The SAT Prep Black Book

Setting (The Right) Goals

“The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.”
- Marcus Aurelius

At some point, most of my tutoring clients ask me what I think is the highest possible score they can hope for on the SAT. Sometimes they frame it in terms of their previous scores—“If I already have a 1560, can I possibly bring that up to a 2100?”

The answer to this question is simple on the surface, but there are actually many other issues surrounding this question that you want to make sure you consider.

But let’s start with the simple stuff first.

If you can read American English pretty well, and if you know the basic principles of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, then there’s no reason why you can’t eventually make a 2400, or any other score you want, because every question on the SAT relies on your ability to read and understand American English and/or to use basic math principles.

Please read that carefully, especially the word “eventually.” I’m absolutely not saying that a person whose highest score so far is a 1400 can just snap her fingers and make a 2400 overnight. What I’m saying is that the SAT is a test of basic skills, and if we have those basic skills then there’s no reason, in theory, why we shouldn’t be able to answer every question correctly.

Of course, raising an SAT score significantly is going to take some effort, in just about every case. Approaching the SAT in the right way isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is definitely different from the way you would approach tests in high school or college. If you want to raise your score a lot, then you’ll really have to try to and think like the test—which, again, is not a difficult thing to do, but will take some conscious effort on your part.

(By the way, if you don’t read American English very well, check out the section of this Black Book on advice for non-native speakers of American English. And if you don’t know the basic concepts of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra, then review the Math Toolbox, and/or consider getting a math tutor.)

Getting Better At The SAT

We should think of the SAT as a test that asks us to do basically the same things over and over again.

And over again.

And over again, again.

For this reason, once you have a handle on the concepts spelled out in this book, getting better at the SAT isn’t a matter of learning anything further—it’s a matter of improving your accuracy in the application of principles you already know.

So it’s a bit like improving your free-throws in basketball, or practicing for a piano recital, or even getting better at a video game. It’s more an exercise in improving your technical execution, and less an exercise in broadening your intellect.

(Of course, this metaphor doesn’t hold up completely. There are some parts of the SAT—most notably the Math section and the Sentence Completion questions—in which you’ll have to think a bit creatively. But the way we attack the test should always rely on the basic concepts and strategies described in this book. The simple fact remains that the difference between a 600 and an 800 on a given section always comes down to strategy, execution, and accuracy, and not to knowledge or intelligence.)

How To Set Goals

The most popular way to set an SAT goal is usually to target a particular score. That can work fine, of course, but it’s not the way I like to do it.

Instead, I recommend that you target particular levels of accuracy in particular skillsets, and then let the scores rise on their own as a consequence of your improved abilities.

In other words, rather than say, “I want to try to get a 600 in Critical Reading on my next practice test,” say something like, “I want to go an entire section without missing a single question in which I know the meanings of all the words.” Then try to achieve that standard of execution (which, by the way, would lead to a score much higher than 600 for most test-takers). Or, in the Math section, set a goal like “I want to go an entire practice test without making a ‘careless’ mental error,” or “I want to make sure I understand at least one wrong answer choice with each question that I answer,” and so on.

If you set these kinds of task-based goals, rather than score-based goals, your improvement will generally be more meaningful and lasting, and it will come more quickly and easily.

But Wait—Is It Even Worth It?

Remember when I said that there were some complicating issues surrounding the idea of improving your score? A lot of that stuff has to do with the question of whether a higher score is even likely to help you significantly in your admissions campaign. (After all, we should never lose sight of the fact that the only reason to care about the SAT is that it can help improve your chances at your target schools.)

I made you a video presentation to help explain some of the factors involved in your SAT goal-setting. You can find it on the fan page for my company, Testing Is Easy: