In response to COVID-19, college entrance exam requirements have been changing as well as SAT® and ACT® test dates. Contact the school where you plan to attend to confirm testing requirements. For more information on test availability and safety protocols, check the SAT and ACT sites for updates.

You can improve your SAT® score all on your own. While courses and tutoring can help, they aren’t the only way to boost your test score. If you ask anyone who’s raised their score considerably whether they made the improvements on their own or with outside help, they’ll likely share the same tips. Increasing an SAT score takes time, commitment and a whole lot of work.

Hannah, a student at Ohio State University, raised her SAT score nearly 200 points in under two months. She didn’t take a class, have a tutor or spend a lot of money, but she did devise her own hyper-focused study method after figuring out where she was going wrong. Here’s exactly how she boosted her score. 

Order a Copy of Previous Test Results

Hannah struggled to take timed practice tests from start to finish. “I just couldn’t sit through a whole test,” she says. “I would end up letting myself spend too long on a few questions and then give up on the idea of doing it in time or quit altogether.” Without an accurate practice test to review, Hannah never knew exactly which questions she was getting wrong.

After she sat for the SAT the first time, her mother discovered that test-takers can order a detailed breakdown of their results through the Question-and-Answer Service the College Board® offers and Hannah leapt at the chance. For $18 (a fee that’s waived if your SAT fee was waived), you can get an online version of the test you took, highlighting how you answered each question, the type and level of difficulty for each question and the correct answer. Take note, though: The service is only available for the five months after you take the test, so don’t delay, and it’s only available for tests offered in March, May and October.

Pinpoint Exactly Where You Can Improve

The Question-and-Answer Service allowed Hannah to see she was doing quite well in the writing and language section but struggling in the reading section. In particular, reading comprehension was dragging down her score, especially when the passages were about science or history and when questions asked for big-picture takeaways or to make inferences about the text.

Hannah wasn’t entirely surprised. “I would read the passages over and over again, and they were so boring that I’d have no idea what I was reading,” she admits. Still, seeing the question breakdown helped: “If I could just fix this one issue,” she says, “I could raise my score. A lot.” That, in itself, motivated her. She decided not to worry about her math section score, which she was relatively happy with, and focus entirely on mastering reading comprehension. 

Dive Into Your Weaknesses

Once Hannah identified the weakest area of her score, it was time to build up her reading comprehension muscles. She says the single biggest factor in enhancing her reading comprehension skills was a single book: Erica Meltzer’s The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading

Hannah had previously been skeptical about test strategies that suggest you shouldn’t read SAT passages like regular text — or even read them at all — and would feel doomed if she didn’t understand every single line of a passage. Meltzer helped her find techniques that felt more reasonable than risky. 

“The most helpful thing I learned was to put questions and answers into my own words. Sometimes it seemed like the reading section was designed to be as confusing as possible, and spending a minute to figure out what a question was really asking before I tried to answer it was a game-changer,” says Hannah. “And if you really can’t figure what a question is asking, guess and move on. Don’t lose all your time to it.”

Reading was Hannah’s area of improvement, but her advice to find a helpful book and use it as a guide to develop your test-taking strategy can be applied to any area of standardized testing.  

Don’t Cram Before the Test

If you’ve properly prepared, there’s no reason to cram the week of the test. “For two days before the test, I did not practice and did everything I could to relax,” says Hannah. She pushed off as much schoolwork as she could until after she took the SAT and spent that time sleeping, cleaning her room and even tried meditating for the first time.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all way to prepare for the SAT, it’s good to know what works for others. Try what you think will help you, and pretty soon you’ll have mastered your own technique.

SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

ACT® is a trademark registered by ACT, Inc., which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

College Board® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

The interview for this article was conducted in 2020.