Note: The writer got a 2320 when he took the SAT. He is in the high school class of 2010, and has therefore had recent experience with the test in its current form. His breakdown by section: Math 800, Critical Reading 730, Writing 790.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test, as it was once known, and SAT as it is now formally labeled, is a test that gets a great deal of undeserved respect and fear from teenagers across the US. It might be instructive to know this: even the Collegeboard, which designs the test, eventually decided that the name “SAT” would no longer be an acronym – seriously, folks, SAT is now officially just a random three-letter capitalized name – because the connection between “scholastic aptitude” and test performance had become too tenuous. (They switched it to Scholastic Assessment Test at one point in between, but that really just means “Scholastic Test Test”, so they canned that eventually.)
Now that you have some idea what a silly test this is in the first place, you can approach it with the proper attitude. It is one more hoop to jump through before college. Your performance on it says nothing at all about you or your intelligence. Of my school’s two valedictorians (neither is me), one scored over 2300, and the other under 2000. There is no perceptible difference in intellect between the two. You also shouldn’t stress too much about the effect the test will have on college admissions. Colleges always insist that every part of an application is important, but the truth is that you don’t become a college admissions officer because you’re a fantastic test-taker with top-notch scores. They’ll be sympathetic, if the rest of your application doesn’t have any obvious flaws.
Now that you are ready to come into this test with a level head, knowing that it basically does not matter in the grand scheme of things, we can get to the score-raising. First, it’s important to know that often retaking the test will not raise your score. In fact, Collegeboard statistics tell us that half of re-takers actually get lower scores. But if you really are hell-bent on getting those extra hundred points, the easiest approach is to buy the official Collegeboard SAT prep book (available at collegeboard.com), and simply go through all of the tests in it, one by one. Be wary of anyone else’s prep books, and even the “practice test” at the beginning of Kaplan prep courses. They will generally be much harder than the actual test (when you do much better on the SAT than on their test, they claim credit for raising your score), and you will go into the test feeling stressed-out.
On test day, bring junk food. Lots of junk food. I brought over 2000 calories worth of it. The problem with just one candy bar is that it leads to a sugar-crash after twenty or thirty minutes. If you bring lots, you can sustain a sugar high for all four hours of the test. (Warning: you will feel like you have a really bad hangover for the rest of the day. But it’s worth it for the additional points.)
Afterwards, go have fun. Hang out with friends, and do something outside. It’s just a test, and in the long term it won’t really matter. When you show up at whatever college you go to, you’ll wonder why you ever worried about such a silly thing.