College Board discontinues SAT Subject Tests and Optional SAT Essay

Kaisar Alam, Ph.D.

© 2021 Prep Excellence. All rights reserved.

Today, January 19, 2021, the College Board made a major announcement that it is discontinuing the SAT subject tests and the SAT essay.

The cancellation of SAT subject tests in the U.S. is effective immediately. Students currently registered for a future subject test will have their registration fees refunded. Outside the U.S., College Board will offer two more administration of subject tests (May and June 2021) .

The optional SAT Essay will be discontinued after the June 2021 administration. Thereafter, it will continue to be available in the states where it is required as a part of SAT School Day administrations.

While the pandemic might have expedited their demise, the subject tests and the optional essay were losing ground for some time. In fact, the College Board announcement mentioned that the pandemic was a catalyst for these changes, “The pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.”

While the decision to discontinue the subject SATs does not affect the SAT immediately, the organization will reportedly focus its efforts on the AP exams and developing a more flexible, streamlined, and digital SAT, which would be administered at testing centers by live proctors.

No additional details are available on the upcoming changes to the main SAT. College Board attempted to develop an “at-home” digital SAT last year after the pandemic played havoc with test administration. David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said it would provide more information in April, but provided no time frame for the digital SAT.

According to the College Board, there have been 2.2 million registrations for the weekend SAT in 2020. However, only about 900,000 tests were administered because of exam center closures due to coronavirus.

The College Board’s statement said, “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead. We are committed to making the SAT a more flexible tool, and we are making substantial investments to do so.”

SAT Subject Tests

SAT subject tests were multiple-choice tests and were offered in 20 subjects like biology, chemistry, literature, mathematics, physics, US history, world history, and a few foreign languages. Each test lasted an hour and were scored out of 800.

While subject tests were not required by all universities in recent years, many students still submitted them to bolster their college applications. Ivy League and other top schools including Georgetown, Harvard, and Princeton required scores from the subject tests in addition to the SAT or ACT. Approximately 220,000 students from the high school Class of 2017 took one or more subject tests.

The importance of the subject tests, however, has gone down in recent years and few colleges still required the SAT subject tests. Furthermore, subject tests have a lot of overlaps the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, also offered by the College Board. AP exams have become widespread in recent years. Taking the AP subjects can help demonstrate the mastery of a subject and scoring high in the AP exams can provide college credits, which can help a student graduate faster and save money in college. According to the College Board, the widespread access means that SAT subject tests are “no longer necessary for students to show what they know.” Over 1.2 million students in the high school Class of 2019 took one or more AP tests.

The College Board CEO David Coleman said that the aim was to eliminate redundant exams and not to increase the number of students taking AP courses and tests. Coleman said, “anything that can reduce unnecessary anxiety and get out of the way is of huge value to us.”

There might be some unintended repercussions. For example, SAT subject tests allowed many students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a second language such as Spanish. These students will have to find other ways to accomplish the same.

SAT Essay

The SAT consists of reading, writing, and math and takes three hours excluding breaks. The optional essay was 50 minutes long and was scored separately.

The essay prompt was introduced in 2005. The current version of the SAT began along with a new essay in 2016. (The ACT also includes an optional essay.) For the SAT essay, the student has to read a passage and explain how the author made an argument to persuade an audience.

Since late 2019, I have advised against taking the SAT Essay (unless a student is applying to school requiring or at least recommending it, such as West Point and Howard). Many colleges have decided that the SAT essay scores were not useful for admissions decision. SAT essay was dropped as a requirement by Harvard and many other selective colleges in 2018. According to Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale University dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, Yale recently stopped considering SAT subject test scores and the SAT essay score never really became a part of Yale’s review process. He also expressed support for a more flexible, accessible, and digitally available SAT.

