In 2012, more than 1.5 million students took the SAT; of these, only 360 obtained the highly desired perfect 2400 score. Of course, teachers can’t guarantee that an SAT prep course will lead students to reach this perfect score. A well-planned, skillfully taught SAT course, however, may improve students’ scores, giving them a better shot at getting into competitive colleges.

Understand the Test Thoroughly

Teaching a quality SAT prep course is much easier for teachers who understand what the test covers as well as how the test is scored. The test comprises three parts: Math, which contains multiple-choice and gird-ins; Critical Reading, which contains sentence completions and reading comprehension; and Writing, which includes identifying sentence errors, improving sentences and paragraphs, and an essay prompt. Except for the essay and the grid-ins, all of the questions carry a penalty of a quarter of a point for wrong answers. The essay is scored separately on a 2 to 12 scale, and it is scored holistically. This means two graders consider each essay in its entirety, then assign it a score of 1 to 6. The two scores are then added together to produce the final score.

Provide Practice Tests

Teachers who understand what they’ll be teaching are only half ready — they also need to become familiar with their students’ needs. Many students start prep courses having already taken the test, but others won’t have any experience with the SAT. Whether students have taken the test, teachers should give each a practice test at the start of the course and note the score. This gives a starting point for progress, making it much simpler to set a goal and assess progress with future practice tests. While many students hope for point increases in the hundreds, studies have shown that actual point increases from prep courses are much lower — around 30. Teachers can also consider setting smaller goals, such as ensuring students learn a predetermined number of vocabulary words or three new types of math equations.

Prepare the Students for the Writing Portion

Armed with information about the SAT and their students, teachers are ready to structure lessons. Much of the structure and content depends on how much teaching time is available, but teachers should attempt to spend equal time on all sections unless a student is particularly weak in one and needs extra help. A good preparation method is to consider how much time will be devoted to each section during the week, then choose exercises and materials for this time. These may be practice questions, discussions about common SAT topics, practice essay prompts, vocabulary drills or math questions. Don’t forget to plan backup exercises for each area in the event that students finish the material more quickly than anticipated.

Give Feedback

Many students taking the SAT feel stress because of the heavy bearing the test has on college admissions. Other students may be taking an SAT course only because their parents or school are making them. Because your leaners will have different needs, don’t forget to talk to them about how they feel about the test, whether they have test-taking anxieties, and their preconceived notions about the SAT. Take this feedback into account as you plan your lessons from week to week. A highly driven student, for example, may want to take a practice test more often than a less-motivated one. Let the students tell you how to teach them, and the process will be less stressful for all involved.

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