The SAT Prep Black Book

Where To Find “Missing Points”

“Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.”
- Peter Drucker

Most test-takers have some idea of a target score that will make them competitive for their target schools, or for certain scholarship programs, and those target scores are usually somewhere in the range of 1500 to 2250, depending on the student’s goals and situation (of course, there are some people whose target scores might be higher or lower, as well).

Most people try to hit their target scores by improving in the areas where they’re weakest, and that’s certainly understandable. But I would recommend that you also consider working to improve the areas where you’re strongest first, for 3 reasons:

oPeople usually feel more comfortable working on their strong areas, so there’s less stress.

oThe mistakes you’re making in your strong areas are more likely to be things related to “careless errors,” or things you can correct with minimal effort.

oThe closer you are to the top of the scoring scale, the bigger the impact of each new question that you answer correctly. In other words, if you’re scoring around a 710 in the Math section, then answering one or two more questions correctly might increase your math score by 30 points or more. But if you’re scoring around a 520, then answering another one or two questions correctly might only raise your score 10 points. This is the result of the norming process that the College Board uses to “curve” the test scores.

So if you find yourself short of your goal score, it might be a good idea to focus first on making your strong areas even stronger, rather than struggling to bring your weak areas up.

But What If I Need To Meet A Target Score Within A Single Section?

Some test-takers don’t just need to reach a certain overall score; sometimes schools are looking for scores on individual sections to meet particular cutoffs. But you can still use the strategy of improving on your strong areas even in these situations, because every section has different question types, and most students are naturally more inclined to some questions types than to others. I would recommend focusing on your preferred question types until you’re basically perfect at answering them before going on to question types that you don’t like as much.

As an example, if you need to raise your Reading score by 50 points, you could choose to start by focusing either on Sentence Completion questions or on Passage-Based Reading questions. If you dislike the Sentence Completion questions, then it’s probably going to be more productive for you to focus on perfecting the Passage questions. Even if you’re missing an average of 7 Sentence Completion questions on each practice test but only 4 Passage questions, it’s probably easier to address the 4 Passage questions before turning to the Sentence ones, because it’s easier to make progress on the parts of the section you enjoy more. This could reduce (or even eliminate) the need to make progress on other parts of the section. If you need to improve your Math score, on the other hand, then you should decide whether it’s easier for you to improve on the multiple-choice questions or the Student-Produced Response questions. If you need to raise your Writing score, then you should decide whether to focus on the Essay, or on a type of multiple-choice question. And so on.