Because the SAT Essay was graded manually and the graders had minutes to grade each Essay, objective grading might have been an issue. A 2005 New York Times article reported that Dr. Les Perelman of M.I.T. found that the old version of the essay rewarded long essays and the students were not penalized for factual errors. Dr. Perelman said about SAT Essay, “I would advise writing as long as possible and include lots of facts, even if they’re made up.” I am not aware of any such study for the 2016 version of the test; however, if one of my students was insistent on taking the SAT essay, I would advise him/her to write longer SAT essays to have a chance for a good score. Thankfully, the students will no longer have to worry about the SAT essay going forward.

How to Use the Practice Tests Effectively: Preparing for the SAT

S. Kaisar Alam, Ph.D.

© 2021 Prep Excellence. All rights reserved.

Practice tests are essential to prepare for any standardized test, including the SAT. However, the students should use (practice) tests that are only from the college board. The real difficulty with SAT is in the manner questions are asked and not in the subject matter, especially because SAT covers only limited subject matter. Third party practice tests cannot replicate the rules, patterns, nuances, etc. of the SAT. To give a sports example, one should not practice for 800 meters by running 400 meters. While the performance will likely get better for 800 meters because of increased fitness, the performance increase will not be as much as possible through training with 800 meters.

Because SAT is a standardized test, the student will likely see similar (but not the same) questions appear in multiple tests. If she prepares methodically using college board tests, she might see questions that are similar to the ones that she prepared with. This advice has already been introduced in the “Overview” section.

To make the best use of the practice tests in preparing for the SAT, through reviews are critical. You have to keep in mind that the SAT is a standardized test. Consequently, if you keep approaching the SAT the same way, your score will likely remain similar. You need to understand the source of each mistake and how you will avoid similar mistakes in the future. Your score will improve as you improve your approach to the test, based on your review of each test you take. More on this later in the chapter.

How Many Practice Tests Do I Need to Take?

Optimal SAT prep varies from one person to another, but some general guidelines can be useful. Typically, you will spend up to 30% of your total prep time taking practice tests. If you are spending less than 10% of your prep time on practice tests, you are probably not doing it right.

There is no hard and fast rule on how many practice tests you should take. However, a rule of thumb is that for a good SAT study program, you should use a minimum of four real practice tests. Another rule of thumb is to use 1,000–1,500 official questions (with thorough reviews) to prepare well for the SAT. This is equivalent to approximately 6–10 practice tests. Of course, more tests are better than fewer tests, with a caveat. As explained later, the effectiveness of practice tests is severely reduced if you do not review your mistakes thoroughly. For each test taken, you will typically spend approximately 10 hours in reviewing the test, updating your knowledge, refining your strategies and timing, and tailoring your approach to improve your test-taking habit.

One of the keys is consistency and persistence. Working 30-60 minutes a day is more effective than working 4–8 hours during the weekend. At Prep Excellence, we help our students adjust their practice test timeline and milestones.

Are All Practice Tests the Same?

Not all practice tests are similar. Practice tests 1–4 were released at Khan Academy before the first new SAT was administered on March 6th, 2016 so that the test takers would get an idea about what to expect in the new SAT. These tests, however, are not as accurate as practice tests published later. For creating standardized tests, student data is needed for fine tuning and curving the tests. No student data were used for creating the tests 1 through 4 and these tests could not incorporate the changes that College Board made since then based on student data. Therefore, while these tests are still useful for practicing for the SAT, the score in these tests might not be fully accurate. College Board has since retired practice tests 2 and 4 recently. In contrast, SAT practice tests 5–10 are real SAT tests that were administered at some point in time.

As stated above, the new SAT has been evolving since it was first administered in March 2016. Therefore, the first diagnostic test should be from official practice tests 5–10 to get an accurate idea about where you are (baseline). You can use the rest of the tests during the preparation using tests 1–4 interspaced between the other tests. (You can still find the tests 2 and 4 by searching on the internet.)

While the test underwent subtle changes with time, an apparent paradigm change occurred with the June 2018 test, which had a lower difficulty level (especially for math) compared to previous tests. This trend persisted in subsequent tests. As a result, the curves became harsher: a small number of mistakes can reduce your score a lot. Your test is likely to be more similar to recent SAT tests than the older tests. From the official practice tests, only practice test 10 (administered October 2018) is from after June 2018. Thus, it is a good idea to save practice test 10 for late (close to the test date). If you have access to QAS tests, take the recent QAS tests before the test date.

