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Seeking the Ultimate SAT Score

For most students who want to attend an elite US college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life’s landmarks. Your very first step towards getting into your dream undergrad school hinges on getting a high score in one of two standardized tests, the SAT or the ACT.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   27-08-2013
SAT Study Guide Books; College Board
For most students who want to attend an elite US college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life’s landmarks. Your very first step towards getting into your dream undergrad school hinges on getting a high score in one of two standardized tests, the SAT or the ACT.

“The verbal portions of SAT and ACT exams can be particularly crucial, when it comes to the applications of students abroad, because it may suggest how strong the applicant's English language skills are,” says Jacques Steinberg, senior editor at The New York Times and author of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.

Is it possible to get a perfect SAT score? Yes, it is. Varun Jain, a precocious 14-year-old student from California aced the SAT test this year. He scored 800 on the verbal, 800 on the math and 800 on the writing test a perfect total score of 2400 on the entire SAT test. It is so rare to get a perfect 2400 SAT score on the trio of tests that make up the SATs only 360 students did it in 2012. More than 1.6 million students took the tests that year.

Jain is expected to graduate early from school and then move on to study computer science in one of his top choices for university Harvard or MIT.

Not everyone can ace the SATs like Varun Jain. Colleges don’t expect you to get a perfect SAT score, but with competition getting increasingly tough, you simply cannot get into a good college with a bad SAT score.

“As a university that receives an unusually large number of applications (last year that number was over 48,000) we are, in fact, a university that relies heavily on quantifiable data in making admission decisions,” says New York University Assistant Vice President and Dean of Admissions Shawn L. Abbott.

New York University; www.nyu.edu

If you look at NYU’s profile you will find that most admitted undergraduate students have SAT scores between 1940 and 2230. Admitted students on an average scored between 650-750 on the math and writing sections; and 630-730 on the critical reading (all out of 800 per section).

Abbott, however, says that although SAT scores and grades carry a lot of weight, NYU deploys a holistic admissions process, trying to get as full a portrait of the applicant as possible including his activities outside the classroom.

“Extracurricular impact, essays and writing samples, evaluation letters, and special talents are just a handful of the areas we evaluate when making admission decisions,” says Abbott.

NYU, which has a large number of international students from South Asia, considers SAT, ACT, AP, IB results or national examinations from an approved slate of countries around the world.

“Students need only to submit one type of examination to be eligible for admission to NYU,” says Abbott.

What SAT score works for the Ivy League? Most elite US colleges have high standards — including a median SAT score of 1350 on the math and verbal parts of the test among first-year students in recent years. At Harvard University, approximately 75 percent of admitted students scored above 2080 on the SAT; 25 percent scored above 2380.

On the SAT, the median score for last year in America was approximately 1490 out of 2400. Fifty percent scored 1490 and above; 50 percent scored below. Fifteen percent scored above 1850; 7 percent scored above 2000; only 2 percent scored 2200 and above.

“I do think that investing a nominal amount of money in workbooks or other self-paced media with practice exercises can go a long way toward helping students know what to expect, in terms of the style and approach of SAT questions. Other students, with the means, may find it is worth enrolling in an actual prep course,” says Steinberg.

If you find that your scores are below average for your dream college, don't panic. Here are tips from SAT pros that can help you reach your goals.

Retake the Exam

Depending on when your application deadlines are, you might be able to take the SAT again. If you took it in the spring, you can work through a SAT practice book and retake the exam in the fall. According to the College Board which administers the SAT, most students take the test once or twice.

Professional Test Prep

Simply retaking the exam without further preparation isn't likely to improve your score. Some students say they have achieved higher scores after paying for professional test prep guidance, which teaches test-taking strategy as much as content. Working with a test prep company or tutor gives you more personalized attention and practice than you would usually receive through a self-paced online prep course. But professional test prep and tutors cost money which is why some professors say the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged students  — “a wealth test,” as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it.

Consider the PSAT

A good way to practice for the SATs is through the preliminary-SATs (PSATs) that normally take place in October each year. The PSATs were initially intended to be used for those student applicants looking to enter preparatory schools in the U.S., and the test itself comprises of the same sections as the SATs: a 70-minute math section, a 60-minute writing section and a 70-minute critical reading section combining test results from three 800-point sections. Now, it is a good form of practice. After that you might find yourself better prepared for the SATs.

Budget Your Time

Ideally, students should start preparing a year in advance of sitting for the SAT. But regardless of when you begin prepping, attempt between eight and 10 full-length mock exams. Attempt closer to 20 full-length exams if you have an entire year to prep.

Download Free SAT Exams

You can download two exams, the 2007-2008 College Board SAT Preparation Booklet and the College Board Official SAT Practice Test 2012-2013, as well as explore the Web for free practice SAT questions and quizzes.

The Varun Jain Way

Varun Jain makes no secret of how he got a perfect SAT score. He told reporters he didn’t stress over the test. But just a few days before the SAT was administered, he took the AP Calculus BC exam, a course usually offered to the most mathematically advanced US high school seniors. Jain took the course online in a month. He plays the sitar and the violin, and says music keeps him relaxed before a test.

How do US colleges advise students to address low SAT scores?

“There isn't really anything to address if one has low test scores. Students must simply be realistic about their chances for admission to certain universities if their scores are low,” says Abbott. “Regardless of their scores, they should do their best and put their best foot forward in creating their applications,” he says.

Last year, over 200,000 students took the SAT in over 175 countries outside the U.S. The SAT test is offered overseas six times a year: October, November, December, January, May, and June.

Uttara Choudhury is Associate Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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