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Testing/Test Prep

How to Get a Perfect Score on the SAT

Picture of Michal Goldstein
By Michal Goldstein on November, 15 2021 | 6 minute read

What is a perfect score on the SAT?

A perfect score on the SAT is a 1600. The test itself is scored on a scale from a minimum of 400 to a maximum of 1600, compiled from two primary sections: the Evidence-Based Reading + Writing section is scored from 200 to 800 and the Mathematics section is also scored from 200 to 800 points.

Each section is scored in 10-point increments, so it is possible to receive a 200, a 210, a 220, and so on, all the way up to an 800 in each subject.

Do you have to get every question right to get a perfect score?

It depends. Historically—and on most standardized tests—getting a perfect score does not require getting every question right in every section. However, on the SAT—and especially since June 2018—getting a perfect score on the SAT means getting every question right, or nearly so.

The SAT has three main subjects: Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics. The Reading section features 52 questions; the Writing and Language section features 44 questions; and the Mathematics section contains 58 total questions. Typically, to receive an 800 on the Reading + Writing section, a test-taker may be able to get one question wrong in the Reading section, but no more than that. In recent exams, in order to receive an 800 on the Math section, it has been necessary to answer every question correctly, as well.

Related: How Many People Get a Perfect SAT Score?

What is the value of a perfect score? Do you need a perfect score?

Having a perfect SAT score is relatively rare: if over two million people took the SAT from the most recent available data, less than 1% scored in the 1550 – 1600 range, which is to say that fewer than 22,000 people have scores north of a 1550, and only a fraction of those have a 1600.

Are perfect scores valuable? In a word, yes, though the best answer is a little more nuanced than that. Until 2020, there were universities that had scholarships specifically for students who had perfect SAT (or ACT) scores, though those policies have changed in an increasingly test-optional (or test-free) environment.

Higher scores are almost always helpful in the admissions process when test scores are applicable, and a perfect SAT score is certainly a feather in one’s academic hat. There are certainly universities where strong test scores will fortify an applicant’s chances of admission, but test scores are never the most important thing.

Remember, a good score is the one that helps you get into college. Even the most competitive schools do not typically see their median score ranges peak above a 1550.

Related: How Many Times Can I Take the SAT?

So what do test-takers who get a 1600 do differently?

Test-takers who earn perfect SAT scores typically have a few habits and characteristics that set them apart from test-takers who earned lower scores:

  1. Most crucially, they’ll take rigorous courses in high school. It’s impossible to develop the Reading, Language, and Math skills necessary to answer nearly every question correctly on the SAT without having taken classes that prepare you for the journey ahead. That means taking Algebra II by sophomore year and likely taking AP-level English and humanities courses heading into junior year. If you set high goals, make sure you’ve got the skills and tools necessary to meet them.
  2. Leading up to the SAT, perfect scorers will work with materials that are true-to-form to recent versions of the test. They will use official College Board SAT material and often refer to retired recent exams to make sure they are familiar with the test’s content, its stylization, its pacing, and structure.
  3. Perfect scorers will practice like they play: beyond reviewing the content of the test and being familiar with the concepts featured on the exam, perfect-scoring test-takers will work on timed segments of the test at the passage-level and the section-level. For example, there are five passages in each Reading section, which clocks in at a total of 65 minutes. This means that each passage affords 13 minutes of focused work. A perfect-scoring test-taker will have a great sense of what it feels like to work through a passage at that pace not just once but five times in a row (as would be represented in a full reading section). Moreover, they’ll be able to sustain high quality work from start to finish within a section and then from section to section. In sum, perfect-scoring test-takers will start their test on the right foot, work through the exam at a high level, and finish strong.
  4. Perfect-scoring test-takers treat the SAT as a practiced skills test. If you look at one copy of the SAT, it looks pretty randomized: there are Reading passages on a host of topics, grammar questions that seem arbitrary, and math problems that look utterly disconnected from one another. But, if you look at two copies of the SAT, side by side, you notice almost immediately that the exams have a lot of similarities: every SAT starts with a literature reading passage. Every math section will feature systems of equations. Every grammar passage will ask if this semicolon is used properly (and expect you to know that a semicolon is fairly similar to a period). To earn a perfect score, a test-taker will have to know the test through and through and know how to apply concepts from section to section.
  5. Because perfect-scoring test-takers will be familiar with the pacing, content, and structure of the exam, they’ll have time to review questions at the end of each section, check their work, and make sure they crossed their t’s and dotted every i.
  6. Finally, perfect-scoring test-takers will have a little luck on their side. By and large, there are always questions we need to intuit our way through and questions that feature a concept that we just happen to have reviewed recently. It is certainly the case that chance favors the prepared mind—which is to say, luck will find you if you’re ready—but it’s also the case that questions featured on the exam will align with that test-taker’s strengths.
    Related: Test-Optional Colleges, Explained

So how do I go about getting a perfect SAT score?

Start by taking a diagnostic test under realistic, timed conditions. Ideally, take one with a group like Collegewise that offers free diagnostic tests that will provide you with descriptive feedback and results. When you’ve received or tabulated your outcomes, spend time getting a sense of where you’re starting, what your strengths are, and where your areas of need can be found.  

From there, build a plan—with a reasonable timeline—to get there. We’re here to help with that part of the journey.

 


About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 

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