Dorothy Parker had it right when she demanded tangible, lasting perfection, rather than some dinky, moribund flower. When her lover gave her a perfect rose as a token of his love, she quipped:
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
Sure it's pretty and smells nice, but it won't get you places (unlike a stellar score on the SAT).
For us, "perfect" in our eyes is that sweet ole number, 1600. That's way better than a limo, Dorothy. Not only will a 1600 get you bragging rights for the rest of your life, you might get that extra boost needed to get you into your dream school.
That's right, we're talking a perfect score on the SAT. It might not be absolutely necessary to get a 1600 to prance on through the ivy-laden gates of Princeton* or Harvard, but it certainly won't hurt.
*Note: We advise that you actually avoid walking through the Princeton gate. Superstition has it that you will never graduate if you do.
Let's begin by discussing what a perfect score actually means.
From a scoring perspective, there are three sections on the SAT: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and the optional essay. The two mandatory sections are graded from 200 to 800, for a total perfect score of 1600, and the essay is graded in three separate categories (Reading, Analysis, Writing) from 2 to 8.
In order to achieve a 1600, you can potentially miss one or two questions in total, but some exams might really require you to be absolutely flawless in your multiple-choice selection skills. It varies slightly depending on when you take the test, since the SAT is a scaled exam.
To get a perfect score, you'll have to not only master the underlying concepts behind what's tested on the SAT, but you'll have to master how those concepts appear in the various different types of questions that you'll come across. This comes from exposure, and at high volume: the more SAT practice sets and tests you take, the more types of questions you'll encounter. You should be more than comfortable with the underlying concepts behind most questions if you're gunning for 1600, so spending most of your time on practice questions identical to what you'll see on test day is the best use of your time.
Below, we've listed some techniques you'll need to incorporate in order to get a perfect score on the SAT.
Simulate Test Day for Your Diagnostic Exam
Who wants a cheap knock-off when you can have something close to the real thing? The more you are able to replicate the game day environment, the more accurately your practice exam score will approximate your real SAT score.
Print out an official SAT full-length practice exam and a bubble-in answer sheet. Here is a link to the practice exams which have been released by the College Board. In each .zip file you will find a blank answer sheet and a full-length exam. You only want to take one of these for now; you'll save the rest for after you've practiced religiously for the exam.
Get those No. 2 pencils nice and pointy, and polish off your best eraser. Go to a public library and set a timer. Act as if you're in a testing environment. Sure, there may be that kid sniffling next to you loudly, but there will be distractions on test day as well. You want to have a realistic sense of your ability to perform under pressure, so you're aiming to simulate the real game day experience, in all its glory.
Time yourself as you complete each section, and do not go over the time that will be allotted on the SAT. While you won't be able to bring your phone with you on test day, you can use your phone as a timer. There are plenty of apps out there that will let you simulate the SAT experience.
As you work through the exam, mark any questions that you are not 100% sure about. You'll come back to these after you've finished the exam, but before you know what the right answer is.
After the first section (the 65-minute reading portion), take a 10 minute break. After section 3, take a 5 minute break. Allow yourself food and water ONLY during these times. Don't cheat here, as you'll only be cheating yourself (#sentimentalshmoop).
Once you're finished, do NOT check the answer key. Return to those questions that you were unsure about. Articulate your reasons for choosing one answer over another. If you feel sure about an answer, you can then put a check mark by that answer.
Check your answers against the official answer key. If you missed a lot of questions that you did not mark, chances are that you are making many careless mistakes. Return to these and commit to memory the type of careless mistakes you make.
Add up your points and calculate your score. Each official sample exam released by the College Board has its own grading sheet, including in the original .zip file.
Identify your Strengths and Weaknesses
Go back to the questions that you got wrong in the practice test, and identify if your main problem is time management or a missing skill set. If you found yourself running out of time on sections, but that you were getting all of the questions correct, then your test prep must focus on deploying that big brain of yours at a faster rate. If you were getting questions incorrect due to not understanding the underlying concepts, your test prep will focus first on mastering the underlying concepts.
If your problem is time management, then learn to check yourself when you spend too long on one question.
If your problem is a missing skill set, drill yourself by doing daily passages and familiarizing yourself with the questions that will be asked on the exam. Shmoop's SAT test prep guide breaks down the different question types on the reading, math, and writing sections of the exam. Read up on these different question types to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.
Reading Tips for a Perfect Score
Read the passage first, and read it well. Three minutes per passage is do-able for average readers. Some students get so antsy that they skip ahead to the questions without reading the passage. We think this method is bonkers, because the questions are the predictable parts of the exam.
In your study sessions, practice jotting down the main point of each paragraph as you read. Get your inner existentialist out of his treehouse of doom, and prime him to bug the crap out of you by asking the question: What's the point of all this? Over and over again. Then, sum it all up in your head and write a sentence summarizing the entire passage. You're training looking for the main idea, because you know a good number of questions will ask you about these.
Math Tips for a Perfect Score
Get to know your careless mistakes. Did you forget to distribute the negative again? Take that careless mistake and cling to it like Hester Prynne holding onto her baby Pearl—get to know it, nurture it by leading it down the right path, and try to set good examples for it. Students often think that their careless mistakes are a one-off, but most students tend to make the same type of careless mistake over and over again. Once you learn to watch for these mistakes, you can catch yourself in the act.
Practice writing out most of your work. Smarter students tend to believe that they won't make careless mistakes, and they tend to do more work in their head. But if you're aiming for perfection, you must avoid this bad habit practiced by math whizzes. You'll never pick up on your other bad habits if you can't see where you're going wrong.
Writing Tips for a Perfect Score
Memorize rules for commas, and get to know the FANBOYS very well. The Writing Test is more predictable than the other sections; you will definitely see a variety of questions testing on your use of commas. The FANBOYs are huge fans of commas. Yeah, we know it's weird, but let's make a deal: the FANBOYs won't judge you for your fangirling (or fanboying) over the latest K-Pop fad if you won't judge them for their absolute devotion to this super basic punctuation mark. By memorizing the coordinating conjunctions that can only follow a comma, you'll be able to answer a few questions with more confidence than Beyoncé with electronically-generated wind blowing through her hair.
Change up your pacing when necessary. It's easy to get into a rhythm when you're just correcting for grammar, and pretty soon the whole meaning of the passage will get pretty blurry if you're just focusing on commas and the like. Learn to change up your pace and slow down when you meet a question testing you on your ability to read for the main idea or for structure.