Don’t consider yourself an American Revolution history buff? Not sure the difference between “whom” vs. “who”? Simply don’t have enough time to devote months to studying the SAT?
I get it.
The SAT, while an important component of college applications, isn’t always a student’s priority, and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) sections aren’t always a student’s strengths. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your scores (within reason) on these sections even if you are strapped for time and mental bandwidth.
That said, here are some recommendations on how to cram for the March SAT Reading and Writing sections:
1. Get at least five SAT practice tests.
College Board has 8 practice tests available online, so if you haven’t ever studied the SAT, these would be the first tests to use. (If you did use these tests when preparing for a previous official exam date but haven’t looked at them in several months, then they can still be helpful because you most likely will not remember the questions.)
There are other 3rd-party resources you can use if you have already solved the College Board tests and are familiar with the questions and correct answers. For example, B2A has practice tests and additional SAT curriculum!
2. Solve the first practice test as a diagnostic for Reading and Writing.
Before you get too far into cramming, you should sit down and test yourself for 65 minutes on a full Reading section and 35 minutes on a full Writing section. An official College Board test would be the best one to use for the “diagnostic” test. You want to give yourself reasonable expectations when preparing over the next few weeks.
3. Set your score expectations appropriately.
At best, you have approximately a month to prepare for the March SAT. What kind of progress can you expect in 4 weeks? Realistically, unless your diagnostic scores are pretty low (say, mid-200s), you probably can only boost your score 20-30 points for each section.
Here are some ranges (based on diagnostic results) to give you an APPROXIMATION of score increases with consistent study and practice of the Reading and Writing sections:
300 → 330
330 → 350
350 → 360
As you can see, as your score rises, the expected increase starts to get smaller. Once you start scoring 350-360 on either section, you should continue practicing to make sure that score is consistent, even if the likelihood of an increase is pretty slim. Not all tests are made the same, and you WILL see fluctuations in scales and scores. (Of course, you also want to see if you can raise the score even higher.)
4. For Reading, study format and literalness of the SAT.
I recommend that you read passages before reviewing questions. Read the passage for 3-4 minutes, then begin solving its questions, which should be ordered chronologically. You will have to review the passage when answering most of the questions, so don’t get too comfortable relying on your knowledge from the initial reading--the SAT is TRYING to trick you, so look back.
The Reading section is usually more literal than what you expect, especially if you are used to AP-level classes. You have to restrict your thinking to what is on the page and not stray too far from reading superficially. Oftentimes, students make mistakes because they overthink and second guess.
When prepping SAT Reading, you basically are learning the “language” of the test, and this is a very specific skill set that will pretty much only be useful for the SAT. That’s why consistent and focused practice will help get you in the correct mindset before March 14th.
5. For Writing, study grammar rules first and then the paragraph questions.
SAT Writing splits into two major categories: grammar/punctuation and paragraph/style.
From your diagnostic, you can see if you need to focus on one more than the other, but if it's hard to tell which content area is weaker for you, then start with studying the grammar and punctuation that appears on the test. Learning the concrete error types, such as pronoun agreement, comma usage, and sentence modifiers (among a dozen other rules), will lead to faster increases in the Writing score.
Also, after you take a diagnostic, you should label the error type for each question in the Writing section. You’ll see that the test is rather limited in what grammar and punctuation rules it wants you to know.
6. Don’t just take practice tests every day; review the questions (even the ones you got correct) to understand the test.
Some students like to cram by simply testing each day (or as many times as possible) before the official exam date. While this strategy is not a terrible idea, if you do choose to go this route, you should also devote time to reviewing questions and answers, regardless if you got them correct.
What are you looking for? Clues that led you to the answer or told you that the other answers were wrong. This part is definitely more boring and doesn’t yield immediate results, but it will help you understand the fundamentals and move you beyond a “plug and chug” attitude.
Planning on taking the March 14th SAT? Looking to get a last-minute boost to your Reading and Writing scores? Consider signing up for 1-1 tutoring for the next few weeks. Our tutors can assess your strengths and weaknesses, and once you’re a student, you will have access to dozens of SAT practice tests and subject-specific curriculum packets. The time to start cramming is now!