Practice Test Schedule

Only a limited number of Official Practice Tests are available (as of December 2020, 8 Practice Tests (1, 3, 5–10) are available online and Official Study Guide; a student can search for and find tests 2 and 4 online). (This is unlike the ACT or the pre-2016 SAT, which had dozens of released tests available. Availability of tests will become better as more SAT tests are released.) However, for the time being, each practice test should be treated with utmost care and used strategically. Otherwise, you could run out of tests without adequate progress in your preparation.

The following is a possible approach for using each practice test:

  1. Take a test (simulating the testing condition, including breaks) to get a “real” SAT score. This would give you an idea about the SAT score you are likely to receive if you took the test now. (One important advice: never look at the questions from a practice test before you use it first for an assessment. These tests are the only resource that can tell you what score you are likely to get now and the first use of any test should be to assess current test readiness.)

Always take the entire test in one sitting to simulate the actual testing conditions. Otherwise, your score might not reflect your actual score. For example, you do the math section after completing the english sections (when you will begin to tire). If you do individual sections in different sittings, the experience will not be the same.

You should work quickly, but never rush. If you cannot finish a section within the allotted time, mark up to what you have done and guess the rest. You should return to the section after completing the test and complete the questions that you guessed because of running of time. Then you would know how much you would have scored if there is no time limit. With practice, you should be able to improve on speed and complete each section in time without rushing.

  1. Score the test and determine which questions you missed and why you missed them. (A “blind review” is often a great approach to use. More on this later.) Understanding your mistakes is the number one key for a proper SAT prep. As already mentioned, you will typically spend up to 10 hours or more to i) review the test, ii) update your knowledge, iii) refine your strategies/timing, and iv) tailor your approach to improve your test-taking habit.
    1. If you need to brush up on the topic or content, do so. For example, if you missed a question involving exponents, learn every exponent rule (not only the one tested in the question). If you missed a best evidence question, work on the strategy to identify the answer for the best evidence questions. If you missed a question involving comma use, review all the rules for comma use in the SAT.
    2. If you missed the question for another reason, figure out the reason and fix it.
    3. Let a few days pass. Can you solve the question now? If not, repeat.
  2. Once you know clearly how to solve every question in this test (might take up to 10 hours or more), take the next practice test. You should have a schedule for taking practice tests: for example, you could one practice test every other Saturday for the first 3 tests and one every month thereafter for 2 months thereafter. (A sample schedule is given below.)
  3. For subsequent tests, my students used two approaches successfully. Which one to use is a personal choice. Both approaches help you work on weaknesses that could decrease your score. (You can modify or customize, as needed.)
    1. Take new tests according to the schedule you select. You should return to the old tests periodically (say, every 2 or 3 weeks). Review them in the same sequence you took it and review every question that troubled you. If you still have problems with any question, make sure that you fully understand it before moving to the next question.
    2. An alternative approach is to go through 3–4 tests in 6–8 weeks, with proper review of each. After taking all 3–4 tests, go back to the first test you took and retake If your review was absolutely perfect, you should be able to score 1600 (possible, but not very likely). Now go back and check which questions you missed this time. Is there any question you missed both times? If yes, you know that these types of questions spell trouble for you. If any new mistakes crept up, you need to pay particular attention why you made these mistakes after correctly answering the last time.
  4. This process should be repeated until the SAT date.


A sample schedule to take the practice tests is below (assuming a 12-week prep). Because of the low number of official practice tests, I suggest practice tests 1 through 4 (3 and 4, in fact)  You can change the actual tests based on your situation. (For example, your first test could be practice test 5, if you already took practice test 9.) Furthermore, this schedule is provided only as a guide. Based on your learning style, you might have to tweak it.

