TUN sits down with Dawn Mueller, an educational consultant with Tutor Doctor, to discuss what students can do to earn a perfect SAT score.
TUN: Dawn, thanks so much for joining us.
MUELLER: Thanks so much for having me.
Can you explain how the SAT is scored? Do students need to get every single question right to get a perfect SAT score?
It’s scored based on how well you do in the reading, math and writing sections. And the unfortunate answer is “yes.” To get a perfect score, you pretty much need to get every single question right.
Let me just break that down a little bit more. In reading, you can only miss one or two questions. In math, you need to get every question correct. All of these sections are graded on a curve, so it’s really competitive. And in writing, you can maybe miss one question at the most. But, you really do have to get a perfect writing and language score to have a shot of an 800 in that section.
Is achieving a perfect SAT score only something that’s possible for naturally brilliant people, or is it something that students can work towards? How big of a role does motivation play?
I’m going to start with the last part of that question. I think motivation really provides a lot of runway for you. Let’s say you’re in your sophomore year of high school right now and you start taking practice tests. Chances are, you’re going to have a better shot at it. It’s really about practicing and getting familiar with the test.
As far as brilliance, again, I think there is a lot of intelligence that goes into it. But, it is also how well you take tests.
Just to give you some perspective, out of the 2 million students who take the test every year, only about 500 get the highest possible SAT score. That is .025 percent.
So, I’d say, to aim for a really good score, have a high goal. Aim for the stars. If you end up at the moon, that’s not too bad.
If you study regularly and take a lot of practice tests, I think that can be a big benefit.
To effectively prepare for the SAT, students clearly need good study materials and practice problems to work from. Where can students find good SAT practice material? Are there any free or cheap resources online?
How you prepare can depend on your budget, but it really doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. This gets back to your original question about motivation. If you’re motivated and you avail yourself of these free resources, I think you can do very well.
For example, a student could invest in a very good review book. If they really work it and pace themselves between when they start studying and the test, they can achieve a pretty high score.
The ideal situation, of course, is a private tutor reviewing the areas that you’ve missed in your practice tests and bolstering you in those areas so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to studying. Do you have any specific advice to help students prepare for the SAT? Is it more so a matter of repetition, or are there strategies to studying that you can share?
Some places do believe in the repetition of test-taking to get used to the conditions so that you can appropriately pace yourself and understand the timing.
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all strategy, though, with test prep. Some students may do better with taking specific areas of the test and getting some tutoring to strengthen the areas in which they’re deficient.
I do think everybody should take advantage of the practice tests that are made available through your school. Sometimes your towns and communities offer them. A lot of the test centers offer them. There are also the free online resources.
But, I think a big thing is pacing. Don’t expect that if you start jamming two weeks before the test you’re going to do really well. Pace yourself out and also make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night or two before the test.
Do you have any tips or strategies that students could use or consider while they’re taking the actual SAT?
There are a good number of tips and tricks out there. One of my favorite strategies is to read the answers to the question first and then go back and reread the question. This gives you an increased probability of determining the right answer. It’s a process of elimination. So, if I can knock out two out of the four, I’ve increased my probability of guessing correctly by 50 percent.
Also, you can guess. It doesn’t hurt to guess on the SAT because a wrong answer will not be calculated against you. So, definitely go back and guess.
Another tip is to go through the test. The test does not progress the problems in order of easiest to most difficult. Answer the questions that are easiest for you first. Leave time to answer the difficult ones.
One of the other test-taking strategies I like is to use the booklet. Write your answers in the booklet. Make a note and then make sure you’ve transferred them correctly so that you’re getting your highest probable right answer.
How many times would you recommend that students take the SAT?
I would say the max is four times. What will happen is, the colleges will look at your highest score in the verbal and the math sections.
Taking it four times kind of balances it out. Maybe you do really well in the math section one time and maybe do really well in the verbal sections the next time. You get the benefit of both of those.
I think that if you take it any more than four times, you’re starting to realize regression to the mean, unless you really change your test-taking strategy or really get some additional help in bolstering those areas in which you may have some deficiencies.
When is the last time that seniors can take the SAT and still have it count on their applications?
If you’re applying for an Early Decision with a November 1 or 15 deadline, you really should plan to take the SAT before October. But, the October administration would be the very last moment for that.
If you’re applying for a January or later deadline, the early December SAT test date is your absolute last chance to take it.
Thanks, Dawn, for joining us today.
This interview has been edited for clarity.