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How Much Can Your SAT Score Improve?

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By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer

I have been an SAT/ACT tutor for more than 10 years and have interacted with many parents and students throughout this period.  One of the most common question on their minds is how much can the student’s SAT score improve?  This is one of the more difficult question to answer, but the short answer is: it depends.  “Depends on what?” you may ask.  It depends on a number of factors: the current capabilities of the students and the effort that they are willing to put in.  But before we look at these factors, let’s get a major myth out of the way first.

Some students, and possibly many parents, have the idea that a test-prep tutor can just wave a “magic wand” or has a “silver bullet” that can improve the student’s score dramatically.  They think that there are some magic testing techniques or strategies that they can learn overnight and be able to score much higher the next morning.  They look for tricks that can game the system, especially some kind of guessing techniques that they can employ to get to the right answers without knowing what the questions are asking.  Because the test is mostly multiple choice, they think they can just look at the choices and be able to guess at the right answers.  I hope most of you should realize that this is nothing short of wishful thinking.  Guessing is all about luck and probability and there is no way that you can game the system by guessing.  If this can be done, SAT would not be still around today.

For one, I don’t teach guessing in my classes.  If you expect me to teach guessing, you have come to the wrong place.  I teach my students basic concepts so that they can acquire the necessary knowledge, practice on the right questions so that they can see the pattern and apply what they have learned, and drill on them so that they refine their skills to get to the right answers consistently.  Even though it is a multiple choice test, guessing has no place in my teaching.  The only time I teach them how to guess is when they really don’t know the answer or when they cannot finish the test on time, then in the last 10 seconds of the test, they will have to fill in their favorite letter (whether it is A, B, C, or D) for the remaining questions.  That is all the guessing that they should do.

As for improvements, most students can reasonably expect to see an improvement in scores ranging from 100 to 200+.  But out of a total score of 1600, an improvement of 200+ would most likely trigger an investigation by the College Board.  The College Board has an “unpublished” policy of investigating students who have achieved an dramatic improvement of scores from one SAT test to the next.  The investigation usually involves looking into the answer sheets of the 2 tests and trying to identify whether the hand-writing belongs to the same person and also comparing the answers to the answers of other students.  How do I know this if it is “unpublished”?  Because a lawsuit was filed against the College Board in 2019 when an African American student improved her score from 900 to 1230.  The College Board withheld her score and investigated the case.  Shortly after, she filed a lawsuit and the College Board sent her the initial evidence of the investigation.  One month later, the lawsuit was dropped.  Ultimately, the College Board cancelled her second score.

With the above information as background, we are now able to look into the dependencies of score improvement in SAT, without believing that the test-prep tutor is a miracle worker.  We will continue this discussion in my next article.

Mr. Paul Lim

Mr. Paul Lim

Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer

MBA, National University of Singapore

B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College

TBE

TESOL

  • Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
  • Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
  • Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
  • Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary

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