  1. Start prep by taking practice test 9 (or another test 5–10) (week 1).
  2. Identify weaknesses in each section of practice test 9 and note them down for practicing them.
  3. Start working on your weaknesses as identified above.
    For practicing the skills, get a good math book and a writing book and start. For reading, you can use my SAT reading overview. (At this time, I do not recommend any SAT reading book.)
  4. Take practice test 3 (week 3).
  5. Repeat step #2 for practice test 3.
  6. Keep practicing the skills in the math book and the writing book (step #3).
  7. Retake practice test 9 (week 4).
  8. Repeat step #2 for practice test 9. Pay particular attention to any question you missed both times. These are your problem areas.
  9. Keep practicing the skills in the math book and the writing book (step #3).
  10. Take practice test 5 (week 5).
  11. Repeat step #2 for practice test 5.
  12. Keep practicing the skills in the math book and the writing book (step #3).
  13. Retake practice test 3 (week 6).
  14. Repeat step #2 for practice test 3. Pay particular attention to any question you missed both times. These are your problem areas.
  15. Keep practicing the skills in the math book and the writing book (step #3). You should be done with both books this week.
  16. Take practice test 6 (week 7).
  17. Repeat step #2 for practice test 6.
  18. Review the skills in the math book and the writing book. Start from the beginning.
  19. Retake practice test 5 (week 8).
  20. Repeat step #2 for practice test 5. Pay particular attention to any question you missed both times. These are your problem areas.
  21. Continue reviewing the skills in the math book and the writing book.
  22. Take practice test 4 (week 9).
  23. Repeat step #2 for practice test 4.
  24. Continue reviewing the skills in the math book and the writing book.
  25. Retake practice test 6 (week 10).
  26. Repeat step #2 for practice test 6. Pay particular attention to any question you missed both times. These are your problem areas.
  27. Solve the problems that you got wrong one or both times for practice test 9. Go over the entire test to identify any other question you cannot solve.
  28. If you cannot solve any problem in either test, work on the relevant concept thoroughly. If you identify the reason for your mistake to be something else, work on fixing the issue.
  29. Continue reviewing the skills in the math book and the writing book.
  30. Take practice test 10 (week 11).
  31. Repeat step #2 for practice test 10.
  32. Continue reviewing the skills in the math book and the writing book.
  33. Review practice tests 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10. Carefully review every question you still cannot solve in any of the test (week 12).


The test schedule in presented in an accessible tabular format below.


Week 1Start prep by taking practice test 9 and thoroughly review.
Week 2Practice writing and math skills.
Week 3Take practice test 3 and thoroughly review.

Practice writing and math skills.

Week 4Retake practice test 9 and review. Did you miss any question both times?

Practice writing and math skills.

Week 5Take practice test 5 and thoroughly review.

Practice writing and math skills.

Week 6Retake practice test 3 and review. Did you miss any question both times?

Practice writing and math skills.

Week 7Take practice test 6 and thoroughly review.

Review writing and math skills.

Week 8Retake practice test 5 and review. Did you miss any question both times?

Review writing and math skills.

Week 9Take practice test 4 and thoroughly review.

Practice writing and math skills.

Week 10Retake practice test 6 and review. Did you miss any question both times?

Solve the problems that you got wrong one or both times for practice test 9. Go over the entire test to identify and review any other question you cannot solve.

Review writing and math skills.

Week 11Take practice test 10 and thoroughly review.

Review writing and math skills.

Week 12Review practice tests 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10. Carefully review every question you still cannot solve in any of the test.


You will have practice tests 7 and 8 untouched if you need to retake the SAT and need an unused test to test your preparation level. This example assumes that you are only using the official practice tests and have not used any of them before. However, such a 12-week preparation schedule can be made using the “published” QAS tests that you have not used before (or a combination of practice and QAS tests) as well. One huge advantage of the official practice tests is that College Board answer explanations are available (however limited the College Board answer explanations might be), which are not available with the QAS tests. Again, it is important to remember is that significant amount of time needs to be spent on reviewing each test to make these practices count. It is also important to return to the tests periodically to make sure that you do not make the mistake you have made earlier.

We elaborate on the best approach (in my opinion) to use the official practice tests later again in this chapter.

