You can improve your SAT® score all on your own.

While outside courses may help, they aren’t a fool-proof solution. Ask anyone who’s raised their score considerably and most of them will tell you the real story. Increasing an SAT score takes time, commitment and a whole lot of work.

In three months, he raised his score from 1860 to 2290. That’s like going from a 1320 to 1550 on the 1600 scale.

Greg Smith knows this. The Princeton University sophomore took the SAT exam when it was still scored out of 2400. In three months, he raised his score from 1860 to 2290. That’s like going from a 1320 to 1550 on the 1600 scale. He did not take a class nor did he have a tutor — though, to be fair, he would’ve liked one — but he did devise his own study method after carefully researching how to prepare for the SAT exam.

Smith posted his test-taking strategy on his YouTube channel and shares more of his exam insights here. His method is for the self-motivated, he warns.

Understand Wrong Answers

Smith went through every single question he got wrong on practice tests, writing a sentence or two about why he thought his answer was correct. Then he looked at the right answer, thought about it for a few minutes and wrote down why he was wrong, repeating this process until he reached his target score. “Oftentimes, I’d have to look up online why my answer was wrong,” says Smith. If he still didn’t know, he would make his own thread on a college forum to ask about it.

Look for Patterns in Mistakes

Once you examine what you’re getting wrong and why, patterns will emerge. Maybe geometry is tripping you up. Maybe you’re nailing every verbal section except for reading comp. Whatever it is, your goal is to pinpoint where you are going wrong. “[The process] may seem ridiculous or tedious, but even after doing this for one practice test, you’ll begin to see which problems you get wrong. You’ll see patterns and begin to correct them,” says Smith.

Take College Board Practice Tests Only

There are thousands of practice tests available out there, but the only ones you should take are those created by the College Board, according to Smith. “[Other] practice tests are not standardized like the College Board, and practicing using those can give you a false sense of what the test is going to look like,” says Smith.

Master Grammar With Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer is an NYC-based SAT/ACT® coach who’s written several books on the SAT Verbal and Writing sections, and Smith says his perfect Writing score had a lot to do with her Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar. He read every word and did every exercise. His opinion? She’s a “standardized test grammar god.”

Strengthen Math Weaknesses

Smith turned to Barron’s Math Workbook after taking his first practice exam and used it to brush up on areas he was not so clear on. However, he doesn’t recommend going through the whole book. “I used this book mainly for formulas,” he says. “I didn’t want to waste time looking at the formula sheet during the actual test.

Learn SAT Test-Taking Strategies

The SAT Prep Black Book by Mike Barrett was a game-changer for Smith, helping him learn how to think more critically about the test. “It helped me understand the predictability of the SAT [exam] particularly the essay section and allowed me to think very objectively when going through critical reading,” he says.

Study the Summer Before Junior Year

After taking mock SAT and ACT exams during the spring of his sophomore year, Smith began studying for the SAT exam in July. He then took the test in October and December of his junior year, which allowed him to focus on grades and extracurriculars during the rest of that year. “Every weekend I would take a practice test, and during the week, I would learn vocabulary from Meltzer’s Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar and do practice sets from Barron’s workbook. As I got closer to the test, I did fewer problem sets and more College Board published tests.”

Don’t Cram Before the Test

If you’ve properly prepared, there’s no reason to cram the week of the test. “You should give yourself a few days to relax and not look at anything SAT [exam]–related for days leading up to your exam,” Smith says.

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

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