Taking the SAT: Improvement Comes in Stages

Practice is key to improving your SAT score.

Like learning anything else, learning how to take the SAT in the optimal way is not something that improves consistently, a little bit each day. At the beginning, you may well experience some quick gains as you master some of the easier techniques. These easy gains, however, are often followed by stretches where your score seems to remain stuck at a certain level.

Or maybe you start off practicing and your scores seem stuck in a rut despite your best efforts. Test after practice test your scores seem to go nowhere.

Hang in there. If you've been practicing diligently—and applying the techniques I'll show you—you are getting better; the improvement just hasn't been reflected in your score—yet. After a few weeks of seemingly little progress—pow!—your score jumps 50, 100 points out of nowhere.

Consider a skill you pride yourself on. Now think back to the time when you first started practicing that skill. Unless you had a natural gift for that skill, you probably struggled quite a bit at the beginning. Perhaps there were times when you considered giving up. And then one day, absolutely unexpectedly, you were surprised, maybe even giddy, that you could suddenly do what had once seemed impossible.

Frustration is a natural part of learning any new skill. Regardless of the activity, the pattern seems to be long periods of boring if not maddening periods of non-improvement—punctuated by brief, joyous periods of rapid and dramatic gains. Don't place too much emphasis on the minor ups and downs of your practice scores from week to week. I say this because all too many students get elated when their score on a practice test goes up—but then they feel crushed when their score dips a bit. Minor fluctuations in your score don't mean anything any more than do fluctuations in a basketball player's score from game to game.

A warning sign are scores that gyrate wildly from week to week: up 70 points; down 60; up 100. Aim for consistency. Consistent scores over a few weeks are a very, very good sign of major score improvements just around the corner.

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