Sources of Practice Tests

Outside of the practice tests and the tests that I share in the class, the students can also practice using other materials from the College Board. (As stated before, I strongly recommend against using any 3rd-party practice tests or practice questions.) Sources of real SAT questions include:

  1. The Official Practice Tests: tests 1, 3, 5–10 (online and the 2020 Official Guide). Tests 2 and 4 are available in the 2018 Official Guide (and could be found by searching online).
  2. Maine Department of Education Question And Service: Try to search online for the Maine April 2017, April 2018, and April 2019 QAS. Maine Spring 2020 SAT School Day assessment was not administered due to COVID-19.

April 2017 QAS: test, answer key (was available when last checked). April 2018 QAS: test, answer key (was available when last checked). April 2019 QAS: test, answer key (was available when last checked).

  1. Question And Service (QAS) tests, which are available by searching online. We also have copies of the QAS tests and can provide upon request.
  2. “Daily Practice for the New SAT”: official app from the College Board. It also has a substantial “real” SAT questions archive. (Update: The app is not supported by College Board as of June 2020 and might not even be available for download in the app stores.)
  3. Official PSAT Practice Tests (2 available)
  4. PSAT Sample Questions.
  5. The student’s own PSAT booklet.
  6. Copy of the PSAT booklet from someone who took it.
  7. Khan Academy questions (only use “Interactive Practice”).
  8. Any additional material from the College Board.

How to use the Practice Tests effectively?

We already stressed that the students should only practice with practice tests from the College Board. Also, as already stated, a practice test is useful only once for getting a real SAT score and assess your test preparedness. Thus, take the test the first time to get a score.

How should these tests be used? Should a student simply take many official Practice Tests one after the other? The approach to simply take many practice tests is unlikely to increase the score of a student significantly. Furthermore, the student will run out of practice tests quickly, without truly benefiting from them. For the SAT prep, it is critical to focus on quality over quantity.

I would go as far as saying that it is more useful to do only 2 Practice Tests in conjunction with thorough reviews than to do all available Practice Tests mindlessly.  Practice tests do not help you if you unmindfully take one test after another without taking the time to study between tests. I have had students who came to me after using up all the Official Practice tests. When I checked with them, their score barely went up after taking all 8 tests because they did not review their mistakes after taking each test. Of course, it is okay to begin by taking one or two practice tests without too much reflection, just to get used to the format and the experience of taking the test. (For the reasons already described, you can use one or two of practice tests 1–4 for familiarization.) Once you finish these one or two tests, though, you need to thoroughly review your mistakes in each test if you want to see any improvement in your score.

In addition to practice tests, you need to learn the strategies for all 4 sections, especially reading. You also need to learn or brush up all the writing section rules and all the SAT math basics.

For the practice test, try to simulate the actual testing environment. Work in a quiet area where you will not be disturbed. It is the best to take the test in “one shot” with a 5-minute break between Sections 1 and 2 and a 10-minute break between Sections 3 and 4 (3 hours for the test and 15 minutes for the break). It is even better if you can take the test at the same time of the day when the SAT is given in your center. If you do not know the answer to a question, you should guess. Write “guess” next to the question so that you can review the question later.

Identify Your Biggest Growth Areas

After a test, score the test and do a preliminary review that gives you summary of your performance. What are your biggest weaknesses? Fixing these weaknesses will likely yield the largest score increases.

  1. Did you score the lowest in one of the sections? — You need to focus on this section the most.
  2. Did you miss a specific question type several times? — You need to focus on this question type.
  3. Was there a specific topic that you do not know or do not know well? — You need to study or review this topic (or topics).

Once you know your problem areas, you can focus on those. Prioritize in terms of biggest weakness, then to next biggest weakness, and so on. If you are running out of time, work on the other weaknesses. Typically, your speed will increase as you get better in those areas.

