So you got your PSAT score back, and don’t love it. You know that next to your GPA, the most important thing for getting into the college you want and getting scholarships is your SAT score, and you’re not sure this number is going to cut the mustard.
Please don't worry. Your PSAT score does not seal your fate. It’s a fairly accurate prediction of how you will score if you don’t lift a finger to prepare between now and March 14.
But you’re going to lift a finger. In fact, you’re going to lift your whole hand right now, fist clenched and shaking at the sky and vowing to the high heavens that you WILL see at least a 100 point increase in your score. Say it with me: “I can and will crush the SAT in March!”
Here’s the plan:
Drill the Skills
Compared with the massive truckloads of information that gets unloaded on your poor brain in high school, the list of skills you really need to do well on the SAT is pretty manageable. In math, you won’t need to differentiate any functions or calculate any inverse cosines or do any of a hundred other things you learn in precal. In English, you don’t have to identify any quotations from Shakespeare or (blech) journal your “responses” to literature.
There is a finite list of core skills that you need to know, and you’ve probably been exposed to every one of them before at some point. Maybe you didn’t learn all of these perfectly when they were first introduced, but with a few hours of consistent, structured practice every week, you can master them.
Remember, this is all stuff you’re almost certainly going to actually use, not just on the SAT, but in your high school and college classes!
Know How to Practice
The only way to get better at taking the SAT is to keep taking the SAT.
Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to sign up for every test date from now to December hoping to get better each time. There are ten full, official practice tests available online or in the very inexpensive Official SAT Study Guide (which you need to get ASAP).
But just taking these tests one after the other isn’t going to help. You need to use them intelligently. Trial and error only works if you take the time to process the errors and actually change your approach the next time.
Every improvement you make in your skills and your approach to the test will come by recognizing a weakness and turning it into a strength. But first you have to see the weakness.
So don’t move on to the Practice Test 2 until you’ve analyzed every question you missed on Practice Test 1, and can honestly explain why you got the wrong answer and state in very clear and specific terms exactly what you need to do differently next time. The answers in the back of the Official Study Guide can (sometimes) be very helpful in this process!
Once you know what you need to change, make a list of positive, specific, repeatable actions that you will apply to the next practice test. This is your Green Light list and you'll have it with you as you take the next practice test. It might look something like this for the reading section:
Your list might be different. Maybe it will have fewer skill-based Green Lights (like #2) and more psychological ones (like #4). Maybe it’ll be a longer or shorter list. It’s unique for you because it’s your own personal guide to exactly what you need to change.
Quick and Dirty "Secrets"
Purveyors of fat, expensive test prep books would like you think that there’s a black book of sneaky secrets that will effortlessly add hundreds of points to your score.
Yes, there are a few simple tactics that can make a significant difference. But you probably already know the most important ones, and if you don’t, you can find them via a simple web search. Things like avoiding extreme statements, using process of elimination to make an educated guess, and trial and error using the answer choices—none of these things are actually secrets.
And you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns on this approach pretty quickly.
Don’t get overwhelmed wading through hundreds of finicky, conflicting “secret keys” to the test. Just focus on those proven techniques.
Don't Go It Alone
The idea of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” sounds brave and noble until you actually think about the image. Just consider the physics: when you lift something, you’re also pushing down against your point of leverage by that same effort. So if you pull up on your own bootstraps, you’re not going anywhere.
You’re trying to overcome your own limitations. And that’s not something to be undertaken without help.
You make progress only through a consistent, repeated cycle of commitment, accountability, and reality. A trusted ally can be your point of leverage for all three. If you make a promise to someone else that you’re going to follow through on this, that’s a much more powerful commitment than a promised made to yourself. If you’re in it together, they’ll be there to hold you accountable. And when you can’t see past your own strengths and weaknesses, they can give you that dose of reality to help you see the next steps.
Maybe it’s a study group. Maybe it’s a tutor. Or you can team up with a reliable partner.
“Reliable” is the key word. Think of your most dependable friend and invite them to join you on the way. Tag or email them with a link to this page and let them know you’re excited to get the killer score you know you can accomplish.
Now go get that score!