What Are the Best SAT Test Taking Strategies?


The SAT is a test that has been designed to test a student’s aptitude and knowledge in the areas of reading, writing, and math. Colleges and universities use an SAT test score to evaluate a student’s eligibility for admission. The better someone scores on the SAT, the higher the chances they’ll get accepted to a good college or university and/or secure merit scholarships.

General SAT Tips

These are the best SAT test-taking strategies that can be applied throughout the test, no matter the section. If you use these for the length of the test, you should see an improvement in your score.

Answer Questions You Know First

One of the first and best SAT tips is to mark all the questions you don’t immediately know the answer to. Give them some kind of mark that you will easily see and answer them later. It is better to answer all the questions you are confident about first and spend your time on the harder questions later.

Eliminate Incorrect Answers

Sometimes you may come across questions with a few answer choices that you know right away are incorrect. This may be easier than identifying the correct answer. If you can identify even two of the incorrect answers, you have a better chance of choosing the correct one. Use your test booklet to cross out the answers you know are wrong and do your scratch work there. In the case that you are unable to eliminate even one choice, then you should guess.

Avoid Stray Marks

It is very important to be careful when filling out your answer sheet. A machine scores your test, not a person. And unfortunately, the machines often can’t tell the difference between a correct answer and an accidental stray mark. If you do accidentally make an extra mark, it is important to erase it even if you think it is small.

Your First Answer is Usually Correct

Too often, test takers discover this when they get the test back. Your first response is usually the correct one. Don’t change your answer unless you feel 100% certain that you’ve answered wrong. 

Don’t Skip Answers

In the past, you were penalized for guessing on the SAT, but that is not the case anymore. Even if you don’t have any idea what the answer is, you should guess because you will not be penalized. And if you’re guessing, it’s still helpful to try to eliminate at least one incorrect choice to increase your chances of answering correctly. 

Pay Close Attention

Another strategy for the SAT is to always double-check that you are filling in your answers in the correct number space and section on your answering sheet. It’s easy to fill in your answer in the wrong place if you are not paying attention to it.

Pace Yourself

The SAT is a timed test, meaning pacing yourself is very important. You should only spend a few seconds on easy questions and no more than a minute or two on harder questions. It’s easy to lose track of time as you’re taking the test. Make sure you pay close attention to the allotted time and how much time is left as you continue. It may take some practice to pace yourself correctly, so make sure you practice doing so.

Strategies for SAT Test Taking: Reading

The reading section of the SAT has five sections in total. Four of the passages are single passages, with the fifth being a paired passage. In addition to whether the passages are single or paired, it is also important to consider that they will be based on different topics. SAT Reading Passages can be based on Science, U.S. and World Literature, or History and Social Studies. 

The SAT Reading multiple-choice questions are structured in a way to aid your process. Let this guide your understanding. They are arranged from general to specific so that you can gain an understanding of the major ideas covered before getting into detail. 

As a whole, this portion of the SAT will test the following skills:

  • Understanding the information and ideas presented in the passage
  • Knowledge of how to summarize
  • Comprehension of rhetoric and structure 
  • Ability to synthesize information

First and foremost, you should notate which of these skills are strengths or weaknesses. Find passages that focus on your weaknesses and test yourself as often as you can. We suggest doing so with a trained tutor who can guide you through grading your work and help you understand your mistakes. 

Strategies for SAT Test Taking: Writing and Language

The writing section of the SAT is designed to test your rhetorical skills, usage, and mechanics. There are four passages that range from nonfiction narratives to arguments. They can be about a variety of topics such as science, history, the humanities, and even careers. 

One skill you need to ensure you’re comfortable with is reading informational graphics and data. You will be asked to modify passages to match such graphics, so having comprehension of the data will be crucial to your success. 

Another level of cognition you will need is the understanding of how to improve a passage’s development, organization, and diction while ensuring grammar is correct. This is because the most important question format on the Writing and Language portion of the SAT is to choose the best of three options to improve an underlined statement in your passage. 

Our Key Tips

  • Make sure to read each question carefully so you know what is required before you answer it.
  • Make sure you know common grammar rules – like the rules for using commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, and apostrophes.

Strategies for SAT Test Taking: Math 

math test

The Math section of the SAT is split into two sections: one where you may not use a calculator, and the other where you can. Both sections start with multiple-choice questions and lead into “grid-ins.” Grid-ins are student-produced responses. 

Math No Calculator Permitted

This is a shorter section consisting of 20 questions. Expect to see questions from the following content areas:

  • Algebra
  • Trigonometry
  • Geometry
  • Advanced Math

Math Calculator Permitted

This section will be similar to the no calculator permitted area, but will be longer and include more questions. Here are the sections in which you may see questions:

  • Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Advanced Math
  • Geometry

Our Key Tips

  • There will be no negative answers in the student-produced response questions. If you come up with a negative answer, you will need to try again.
  • If your answer is a repeating decimal, enter as many decimal points as you can in the provided grid.
  • Do not use mixed numbers as answers. So if your answer is 2 ¾, you’ll have to change it to 11/4 or 2.75.
  • Use only the test booklet to show your work and to mark up diagrams or graphs. 
  • The first sets of questions are typically easier than later ones, so don’t spend too long on answering them.

How to Study for the SAT

Knowing these best SAT test-taking strategies will help you study for the SAT. At times when you may not know the specific answer for questions on the test, these strategies for the SAT may come in handy. They will help you answer questions quickly and correctly. Even so, the most effective way to enhance your SAT score is to find a tutoring program tailored to test preparation. 

Acadomia has specialized services in test preparation with tutors who have detailed knowledge on the SAT process. Our 8-week (12 hours) Test Prep program builds on the student’s strengths and focuses on delivering strong results with one-on-one private sessions to really improve SAT scores. Contact us today to hear more about how we can help your student reach their goals!

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