Test Review

It is important to not lose sight of the real aim of the prep, which is not to simply do the practice tests, but to learn and improve as you prepare. Accordingly, to get full benefits from the Practice Tests, the student should go through the answers with a “fine-tooth comb,” particularly the ones not answered correctly. You can review individually or with the help of a qualified teacher, tutor or family. Some individuals are great at self-diagnosis. For example, some baseball pitchers can practice, say, 50 pitches and watch videos of those pitches to figure out problems in their mechanics. However, most pitchers would do better if they get help from a pitching coach. For most students, test prep would be better with the help of a teacher and tutor. However, individual students and parents would be the best judge of what works best for him/her.

Should you use blind review?

The review can use two approaches. I believe that “blind review” is the better of the two. For the blind review, the student takes a Practice Test and then gives the answer key to someone else (such as a family member, a teacher, or a friend) to verify which answers she got right. (If she does not have anyone at the moment to help, she can simply mark the questions she did not answer correctly.) Of course, if she correctly answers every question, she is ready now to take the SAT and should register for the test!

Assuming she did not get a near-perfect score, she needs to continue reviewing. However, that does not mean that she checks the correct answers and the explanations immediately. After marking the questions that she did not answer correctly, she revisits these problems the next day and try to solve again from scratch on her own. If needed, she should review contents/concepts, before answering a question she answered incorrectly. Furthermore, she should take as long as it needs (no time limit) to answer each of these questions. Only after trying these questions the second time, she can check the answer explanation. If she got it right on the second try, great news! She has either made a careless mistake on the first try or managed to figure it out this time (perhaps with extra studying and no time limit). It is, however, important to consider why she chose the original answer the first time. Furthermore, whether or not she answered it correctly this time, studying the answer explanation (for official practice tests) can give her some new insights that she did not have. It is critical to know not only why an answer choice is right but also why the other three are wrong. Even if she gets it wrong on the second attempt, there is no reason to despair. It probably indicates a true weakness and should be rectified. These types of questions should get the highest priority in her studies going forward.

Because of the extra work involved in blind review, the student will probably not make the same mistake in the future. However, it is important to go back to the question periodically to make sure that she can answer a similar question on the test date.

If the subject matter or individual concept is not clear for a question you could not answer correctly, determine precisely what (concept/category) is being tested. This will allow you to identify and review the appropriate lesson in a textbook or an online resource such as a Khan Academy video / explanation. There are also worksheets with related questions which I would recommend practicing over and over until you know the concept.

Some students lack the patience to spend the time on blind review. The second approach is the typical approach of checking the answer explanation immediately. This, of course, requires less time. However, the lesson might not be as long lasting and your score improvement might also be modest.

Even if the second approach is used, the key is to focus on mistakes and weaknesses. Every mistake on an SAT question happens for a reason. Unless the student understands the exact reason why she missed a question, she is likely to make a similar mistake repeatedly. A large number of students spend a lot of time on preparing with practice tests without seeing much improvement. Lack of review is one of the primary reasons.

Should you take untimed tests?

In my opinion, you should never take a test completely untimed. However, if you run out of time in any section, move to the next section, but return to it and complete the section. You can then score the test both timed (the portion you did within the time limit) and untimed (including the questions that you did/corrected after time). This would give you an idea about how much more you would score if there was no time limit. Practice generally improves time, especially if one tries to improve on it.

Can I do this problem faster?

Should you spend any time to review the problems you got right? The answer is yes. Can you do the problem faster? Is there another way? Is there a shortcut? For example, nearly every math can be solved in 30 seconds. If you can solve 10–15 problems in 30 seconds each, you would have more time per question for the rest of the problems. Thus, while you should spend most of your time working on your weaknesses, you should not completely ignore the areas of strength. Can you improve on them?


To summarize, one approach to review the answers for a practice test is as follows.

  • Review the answers: as already stated above, to get full benefits from the Practice Tests, the student should go through the answers with a “fine-tooth comb.” It is also important to assess which areas would be the most beneficial to correct first. (Among the areas you are making mistakes, which area has the greatest number of questions?)

For a proper SAT prep, you absolutely need to understand your mistakes. This applies to blind-review and normal review.

Every mistake in the SAT happens for a reason. Unless you understand the exact reason for missing a question, you are likely to make similar mistakes repeatedly. You must develop a review method that works with you. If the following suggested approach works for you, feel free to use it (either as it is or with modification).

