What it Takes to Score 1580 on the SAT, a Student Interview

This year, one of my students scored an almost-perfect 1580 on the SAT! Until then, the record was 1560, held by my former client (now student writer) Preeta Kamat. As we head into testing season, I want to give you as many tips as possible for you to get your dream SAT score, so I went directly to the source! I interviewed my student to ask what really made the difference in her SAT prep and see what she recommends for any student who's trying to earn a competitive score.

My student has asked to remain anonymous until she submits her college applications, so she will be referred to as "student" for the purposes of this article.


Courtney: First of all, congratulations!! What an amazing accomplishment. I'm so excited for you. I want to be sure I give my students the full picture though... so tell me a little about your SAT experience.

Student: I think my experience can be compared to a rollercoaster ride. There were definitely some moments when I just wanted to give up. But those times would always get better, and things turned out well at the end.

C: When we started out, what were you struggling with most?

S: Like any other student taking the SAT, I was struggling with getting my score higher. Personally, the reading section was the hardest for me because I was always stuck between two answers. I also struggled with trusting myself to pick the right answer. I would overthink which choice was correct and often changed my answer, only to find out that my first choice was right. 

C: That was definitely something we had to work on - that's something I work with all my students on. For so long we've been programmed to not trust our instincts, so we have to work on building that trust back! What was one of the most important things you learned during our time together?

S: One of the most important things I learned during our time together was to use time as a resource. I always hated the timed aspect of the test and would get nervous that I was running out of time. But when you showed me a new perspective on pacing, I realized that if I thought of the time as something that I could use to my benefit, it made me feel more secure. Another important thing I learned is to visualize myself on test day and make sure that version of me is set up for success. I learned to ask questions like “How do I want to feel on test day? What can I do to help myself feel that way?” From that point on, I would use my answers to guide my practice.

C: Visualizing the test-day version of you is something we practiced a lot at the end, once we had solidified your strategy and we were just refining things. In the beginning, we didn't just lay down a solid foundation, but we first had to make sure there weren't any habits that were getting in your way. What was something you had to UN-learn?

S: Something I had to UN-learn was putting myself through so much work. I thought that if I kept drilling SAT problems in my brain, I would somehow magically get every single question right. There was a week when I tried solving a practice test every single day after hearing someone got a super high score after doing so. (That really didn’t help - I actually gave up midway because it was way too much) I also made myself stop going back and relearning every single grammar rule and algebra content that would be on the test. That would simply have been too much for me to handle, overcomplicating the whole test.

C: I'm so glad my lecturing about doing less finally paid off lol!! We talked so much about building a sustainable practice that wouldn't burn you out. There's so much advice out there saying more practice gets you more results, and that's really misleading. I hope your story helps other students see that they don't have to be miserable and prep for hours every day in order to get the score they want. Do you remember a moment where everything just *clicked* for you?

S: I remember feeling particularly unmotivated after taking a practice test. But then, trying to think of it from a new perspective, I started to tell myself, “I know I am going to achieve my dream score on the SAT sooner or later. It’s just a matter of when that is going to happen for me.” That helped me realize that everything was going to work out in the end. I wasn’t going to be taking the SAT forever, I would have to stop eventually. And I would only stop taking it when I got a score I was happy with. In a weird way, that comforted me and made the whole process seem simpler.

C: I loved seeing you hit this turning point! It's so much easier for us to manifest our goals when we detach from them and let go of the timeline and the process. Less worrying about the how and the when... and instead paying attention to your what and your why. How would you describe where you were before we worked together?

S: Before working together, the SAT felt really overwhelming for me. I didn’t even know where to begin and I honestly had no idea how people would get such high scores. I had never really taken a test that was so strict on time and only thought that would affect me negatively.

C: I'm so glad you said that, because I think students assume that if someone scores in the 1500s, the test was easy and effortless for them. The truth is, everyone's journey is unique to them!! How would you describe where you were after we worked together?

S: I felt much more confident in my answer choices and started trusting myself more. I was so much more relaxed during the testing process and didn’t get as nervous as I used to.

C: Watching your confidence grow was so fulfilling to watch. That is seriously one of my favorite parts of working 1:1 with someone. When you went in for that final test, I just know you felt like you knew exactly what you were doing. What are 3 study tips you would recommend to other students looking to achieve a competitive score?

S: First, solve a practice test like you would during the actual test. (Pick a Saturday morning, around when your testing time would be, and go through your morning routine as you would on your test day) That helps you prepare for the atmosphere of the actual test and how you will be feeling. Second, go over your mistakes from your practice tests. Figure out what you did wrong and why you made those mistakes. Lastly, be confident that you know the answer. Don’t worry too much about the mistakes that you made before but focus on the present. 

C: These are great tips! The only thing I would add is really analyzing the mistakes you made: look for patterns and similarities in the different questions you're missing. Usually they have something in common, and you can tailor your strategy to target those specific types of questions. Is there anything you’d recommend for other students looking to save time and energy in their study routine?

S: Don’t burn yourself out. Even though there are lots of practice tests, you don’t have to solve every one of them. It’s more about the quality of the work you put in, not so much the quantity; it’s better to solve one test and know it completely than to keep on taking practice tests. Also, don’t take every single piece of advice you have heard. There are so many different tips and opinions about the SAT, but find out which one works the best for you and stick with it. Don’t let yourself get swayed over other opinions.

C: Wow, yes! Finding your own way to take the test is so much more powerful than just copying someone else's methods. If you could tell your past self anything about the SAT, what would you tell her? Is there anything you wish you knew earlier?

S: Like you say so frequently, it is so much easier if you think about the SAT as a game. It’s not an impossible test, but a game that you have to learn the rules and the hacks for. I remember during our first meeting together, we focused on what kind of questions the SAT was based on, categorizing them by how I might approach those questions when solving them. Knowing the basis of the test and simplifying it down to categories helped me see the test from a new perspective.

C: What would you say to the student who’s having a tough time increasing their score and starting to doubt if it’s even possible for them?

S: This is another thing Courtney would say to me constantly whenever I felt discouraged- what would the 1600 version of me do? Would the 1600 version of me be second-guessing on these easy grammar questions or move on and maximize my time? Would the 1600 version of me be worrying that my scores on this one section were not good enough, or move on? It is really about putting yourself in the perspective of yourself in the future.


I hope these tips and strategies help you in your preparation for your upcoming SAT test. I hope this student journey helps you see that there is no one single right or wrong way to prepare for the test. 


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