Thursday, July 17, 2008

How to Get a 2400 on Your SAT Reasoning Test!

I’ll always remember the day I realized I got a 2400; waking up at 3 A.M. to check my score on my dad’s blackberry and seeing those three 800’s was an exhilarating experience indeed. People always say good colleges don’t necessitate a perfect score at all, and I agree with that. Once you’re past a certain mark, let’s say around 2250, colleges really don’t go into that much detail concerning some odds and ends on your standardized test score.

To me, getting a 2400 seems to be more of a personal thing, something you can be proud of looking back many years from now. Aiming for the perfect score shouldn’t be motivated by parental pressure, by the mindset that colleges want perfect scores, or by anything that isn’t purely you. It should be something that affirms that you can beat the system, because, yes, the SAT I does have a system like all those test preps books say, and I can help you break it.

First off, the most important element of aiming for the perfect score is practice. No matter how smart you are, you cannot expect Collegeboard to write tests that allow any smart individual to get a perfect test on when they’ve had so many years of experience tweaking their tests. They want to create a bell curve distribution with a very limited amount of students hitting 2400 on their SAT I, so in order to be one of those, you have to drill and drill; and an important factor is where you take your practice tests from. I think the biggest mistake people make in studying for SAT’s is taking practice tests from Barron’s SAT books or Princeton Review SAT books or Kaplan, etc. because the SAT has a distinct pattern and feel to it (I’m not kidding) and taking tests made by sources other than Collegeboard doesn’t help you get a sense of this pattern. The book I recommend then is the Real SAT Guide that’s written by Collegeboard and has 8 official practice tests. When taking these practice tests, you have to create the illusion that you are taking the official SAT every time. Taking several sections one day and several the next may help, but not as much as taking full four hour practice test sessions, including the essay. Practicing test taking endurance is very important as the SAT can get very burdensome mentally in the later hours of administration. So, to build up this endurance you have to take the complete SAT in one session, with only short breaks every other section (5 minutes) just like the real test.

Now we’ll look at each section of the SAT. The easiest in my opinion hands-down would be the math section. This should be your easy 800 as long as you don’t make careless mistakes. I know many math whizzes who miss random questions on the math section simply because they don’t bother to check over their answers. Briefly review your math book or any math section in Barron’s, Kaplan’s, Princeton Review, etc. and make sure that you bubble in the answers that correspond to your choice correctly during the test, and you should do fine on this section.

The critical reading sections and writing sections, for many, are much harder to score an 800 on because people think that math always has a definite correct answer and method of approaching that answer while questions related to English are more subjective. While this may appear true on the outside, every critical reading and writing question also has a definite solution if one looks at it from a different perspective. For sentence completion questions, vocabulary is a must, and expanding your vocabulary is one of the hardest challenges in preparing for the SAT. This is where books like Barron’s, Princeton Review and Kaplan come in. Most of them have a large 2000+ word list and another one more condensed with words that have come up repeatedly on past exams. My suggestion is to memorize all of the words on the smaller list and look over the words on the larger list. The lists online with 20,000 words or so are mostly useless because unless you’re a vocabulary genius or have an extraordinary, you’re just going to waste your time looking through lists and not learning anything instead of proactively increasing your score. Another effective way of increasing your vocabulary is reading. Read prominent newspapers like the New York Times or Wall Street Journal and you’ll both learn more about current events (essay topic, anyone?) and gain a better grasp of the English language as well. After you do the best you can concerning vocabulary, the next step is to use logic in questions. For this, just read test prep books and follow their suggestions for sentence completions, such as learning connotations to words, either positive or negative, and testing blanks with these nuances. Also, make sure to cross off any answer choices that don’t make sense immediately so if you need to come back to questions, your eye won’t waste time going over useless answer choices.

For the writing section, the score is split between the essay and grammar sections. The grammar section necessitates a good sense of grammar and practice, which I think is the more important of the two, since timing and getting the feel of grammar sections are absolutely indispensable. For this, refer to test prep books for quick reviews of grammar that you’ve most likely forgotten from English class at school. For the essay section, you should aim for an 11 or 12 because then you get some leniency concerning the grammar sections. To achieve this, you should pay attention during your English class, most importantly during Junior year, even if your teacher is discussion the most boring book on the planet. This is because for your essay, you will want to write two body paragraphs, unless you’re a confident writer – then aim for three. One of these paragraphs will be a personal anecdote, an easy buffer. Find some story from your past or (gasp!) make one up if you really can’t think of one that applies, and make it as descriptive as possible, including full names of friends and teachers and places. Describing all of the details is a key element in making a personal anecdote successful. The other paragraph is where your English class comes into play. Most likely, one of the books you discuss during class in your Junior year, whether it be The Scarlet Letter or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Ethan Frome, etc., will apply to the essay topic at hand, and you’ll be fully equipped to write an awesome body paragraph. The SAT essay is definitely the place to show off your vocabulary, so replace as many adjectives/words as you can with more complex synonyms without making the essay too cluttered. All this, including the possible faking of an anecdote and replacing words with more complicated synonyms may sound extravagant, but in reality, they’re just further steps to breaking the system.

Like any other section, you need to practice writing the SAT essay in order to be able to perform under pressure. With every complete practice test you take, you should take the essay along with it. Before, I used to take tests without the essay, but I found that during tests given to me by my SAT class, I often felt pressured by time during the essay portion; and that threw me off for the rest of the test as well.

So, all in all, practice is absolutely the most crucial step to getting the perfect score. Once you blow past the tests in the Collegeboard blue book, I suggest getting practice tests from a SAT review class, as they often have copies of previously administered tests. Otherwise, review the study guides test prep books give you for math and grammar, and try to avoid taking practice tests from them if you can. This guide to getting a 2400 will be updated with greater detail as time comes. Until then, drill away, and I wish you the best luck on test day!