The perfect SAT score is possible, but do you know what it takes? Earning your highest SAT score ever requires more than book smarts. You’ll need to study hard and know the test inside out before exam day comes around.
The highest score you can earn on the current version of the SAT is a 1600. Out of more than a million students who take the SAT each year, only a few hundred earn the perfect SAT score. Being one of those excellent few can put a proverbial gold star on your college applications: Who can say no to an applicant with a perfect score?
You might be wondering how this kind of score is even possible. The fact is that you’ll have to answer almost every question correctly to achieve it. To get to that point, you need to focus and study hard.
Use High-Quality Practice Materials
It may come as a surprise to learn that the concepts on the SAT aren’t all that complicated. What the SAT does is make simple ideas difficult by the way it presents them, tricking students into thinking they don’t understand. Fortunately, the SAT’s tricks follow sets of patterns that you’ll begin to recognize after you study for a while.
What does this have to do with finding practice materials? The best practice materials come from the College Board itself because they will contain the same patterns as the real test. If you use official practice tests and guides, you will start to see the same patterns and tricks over and over again until you get used to them. After months of taking official practice tests, the real SAT won’t bring any surprises.
Besides official study materials from the College Board, there are numerous study guides that can help you. Be careful, though, as not all SAT study guides are created equally. Look for books that use excerpts from real tests and offer detailed explanations of the answers to get the most bang for your buck.
Learn to Study More Efficiently
Before you hit the books, come up with a game plan. Studying without a plan can lead to endless hours of unfocused flipping and skimming, but with a strategy, you can study smarter, not harder. One of the most effective strategies is to diagnose your mistakes and learn how to correct them.
How do you do that? Take official practice tests and figure out the kinds of questions you repeatedly get wrong. Then, figure out why you made those mistakes.
Use practice tests with answer keys and study guides with explanations to help you understand why you got questions wrong and how you can do better. You should also mark the questions about which you're unsure. Go back and solidify your skills in those areas as well. This will boost your grade, but if you want to earn your highest SAT score ever, you’ll need to dig a little deeper.
Learning From Your Mistakes
To earn the SAT’s max score, you’ll have to do more than taking practice tests and checking your answers. You’ll have to figure out the skills required for the questions you missed. Do you have those skills? If you don’t, you’ll need to make a plan to learn them before you take the test.
The things you need to know – but don’t – to answer the questions correctly are called knowledge gaps. After you diagnose your knowledge gaps, you’ll need to create a study plan to fill them before test time. Once you feel confident in your new understanding of the concepts, complete some practice questions about the concept. If you’re still getting the questions wrong, you may need to study in a different way.
You can also use a technique that involves interrogating the question. Ask yourself why you got the question wrong until you can zoom in on the problem. When you ask yourself this, you will sometimes reveal that you didn’t know the skill required to answer the question. Other times, you may realize that it was the question that tricked you, so you can learn the tricky pattern, and it won’t trip you up again.
How to Find Patterns in Your Mistakes
Start making a list of the questions you miss in a notebook. Note the section, subject and question type. You should also write down the answer you chose and your reasoning for it. For each one, compare your own reasoning to the reasoning given for the correct answer in a study guide or by your tutor.
After you have several questions and answers completed like this – preferably after having finished several practice tests – go back to your list and look for patterns. Patterns can show up in the form of a particular question type that trips you up, repeating knowledge gaps, tricky types of wording and more. Once you understand the patterns that are causing you problems, you can create a game plan to conquer them.
How can you fix issues that are happening again and again? If you’ve already tried all of your own study techniques, it may be time to call in extra help. Ask your teachers and friends to help you. You can also find a tutor or study group through your school or local public library.
Be Careful Not to Waste Your Time
When it comes to studying for the SAT’s max score, it helps to give yourself a deadline. Make sure you start studying at least a few months before you plan to take the test. Having a deadline is also a double-edged sword. Deadlines give you a limited amount of time to learn what you need to earn your highest SAT score ever.
One trap that students tend to fall into when they’re studying for the SAT is that they forget that you need to focus on your mistakes. If you create a study plan that has you drilling question types you consistently answer correctly, of course you’ll feel better because you’ll be getting more questions right. However, you’ll also be wasting precious time that you could have used for digging deeper to find your knowledge gaps and mistake patterns.
Instead, block out a set amount of study time every day and use it only for these tasks:
- Diagnose your weaknesses using practice tests and your mistake journal
- Analyze your mistake patterns
- Find more quality practice materials
- Interrogate your mistakes
- Find help
- Talk with a tutor or study group
- Create an adjusted plan to help you continue studying smarter until you reach your goals or run out of time
Improve Your Test-Taking Skills
What if you already have the knowledge to ace the SAT? If you’re doing well on the practice tests, but your score on the real deal was less than stellar, you may need to work on your test-taking skills. The first thing you need to do is learn to relax. The SAT is a high-stress test, but stressing out too much can lead to careless errors.
If you know you make careless mistakes on the actual test, slow down a little and be more mindful. Check to make sure you’re bubbling in the answers in your answer sheet that correspond to the right questions in the test booklet. If you have extra time at the end of each section, go back and double check your answers.
Remember, missing even one question can jeopardize your chances of earning the SAT’s max score. So, read each question carefully, eliminate obviously wrong answers and don’t be too quick to select “No Change" for writing and grammar questions. Those questions can be deceptive, so you need to be absolutely sure that none of the other answers are correct.
Study Habits for the Perfect SAT Score
Your study hours will add up quickly, and whatever habits you create will really stick and pop back up again come test time. You also already know that your study time is incredibly limited. Make the best of it by creating a dedicated study environment, staying positive and sticking to a schedule.
Study in the same place every day in an environment that is calm, quiet and conducive to learning. That means you’ll probably have to eliminate your distractions. Put your cell phone away and unplug from the internet for a while. You will be able to get more done without having the whole world at your fingertips.
Before you create your SAT study schedule, look at what you have scheduled already. If you don’t already have a daily planner, find one to use and put in the details of how you spend your time. Once you find blocks of time that are available, pencil in study time and make a plan for the progression of your studies, sort of like your own personalized syllabus.
Drill to Improve Your Speed
Right now, if you’re still struggling to boost your score, you’re probably just barely finishing each section on time. What perfect scorers don’t tell you is that they always finish each section with plenty of time to spare. They don’t just sit smugly in silence for five minutes while everyone else is working. Perfect scorers use that time to check their work.
If you’re struggling to finish each section, you might be guilty of one of the most common SAT time wasters: getting stuck. To solve this problem, mark questions that take you more than 30 seconds to answer. If you can’t finish them in that time, move on and come back to them when you finish the rest of the section. You will finish much faster this way, and then you can use that extra time to tackle the questions that are giving you trouble.
Use the process of elimination to get rid of answers that are obviously wrong, but when crunch time comes, don’t be afraid to guess. On the new version of the SAT, you won’t lose points for wrong answers. Guessing a lot probably won’t help you earn a perfect score, but you certainly won’t get there by leaving answers blank.
Psychology Is Key to Acing the SAT
If you’re going into the SAT thinking of the test itself as your adversary, you’ve got it wrong. For many test takers, the thing that’s holding them back is their own thoughts. Does this sound like you? You psyche yourself out, you stress and you don’t believe you can earn a perfect score.
This kind of negative thinking will translate to your score, but if you believe in yourself, and you’ve studied, that will show too. Stay positive while you’re studying and remain calm during the test. You’ve got this! After all the studying you’ve done to get yourself there, know you’re prepared to earn a higher score on the SAT than you ever have before.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.