COLLEGE CONNECTION: Proven strategies to score high on the SAT exam


It’s not a secret as to what’s on the SAT. In fact, several actual SAT exams, that were administered over the past two years, are available online at Khan Academy and in print in The Official SAT Study Guide by The College Board. So the most basic strategy for acing the SAT is to become thoroughly familiar with the test material ahead of time. By taking prior exams, and learning how to correctly answer past questions, students will be well on their way to earning an impressive score on the day of their real test.

Students should also know, and understand, the directions for each test section in advance so they can use all of the allotted time to earn points rather than to figure out what they need to do. This is particularly important for the open-ended math questions where students have to solve problems and then correctly bubble in their answers. Students need to know, for example, that if their answer is one-and-a-half they need to record their answer as 3/2 or 1.5. If they bubble in 11/2 the computer will read it as eleven halves and they will not get credit.

At the beginning of each of the two math sections a box of formulas is presented. However, there are two formulas that are not included that students need to know. One is the center-radius form of the circle equation and the other is the quadratic formula. Students should know that there is little geometry on the exam (although there is frequently a question on the volume of a cylinder), but a lot of algebra. There is usually one trigonometry question, but all students typically need to know in this field is that, in a right triangle, the Sin X = Cos Y.

On the reading section, students will be glad to know that there are no longer extremely hard vocabulary words – like lugubrious or obfuscate – but rather commonplace words which they need to use in the proper context. For example, while evacuate, retire, vacate and depart all mean “to leave,” they are certainly not interchangeable. So students need to practice identifying the proper word based on contextual clues.

On the grammar section, which is titled, “Writing and Language,” students need to know the proper use of basic punctuation marks: comma, semi-colon, colon and hyphen. It’s also important for students to examine each question for correct tense, structure, and word choice, and to know the difference between commonly used transition words such as “however,” “for instance,” “therefore,” and “consequently.”

On all sections of the SAT, when in doubt students should go with their instinct. There is no penalty for wrong answers and, since there are four choices (A through D) for most questions, even random guessing will – according to the Laws of Probability – result in a correct answer 25 percent of the time.

Susan Alaimo is the founder and director of SAT Smart in Hillsborough that has been offering PSAT, SAT, and ACT preparation courses, as well as private tutoring by Ivy League educated instructors, for more than 25 years. Visit or call 908-369-5362.