The perfect SAT or ACT score is something that many students strive to achieve, but it can be hard to know exactly which strategies students employ to get those perfect marks. College Confidential is rolling back the curtain and sharing the stories of students who achieved a perfect 800 on each section of the SAT and ACT. Our series starts today with a profile of Ben Hollering, who got his perfect SAT score on the Reading section.
We sat down with Hollering to glean best practices and tips so current students can get a feel for what it took to get that perfect score.
College Confidential: How many times did you take the SAT, and which time was the perfect score?
Ben Hollering: I took the test twice. On my first attempt, I got a 770 on Reading, and the second time I got the 800. I didn’t make a conscious effort to get the perfect score, but I did use some strategies I learned from the first time when I took it again, which probably helped bump up my score.
CC: What study strategies do you think helped you get the perfect score?
BH: I think there were a few factors that helped bring my score up. First, a big part of the Reading section involved things like completing sentences or making analogies. I took five semesters of Latin in high school, and when I took the SAT I had already completed three of those. Learning word roots and origins in Latin turned out to be very helpful in terms of the vocab preparation.
The second factor is that I’ve always read a lot. When I was in high school I was reading novels and plays almost every day, and I think reading is one of the best ways to intrinsically learn vocabulary and sentence structure and to improve reading comprehension and reading speed.
CC: Did you have any particular routine that you did the day before or the day of the test?
BH: I’ve always struggled with getting enough sleep, so when I took the SAT, I tried to not sleep much two nights beforehand, so I’d be really tired the night before. That worked and forced me to get a really good night’s sleep the night before I took the SAT, and I think that helped.
CC: Which strategies did you use when reading the passages?
BH: I advise that students should always read the questions before reading the passages -- I believe this helped me a lot. After you read the multiple-choice questions, you’ll know which keywords to look for in the passage, so then in some cases, you can skim the passage for those keywords and underline them if necessary to answer more quickly. Of course, some questions may require a deeper reading, such as those about the theme of the passage. If you know ahead of time that all of the questions are about what happened in the passage, you’ll know you can skim it and just look for the keywords, but if you see that the questions are about themes and meanings, you’ll want to read the passage more carefully. Using this method allowed me to plan ahead to know which passages I could skim and which I couldn’t. I’m a fast reader so this really helped me save time.
CC: Did you guess at all on the SAT or were you confident in every answer?
BH: Yes, I guessed on some answers, but they were definitely educated guesses rather than just filling in a random answer-sheet bubble. This is how I take multiple choice tests:
- I go through each section and answer every question I'm absolutely sure I can answer correctly.
- If I see a question I have doubts about, I circle those in the test booklet and skip them.
- When I finish all of the questions I know for sure, I go back to those that I circled and eliminate the obvious wrong answer(s) before making an educated guess. In the Reading section, the grammatical structure of the answers can tell you a lot. For instance, if I eliminated one answer and then there were three that seemed similar, I would see whether two choices had similar grammatical structures with just one or two words interchanged – in those cases, I would pick the third answer choice, assuming that the two that were almost identical were both incorrect. After answering a question that way, I would iteratively go through the rest that I’d skipped and do those the same way.
CC: What advice do you have for students taking the Reading section of the SAT?
BH: I always tell people to read as much as possible in everyday life. You'll increase your speed and your vocabulary. In addition, try to read analytically rather than just for pleasure. Read books that stimulate your mind and make you ask questions – these are the types of examples that will mirror what you see on the SAT, so you’ll be relaxed and accustomed to reading in that style. Around the time I took the SAT, I was reading things like A Song of Ice and Fire, all of the young adult dystopian trilogies like The Hunger Games and Divergent, and a fair amount of Shakespeare.