figured it out.

Even though something inside students tells them if an answer is right or wrong, students do not have that thought (or feeling) validated by an authority, e.g. the instructor, a teacher, the answer key, etc. This is almost unheard of in today’s society, where anyone can hop on Google and prove or disprove anything in a matter of seconds, virtually anywhere in the world, and at any time. But this crutch is not available when taking the SAT.

This lack of an affirmation or a critique creates anxiety in students. At the heart of the issue is an uncertainty about choosing rather than an uncertainty about the content of the question. This also explains why many students will get practice questions right but then return to me with a lower score than expected on their exam. It’s not that they don’t know the material; it’s that they don’t think they know it all the time.

Confidence is the secret ingredient of great test takers. Now I always ask my students to justify their answers before I tell them if they are right or wrong. Do this for yourself while you are taking the test, and watch your score improve. If you know why you are picking an answer, you are more likely to be right.

Here are my Top 3 ways to build your test-taking confidence:

1. Practice test-taking conditions: So much of the SAT depends on stamina and ability to retain focus for almost four hours. Although it might sound painful, taking timed, full-length SAT practice tests before taking the official exam will pay off. The more you do this, the better. Your brain is a muscle. You wouldn’t wake up and expect to run a marathon when your exercise regimen consists of a walk to the store once a week. You shouldn’t expect the equivalent from your brain. Work that muscle and watch it gain the necessary endurance to get you through four hours of testing. Then you’ll have more energy to focus on the questions, rather than on how hard it is to take such a long test, or when the next break is, or I hope I remembered my snack, or—you get the picture.

2. Familiarize yourself with the necessary material: Study. Take a prep course such as Veritas SAT Prep 2400. Still feel unprepared? Study more. Still feel unprepared? Then ask yourself this: Have you done everything you realistically could up to this point to prepare for the exam? If the answer is yes, you need to change your mindset more than your study habits.

3. Change your mindset: This is the most effective way to increase your test-taking confidence. Someone could memorize the dictionary, zoom through countless journal articles, and complete books of math problems, but if this person does not feel confident in what she has learned, she will be less likely to apply it in a pressure situation. To change your mindset, change your thinking. You know that voice that says, “I’m bad at math”? Instead say, “I’m better at math than I was yesterday” or “I’ve seen this type of question before” or “I enjoy math.” It may sound silly, but I’ve seen it improve academic performance on the SAT and beyond.

Change your mindset, build your confidence, and good luck.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? Sign up for a trial of Veritas Prep SAT 2400 on Demand.

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