SAT Game Plan: How to Master Every Concept
Overwhelmed by the SAT? Need a strategic, straightforward study plan that gives you actual results? Bryce R, a test prep coach who has helped over 100 students, provides his insight and master plan to tackle every concept on the SAT.
By Bryce R.
Posted August 29, 2023
“Bryce, some of those questions are just way too difficult. I’m not even close to the average test score of my dream school. I’m not a genius. How am I supposed to score higher than 1450?” When on an introductory call with a student, I usually hear a phrase like this uttered when we are analyzing recent test scores. Then, we look at all the subscores and metrics on the score report. Almost every student I have worked with does not know how to make a strategic list or plan to tackle the concrete concepts they need to learn. What do those ambiguous concept categories on the score reports actually mean? What specific methods do I need to apply in order to strengthen these categories? These are the common questions on many students' minds when they receive their SAT score report.
Remember, the SAT is consistent. They consistently test the same concepts, with different questions that are worded to trick you. Many students do not understand that there is a concrete list of rules, methods, formulas, and tactics tested on the SAT, and understanding all of these concepts just takes time and practice. Many of these concepts are not tested or reinforced in common high school courses and must be reviewed. Some examples include single dashes, the circle equation, constants, evaluating data, and more. The list goes on and on. In order to study efficiently, you must master the concepts in order of how frequently they are tested, and how hard they are. Once you master all the concepts, it’s just a matter of recognizing the tricky questions. The SAT is really just a game – a game that has a limited range of flexibility to trick you. The more you review the solutions to practice questions, the more likely you can catch these tricks.
SAT Reading and Writing: Key Tips
Read for Overall Structure and Main Idea
Over half of the questions on the SAT Reading section are mainly idea-based. Always be conscious of the reason why the author is writing the passage and what they want you to know as the reader. Imagine you are the author writing the passage. What would you like the reader to know? Some passages are pushing an argument, others are discussing a phenomenon, and others are telling a story with specific characters. Identify the author’s point of view and the reason they are writing the passage.
The Answer Choices Can Trick You
Most students read through the question quickly and go straight to the answer choices. This is the trap the SAT wants you to fall into during the reading and writing section. The test knows you are going to pick an answer choice that looks right but does not answer the question. More often than not, the SAT will throw a loaded question at you and provide multiple answer choices that are true on their own but do not answer the question at hand. Make sure to have a preconceived idea of what the answer to the question is before looking at the answer choices.
Read the Entire Passage/Paragraph Before Answering the Question
Do not try to skip ahead to the questions without reading the passage. Understanding the overall structure, main subjects introduced, and flow of the sentences is essential for correctly answering all of the questions, including grammar questions like punctuation.
SAT Reading and Writing: All Concepts Tested, in Order of Importance
Main Idea, Purpose, and Structure
Understanding the main idea, purpose, and structure of a passage is essential to correctly answering the majority of the questions in the reading and writing section. Main idea questions test for what the author is saying while purpose questions test for why the author wrote the passage or included a certain piece of information. When you understand the main idea and purpose, it is easy to see why certain sentences or chunks of information are placed where they are and which pieces of information are out of order.
Word choice questions are becoming increasingly prevalent on the SAT, especially on the new digital version. These types of questions include wordiness (repetitive wording/phrasing), transitions, words in context, prepositions, and frequently confused words. With these types of questions, it is essential to look at the sentences before and after to get a sense of context, tone, and flow.
The SAT tests for a solid understanding of sentence structure and punctuation. Sentence grammar includes sentence grammar, verbs, pronouns, and parallelism. Most of these questions involve using your “grammar ear” to answer correctly as well as a good understanding of subject-verb agreement and consistency. Punctuation includes the rules for single commas, double commas, conjunctions, semicolons, colons, single dashes, double dashes, and apostrophes. Punctuation questions require you to know the actual rules, and you cannot simply rely on your grammar ear to answer them.
Evaluating Data and Scientific Passages
This is an essential skill for the reading and writing sections of the SAT. Since there isn’t a science section on the SAT, quantitative and science-based passages are included to test your ability to analyze data and make conclusions based on a set of values or observations. These types of questions do not require any background knowledge of science, but they do require close attention to detail. Be very careful with the wording of the answer choices, and be sure to eliminate options that are not directly supported in the passage, table, or chart.
SAT Math: Key Tips
The Answer Choices Can Help You
Unlike the reading and writing section, the answers to the math questions are either completely right or completely wrong. If you are close to the answer, but missing a key step, try to eliminate answer choices.
Plug in Answer Choices and Test Them
When solving for a variable, determining the correct equation, or graphing a function, you can always plug in values to test for the right answer. If you are given the equation of a graph, plug in a point on the graph to make sure it works. If you are solving for x, plug the answer choices into the equation to see which answer choice works.
When in Doubt, Always Estimate
Use educated guesses and try your best to eliminate answer choices that would never make sense. For multiple-choice questions, you have a decent chance of picking the right answer even if you are lost. Sometimes, getting halfway to the solution is enough to eliminate most answer choices.
Plug in 1. Sometimes 2. (Especially Helpful with Equation Questions)
If you are rearranging an equation or isolating variables and you are having trouble with the algebra involved, plug in 1 for all the variables to see what your answer is. When you plug in 1 in the rearranged equation, you need to get the same answer. Sometimes 1 does not work, so try 2. This is something that I review in my SAT class here.
All Drawings Are Drawn to Scale (Unless Specifically Stated Otherwise)
Since the drawings in the math section are accurate in their sizes and lengths, be sure to immediately eliminate answer choices that do not fit. Sometimes, simple elimination can only leave one answer choice that makes sense when the numbers are far apart.
SAT Math: All Concepts Tested, in Order of Importance
Below is a compacted summary of all concepts tested in the SAT Math section by category and in order of prevalence. Start with mastering concepts like systems of equations and quadratics (extremely common) before moving into concepts like graphing a circle (less common).
- Algebra: linear equations, systems of equations, quadratics/polynomials, functions, rewriting equations, exponents/roots, constants, and complex numbers.
- Geometry: linear graphs (slope), parabolas, area/volume, similarity, special triangles, sin/cos/tan, circles (graphing circles, arcs, area, and circumference), angle measures, lines, transformations, and trapezoids.
- Word Problems: proportional reasoning (percents, unit conversion, proportions, and probability) linear (slope), systems of equations, quadratics, statistics, exponential (growth and decay), and line of best fit.
- Formulas: quadratic formula, exponents/radical rules, vertex form, arc length formula, exponential growth/decay, the circle equation, area of a trapezoid, and polygon interior angle formula.
Whether you are planning to take the digital or paper SAT, following this guide is a game changer to mastering the game that is the SAT! If you would like to see me break down all of these concepts, with practice questions and examples, sign up for my group class here! I am passionate about helping all of my students excel. Whether you are currently scoring above 1400, below 1200, or somewhere in the middle, I am here to help you succeed. Feel free to book an introductory call with me here.
Don’t be scared, be prepared! You got this!
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