Test Taking Strategies + SAT Tips

In part 1 of this post, we talked about How to Prepare + ACT Tips. Today we have some strategies for you to use to boost your score on these standardized tests. We will also give you some specific tips for the SAT test.

Standardized Exam Strategies

  • There’s no penalty for a wrong answer, so when you have three to five minutes left in a section, go bubble in all the answers you have blank.
    • TIP: When bubbling in guesses, be consistent with the letter you guess. For example, always choose A/F or C/H. Don’t skip around.
  • Circle the letter in your test booklet in case you get off on your bubbling; you can check your answers easier.
    • TIP: It works well for some people to answer the questions on a page by circling the answer, and then bubbling all the answers from that page one time.
  • Use process of elimination: mark out the wrong answers first.
  • Trust yourself. Do NOT second guess yourself. Once you answer a question, move on and do NOT come back to it unless you have extra time at the end.
  • Don’t waste too much time on any one question. You shouldn’t spend more than the following time on each type of question. If you’re stuck, skip it and come back. 

Bonus Tip: If you’re skipping questions to come back to them, make a light mark on the answer sheet so you don’t forget to go back and answer it–even if it is just a guess!

SAT Tips:

SAT Math

  • Two sections of math include one 55-minute, 38 question section where calculators are permitted and one 24-minute, 20 question section where calculators are NOT prohibited.
  • Formulas are given but you must know how to solve the problems with and without the calculator.
  • Circle key words and underline the actual question being asked to help your brain focus on the specifics.
  • What to study:
    • Problem solving and data analysis including ratios, percentages, and proportional reasoning
    • Linear equations and systems
    • Algebra, geometry, and trigonometry
  • Easier questions are at the beginning of each type of questions (multiple choice & grid-ins).
    • The beginning grid-ins are easier than the final multiple choice questions.

SAT Reading & Writing

  • Sources vary for answers. Pay attention to passages, tables, charts and knowledge you bring into the room with you.
  • All questions are evidenced-based; you must be able to analyze, synthesize, and interpret information.
  • The best answer is always the one that has evidence supporting it.
  • Read the easiest passages for you first.
  • You will find the easier questions are near the end of each section.
  • Questions are noted in the text with the question number and in a gray box.
  • Stemless questions are problems without a specific question but rather underlined text and you have to decide if the sentence structure or wording should be changed. There is a “no change” answer if you feel no change is necessary.
    • Read the context around the underlined portion to make the best decision.
    • “Delete the underlined portion” is also a possible answer for stemless question.

SAT Essay

  • You will be graded on your ability to utilize evidence, reasoning and persuasive elements when creating your essay.
    • Do NOT make up your own facts or statistics; stick to the evidence provided in the passage.
    • Types of evidence to use:
      • Facts
      • Statistics
      • Quotations
      • Experiment or other research results
      • Examples from the text
  • The following tips are what to look for when “unpacking” the essay to answer the prompt:
    • The persuasive element will be based on professional credentials, emotions, or logic.
    • Pay attention to the diction used. You will be able to determine if it’s formal or casual writing, which will allow you to determine the type of persuasion used.
    • Sentence structure, metaphorical language, tone, register and syntax are all important to recognize when reading the argument/writing.
  • Describe HOW the author makes a point.
  • Capture the main ideas in your response.
    • Do not summarize the author’s work.
  • Do not focus on a long list of rhetorical elements, but rather only a few well-made points.
  • Write an outline, compose a draft, revise & edit, then write your final draft.

Bonus Tip: Check out the glossary and examples provided by Khan Academy to assist with deciphering the evidence, reasoning and persuasive elements used in the essay you will create a response to.

Don’t forget to prepare for test day so that you can apply these strategies effectively. To help you do your best on test day, we have created a Test Day Planning Guide.


The last two sections of the ScholarPrep Organizer are blank for you to utilize for whatever you need. This may be a good spot to make notes about the exam: what was easy/difficult, what you need to remember, etc… Also, don’t forget to record your exam dates, scores and login information in the testing section of the ScholarPrep Organizer.

Have you used any of these strategies before? Share what has helped you in the comments below!