    • Begin by determining which questions you missed and if you got an answer wrong, why you missed that question. It is helpful to write down in the notebook why you got it wrong. Information to include: i) a summary of the question, ii) why you missed it, and iii) how you will avoid making the same or similar mistake in the future. (Unless you understand every mistake and where it went wrong, you might make similar mistakes in the future.) With this systematic approach, you will have a running log of missed questions and your explanation why you missed them. (In the process, you are creating your own, customized notebook.)

You should include the questions you guessed, even if you guessed correctly because you do not know how to solve it. Even if you are 20% uncertain of your answer for a question, include it. The reason for missing a question could be many.

      • Are you well-versed with the topic? If you know the topic, did you fail to understand the question? Why? Read the question with extra care.
      • If you need to brush up on the topic or content, do so. Have you missed a few questions from a specific subject area? Then your knowledge about the topic might be weak and you should review the topic.
      • If you do not know the strategy for this type of math questions, you must learn these strategies to solve these questions.
      • If you missed the question for another reason (whatever it might be), figure out the reason (e.g., you misunderstood what the question asked) and fix it (e.g., how to avoid misunderstanding such questions).
    • You can use the five whys developed by Toyota to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why.” For example, your car stops in the middle of the road (the problem). We can use five whys to determine the root cause.
      1. Why did the car stop? – It ran out of gas. (First why)
      2. Why did it run out of gas? – I didn’t buy gas. (Second why)
      3. Why didn’t I buy gas? – I didn’t have money on me. (Third why)
      4. Why didn’t I have money? – My wallet was stolen last night in New York. (Fourth why)
      5. Why was my wallet stolen? – I was careless in an area known for pickpockets. (Fifth why, a root cause)
    • If you missed a Reading question about the main purpose of the passage, you can use five whys to zoom on the root cause.
      1. Why? I eliminate two wrong answers but picked the wrong answer choice from the other two.
      2. Why? The wrong answer choice was a possible answer but was not in the passage. I got tricked.
      3. Why? I didn’t fully understand the relevant part of the passage.
      4. Why? I didn’t read the passage carefully.
      5. Why? I have been running out of time and was going too fast.
    • Once you completely understand the reason for missing a question, do whatever is necessary (review content, work on strategies, etc.) to answer it correctly.
    • Let a few days (e.g., a couple of weeks) pass. Can you solve the question now or have you forgotten how? If not, repeat the process.
    • Furthermore, for every question (whether answered correctly or not), she should then assess whether there is a faster approach to get to the answer. Many students run out of time at least in one section.
    • This should be repeated until the SAT date. She should be able to correctly answer every question of every SAT practice test she has taken.


In summary, to achieve a high score, you need to be meticulous with understanding and correcting your weaknesses. You need to understand why you missed the question and what you need to do so that you do not miss it in the future. You might miss a question because of not knowing the content, not using the correct approach, and other reasons.

  1. If you missed a question for not having the knowledge to answer the question, you need to know which specific skills you need to learn and how you will learn these skills.
  2. If you knew the content, but did not know the approach to solve the question, you need to figure out how to solve the question and is there a general approach to use for questions similar to this question.
  3. If you made a careless error, did you misread the question? Was there another reason? What can you do in future to avoid such errors?
  4. If you did not know the answer, but was able to eliminate one or more answer choices and guessed wrong, is there a way to eliminate the remaining answer choices (especially that you know the correct answer now)? Is there a strategy to eliminate incorrect answer choices for similar questions in the future?


I have repeated throughout about identifying and correcting mistakes and weaknesses because this is the most critical SAT preparation strategy. If you correctly approach this and work hard, your score will go up.


It is important to know when to ask for help. If you are having difficulty with system of equations and do not know how to learn it, your math teacher might be able to help you learn. If you can also take an SAT class or ask a tutor. At Prep Excellence, we offer industry-leading classes and have the best SAT expert tutors and will be happy to help with your SAT prep.


Good luck!