Navigating the Digital SAT: Key Areas to Focus on for Score Improvement in Reading and Writing

As a professional Test Prep Tutor, I’m often asked—as a practical matter—what a student can do to raise his or her SAT score, and the new digital SAT format has only furthered the need to consider this question.

While there are many ways a student can “work the test,” this blog will focus on the areas that offer the best opportunities for score improvement. We’ll compare the vocabulary and reading sections with the writing and grammar sections, highlighting where students can achieve the most significant gains and where the potential for score improvement is more limited.

The Challenge of Vocabulary in Context (VIC)

There are certain sections of the SAT that I would describe as guided by “habit formation.” With vocabulary, while a skilled test-taker can (and should) employ structural clue words, tone, and overall direction of the sentence, the stronger controlling element is governed by the breadth and depth of one’s vocabulary, which in turn has much to do with one’s exposure to a variety of words gained by a lifetime of reading habits

The harsh reality is that it’s not possible for anyone to know the dictionary meaning of every word in the English language. Imagine a student spending hours daily on dictionary words—it’s valuable but impractical for most high school students.

Success in the SAT Reading Section

This section will test your ability to read a paragraph, excerpt, or poem and identify the text’s main idea, main purpose, main function, or logical completion. Even more so than vocabulary, understanding SAT paragraphs is entrenched in the realm of habit formation.

Reading is a very complex skill that is built over years of practice, and the SAT reading section requires critical thinking to find proof, weigh evidence, deal with nuance, and navigate to the best answer. It is not just “reading.”  On the contrary, it is dense and layered. Sometimes, there are even “shades of truth” regarding the answer choice options. Reading on the SAT is not about the straightforward application of a formula like a2 + b2= c2; it is HOLISTIC! 

Many students may struggle to raise their SAT reading scores significantly, but improvement is possible. I help my break down SAT reading passages so they get comfortable with the test’s idiosyncratic style and academic tone/flavor.

Excelling in SAT Writing and Grammar

Now, we come to the part of the test that offers a better opportunity for you to lift your score! I believe that SAT Writing, which tests one’s knowledge of punctuation, sentence structure, grammar, and transitional words, is the part of the test where a student can lift his/her score by the most points the fastest. The reason for this is that grammar is governed by RULES, not habits

Further, the conventions of Standard English are narrow, with the test predictably zeroing in on the same issues (e.g., the comma splice, separating independent phrases, dealing with a break-in-thought in the middle of a sentence, etc.) time and time again. 

A student can learn and apply this finite set of rules fairly quickly, especially with help from an experienced test prep tutor. This is also true with transitional words/phrases like however, nevertheless, therefore, thus, consequently, likewise, in addition, moreover, and whereby. There are different types of transitions, with the most common purposes being CONTRAST and CAUSATION, but they can be learned, and a comprehensive list of these fits on one side of one sheet of paper! 

I recommend that all of my students make it their goal to master English grammar rules, and you can definitely raise your overall SAT score.

Personalized SAT Prep: Helping Your Child Achieve Their Best Score

Preparing for the SAT can feel daunting. However, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Our experienced Test Prep Tutors are dedicated to helping students like yours achieve their highest potential. Whether it’s perfecting grammar or improving Geometry and Trigonometry skills, we offer personalized, one-on-one test prep tailored to your child’s unique needs.

Don’t let the SAT stand in the way of your child’s academic success. Schedule a call today to discuss how we can work together to boost your child’s confidence and scores. Let’s turn the dream of a higher SAT score into a reality!

About Our Guest Author:

Pete Pecoraro has extensive experience in education as a former high school teacher and current Test Prep Tutor at Educational Connections. He graduated as valedictorian at his high school and then attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was honored with the Bronze Tablet Award and a bachelor’s degree in teaching. Pete’s had proven success with students who struggle with standardized tests to the academically gifted. Every student he’s worked with has been able to lift his or her SAT or ACT score.

Join Pete at our Live SAT/ACT Webinar on July 10, 2024

Navigating the SAT and ACT Webinar on July 10, 2024