Feature image from bbc.com


Sine, Sine, Cosine, Sine
2400 SAT
We all take 4 AP’s!

That chant was one of the first things that everyone in my class learned when we entered high school. Mission San Jose is famous for its high academic achievement and majority Asian American population, so it’s no surprise that test scores are incredibly important to both the students and parents.

At Mission, it’s tradition to take SAT classes the summer before junior year in preparation for the October and November SATs. With high demand for rigorous programs, many test prep centers bloomed in the neighborhoods surrounding the high school. I too spent a summer locked in a classroom with twenty other classmates, scribbling away on practice tests and sweating as the allotted timed ticked by.

Lots and lots and lots of tests (teachers.egfi-k12.org)

Lots and lots of tests (teachers.egfi-k12.org)

However, that summer I was also working a part time job, heading a nonprofit organization, and training for drum major marching band parade season in the fall. I stretched myself too thin, didn’t study enough, and consequently didn’t perform as well on the October SAT. Everyone at my school aimed for a 2350+, and many of them did achieve that score. While my classmates were happily sharing their test scores, I was silently wondering if my 2220 would be enough for top college admissions.

The SAT: Breakdown

My unsuccessful trial

Some say that the SAT is an aptitude test, while others say it is an achievement test. In my opinion, it is a mixture of both, for there are certain skillsets unique to the SAT that you can hone. I believe that the SAT also depends on luck, especially for the writing prompt and the critical reading vocabulary section, and honesty.

The SAT is quite complex (blog.nextstepu.com)

The SAT is quite complex (blog.nextstepu.com)

During the test in which I received a 2220, I mis-bubbled three questions in one of the sections, which I became aware of near the end of the test. However, I knew the rule: you cannot work on other sections, and you cannot refer back to previous sections. Even though I didn’t need to look back to the actual questions and I knew which numbers I had to fix, I was torn between fixing my bubbles and adhering strictly to the rules. In the end, I decided to not erase and re-bubble, and just accept the score that I deserved.

Attempt #2

Consequently, I didn’t feel that my score accurately represented my capabilities, especially considering I royally messed up on the essay. I was determined to retake the SAT once more, in part because of its influence on college admissions, in part because it was about honor and pride. This time, I would actually sit down and study the vocabulary like I was supposed to for SAT classes, and this time I would take practice essays more seriously.

I was determined to reach my goal (keywordsuggest.org)

I was determined to reach my goal (keywordsuggest.org)

I signed up for the March SAT, but as the time neared I was clearly overwhelmed with the six weighted classes I was taking. Drum major competitions were also coming up, and I had to practice every day for that. As the test date got closer and closer, it was evident that I wouldn’t be able to adequately prepare, and I decided to cancel my test, and let them take my registration money.

Attempt #2 Redo

I couldn’t take the SAT in June because I needed to do SAT II subject tests, so over the summer I was determined to study for the October SAT senior year. After spending one week at Girls State, one month in Taiwan teaching English, and the rest of the time catching up on work for my nonprofit organization and training for drum major, I ended up not preparing. I did bring my SAT book all the way to Taiwan, and read only two pages.

I was very shocked (not) at my lack of studying (blog.hub.tv)

I was very shocked (not) at my lack of studying (blog.hub.tv)

In August, the Common App was released, and I frantically started to write my essays and get ready for the college application season. I knew that I wouldn’t do well on the October test, and decided to move my test date back to November. It would be the last possible test date that I could do the SAT, and it wouldn’t even be in time for early schools if I wanted to apply Early Decision or Early Action.

Attempt #2: Last Chance

My parents asked me many times if I was sure I wanted to retake the SAT. After all, it had been a year since I had last prepared and taken a whole practice test, and according to everyone else it would be unlikely for scores to magically jump up. I doubted myself, and scoured the internet searching for some sort of miracle story or formula that would validate my decision. What if I did end up doing worse? Will that reflect badly on me? Should I even take it again? My mind was plagued with pessimistic worries, exacerbated by the advice on College Confidential.

I was quite worried (geekhardshow.com)

I was quite worried (geekhardshow.com)

Two weeks before the November test, I started to prepare. The stakes were the highest it could possibly be, and finally I pushed aside my procrastination tendencies. I borrowed practice books from the Career Center, and found my old SAT tests to identify my weaknesses. On the PSAT, I had gotten a high score and qualified for National Merit, so I knew that I still had hope, however slim.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

I realized that it was too late to take all the practice tests and re-evaluate my skillsets, so I tried a different method. I knew that I often got questions wrong on the vocabulary section, so instead of trying to memorize all the words, I decided to study Latin roots and suffixes. They were easy to remember, and they would allow me to make the best educated guess on the test. For the critical reading section, I understood that I couldn’t choose the answer that I identify with the most. I had to choose the one that best answered the question, and I could find clues in the wording of the phrases.

Step by step, I was crossing off my target issues (kbic.com)

Step by step, I was crossing off my target issues (kbic.com)

For the essay portion, I came up with a clear format, and I chose two or three books that I knew by heart and could easily fit into the prompt given. I practiced essays not by writing complete ones, but simply giving myself five minutes to come up with the example, the points, the conclusion, and outline my argument. In order to get a high score, I knew I had to fill up as many lines as possible, and make sure to articulate with quality, intelligent diction. I used a thesaurus for common words that I would use, and memorized their superior synonyms.

The Final Step

Lastly, but most importantly, I knew that I had to have a good night’s sleep in order to do well. The day before the SAT, I went to bed at eight, and woke up bright and early to review Latin roots and suffixes one last time. I arrived at the test with all my materials in order, and felt somewhat prepared. Once the test started, the high stakes and pressure pushed me into a hyper-alert phase, and I made use of every single second of the allotted time to check, double check, and triple check everything.



When the test was over, I knew I had done everything I could. I felt that I had done well, and went back to working on my college applications.

Miracles Do Happen

I opened my test score result past midnight during Thanksgiving break. I got a 2400. I screamed. I jumped. I celebrated. I was in disbelief.

I C E L E B R A T E D (youtube.com)

I C E L E B R A T E D (youtube.com)

Moral of the story: a 2400 is totally achievable, even if you aren’t in that range at the beginning or after taking a class. Find what works for you, and develop your own strategies. Ultimately, though, the score is just a small part of your college applications, and from the data I’ve seen there have been plenty of people accepted into top schools with high GPAs but rather low SAT scores. And, of course, you are not defined by something as arbitrary as a number. Though it can improve your self-confidence if do well!

If you’re starting to think about the SAT now, definitely check out CollegeVine’s SAT preparation services!

Take an SAT practice test and go through the SAT checklist

Sara Tsai

Sara is part of the Class of 2020 at UC Berkeley, intending to double major in Business Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. As a graduate of Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, CA, she is well-accustomed to the boba scene in the Bay Area, and her favorite toppings include pandan noodles, red tapioca, and lychee jelly. In high school, she was the 4'10'' "tiny but mighty" drum major of the marching band and best known for her penguin drawings.