Imagine that you’re at a train station, and you see an unlabeled train that you think is heading in the right direction, but you’re not sure. Would you board it, potentially riding it for all eternity, and never arriving at where you want to be?
Strangely, this is exactly what many test-takers do when it comes to preparing for the SAT (or the ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.). They study blindly, only thinking that their studies will move them in the right direction of improvement. But, like the riders on that unlabeled train, their path is fated toward the antithesis of glory: failure, the tragic fate of the goalless.
One of the best pieces of advice for achieving anything, whether it be running a marathon or getting your perfect test score, is to set a goal. A goal is, of course, the end point of your path, the final destination of your metaphorical train ride. We already talked about your starting point (when we discussed the need for diagnostic testing), and with an end point in mind, you’re just connecting the dots. Thus, when you set a good goal, you’re putting yourself on a trajectory to success; you’ll have a path to follow, namely the line that connects your starting point to your final goal. But, of course, not just any goal will do. Your goal needs to be specific to you. Heed this advice to set the perfect goal.
First, Find Your Starting Point
We’ve said this practically a billion times now, but it bears repeating: take a diagnostic test and find out where you are.
Figure Out What Score You Need
Open up a college guide, and find out what scores last year’s admitted students got on their SAT and ACTs at your dream colleges. Your goal score should be a score in the same range.
Set a Specific Goal
But don’t just aim for a goal that is within a certain range. Rather, set a specific number. Vague goals lead to vague results, so don’t merely aim to improve by some ambiguous point in the future; rather, aim for a specific score by a specific date.
Make the Goal Realistic
A perfect score overall is probably not going to happen. But a perfect score for you is possible, so long as you’re willing to do some hard work. As a general rule (remember “general” means it works for a lot of students but is not guaranteed to work), you should be able to improve by about 10% of the difference between your baseline score and a perfect score, per month of focused study. For example, let’s say a student scored 1600 on his/her SAT diagnostic and has three months of study time. The difference between 1600 and a perfect score is 800 points, so that student should be able to improve by about 80 points per month to score around 1840. A hypothetical student starting at 2100 with two months of preparation would be able to improve by about 60 points total (30 points per month). Either student would ideally set a goal just above that so that both students had something even higher—though still realistic—for which to strive. The first student should aim for a 1900, and the second student 2200.
Obviously, this is somewhat subjective, and you’re a much better gauge of your abilities than is anyone else. So remember to think of how much time you can devote to studying for the test and what seems realistic to you.
Keep Checking in on Your Goal
Finally, with your goal made, write it down, and keep thinking about that number. Eyes on the prize, right? More than that, though, keep re-testing yourself to see if your train is still on track to your goal score. If it’s not, reevaluate your study plan.
These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors
Antithesis: the direct opposite of something
Trajectory: path taken by a projectile
Heed: pay attention to
Ambiguous: lacking clearness or definiteness