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How students can ace the SAT

·Senior Columnist

The typical student preparing for the SAT might raise his or her score by 20 points or so through studying and practicing. Debbie Stier raised her score by 340 points. Her son Ethan raised his score by a stunning 590 points.

Stier isn’t a middle-aged college student taking classes alongside her son and other millennials. She’s a former publishing executive who took the scholastic aptitude test seven times in one year and wrote about the anguish — er, experience — in her new book, The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT. Ethan was in high school at the time, and Stier initially took the SAT to help figure out how to prepare her son for the test. High SAT scores, she had read, can help kids get more financial aid in college; it seemed worth doing some hands-on research.

By the time it was over, Stier says, she had become so familiar with the test that she actually enjoyed taking it.

“I do realize this is unusual,” she writes. Even for people who hate standardized tests, raising your score certainly makes it a lot less painful. Here are a few of Stier’s tips, as she explains in the video above:

Don’t cram for the SAT just a few weeks before the test.

Students should plan to spend a whole year preparing for the SAT, especially given other demands of school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs.

Build your “endurance.”

“Create the most authentic conditions you possibly can,” Stier says. Virtually nothing else a teenager is likely to do requires as much mental stamina as the SAT, which is why building endurance is key. Teens should train themselves to focus all the way through a testing regimen that can last for six hours, counting short breaks.

Invest in a test-prep course.

It pays off if you can afford it — but make sure the course uses official materials published by the College Board, which administers the SAT.

For the best results, take 10 to 15 practice SAT tests before sitting for a real one (that’s why it might take a year to fully prepare).

For every answer you get wrong on a practice test, make sure you understand why.

The SAT may not justify all the anxiety it causes students and their parents, since it's only one piece of data admissions officers consider. As many as 800 schools don't require the SAT or the competing ACT, including highly regarded schools such as Wake Forest, New York University and Middlebury College. Still, submitting a high SAT score as part of your application is likely better than submitting no score.

Plus, SAT scores are one factor schools consider when awarding merit aid, so raising your score could actually lower your tuition bills. Higher scores obviously can help you get into a better school, improving your educational opportunities. Some employers even ask for SAT scores long after you've applied for college, especially if they're looking to hire people with strong quantitative abilities, which ought to show up in high scores on the math section of the test.

Once kids have made it to college, they still have some shrewd decisions to make about what to study, how much debt to take on to pay for school, and other matters that will help determine their future. But acing the SAT is bound to make other tribulations seem easier. You might even learn to enjoy filling in those ovals.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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