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SAT Prep Case Study

We’re going to look at three different students’ paths to improving on the SAT. The three of them started at different scores and took somewhat different approaches to preparing for the SAT based on what their diagnostic test results were.

It should be noted that almost no students who starts SAT prep starts out as an expert of the test or even as an expert of any topic on the test. For some students, it’s just a matter of reviewing forgotten information to get better at a topic, for others it’s about learning how to apply the knowledge to the test, and for others it’s about learning the material for the first time.

You can see what is possible with the right guidance and hard work.

Table of Contents

Sarah: 1400 to a 1540 (140 Point Improvement)

Sarah was a student from Brooklyn, NY who commuted to Staten Island for high school She took here diagnostic test online, but actually came to the office for the other practice tests.

Based on the results of her diagnostic test, we saw that Sarah was starting with a very strong score, so we wouldn’t have to review all of the lessons, just the ones she needed help with. If you had a score similar to Sarah’s, we would recommend that you focus on the material you need the most help with. 

Since Sarah was starting from a high SAT score and was responsible enough to do a lot of work at home, we were able to only meet only once per week and get great results.

  • Online tutoring
  • In-person proctored tests

Before we did any tutoring, the first step was to take a diagnostic SAT.

Sarah's Tutoring Schedule

  • 40 hours total
  • 1 hour per week for about 40 weeks
  • A lot of homework each week
  • 1 proctored practice test every 6-8 weeks, and then about 1 practice per week for the last 4 weeks
Sarah completed one practice test worth of problems each week. Most of the time we would work on math together, and she would complete the reading and writing sections for homework.

Sarah's Practice SAT Scores & Actual SAT Score

Sarah's SAT scores

English Plan

With a high reading score, we would know that you don’t have to go through all of the reading lessons, and going through the passage and answers together would be a waste of time, since you’d get almost all of them right. Instead, reading still had to be practiced, so it was assigned for homework each week and then checked. Only the 4-8 questions that were wrong each week would get reviewed.

The diagnostic test showed that  there was room to improve on the writing part of the SAT, so we went through the writing lessons before attempting full test sections. In the  beginning we worked on writing sections together, but as she started to get less and less wrong, we switched to her completing them at home. We only reviewed the questions she got wrong or were unsure of to make better use of our time.

Math Plan

When it came to math, there were a few glaring topics that had room for improvement. We went through all of the math lessons including the tips & tricks for math, then practice full sets of math questions from old SATs. Since she was relatively strong at math, we would work on the hard questions first together and move on to the medium and easier questions if we had time; otherwise, the easy and medium questions became part of her homework.

After the third practice test, we looked at what her weak points still were, which you could do also. From there we worked on only those math problems for the next three weeks to sure up the weak topics. Sarah still practiced her reading and writing as normal.

Francesca: 1120 to a 1350 (230 Point Improvement)

Francesca and her mom knew she wanted to break a 1300 on the SAT, but had scored around an 1100 on her school PSAT. Initially they wanted to sign up for 1-on-1 tutoring, but the cost of private tutoring was a little out of their reach.

We suggested signing up for the class to cover most of the lessons and tricks, then do tutoring after to cover the concepts that she still needed help with. It is a more cost effective way to prepare for the SAT. She signed up for our 4-week class that consists of eight 3-hour classes and four practice tests and added 12 hours of 1-on-1 tutoring.

Francesca's SAT Prep Schedule

  • SAT prep class for four weeks
  • Four weeks of tutoring, 3 hours each week, plus one additional test after the first 2 weeks of tutoring

Francesca's Practice SAT Scores & Actual SAT Score

Francesca's SAT scores

English Plan

After the class, we reinforced concepts that needed help. For reading we did a lot more practice, most of the reading practice was done for homework and then reviewed together. We did deep analysis of the questions she had trouble with to clear up what confused her.

For writing, it was clear that her two weakest topics were punctuation and introductory phrases/transitions, so we did worksheets that focused on those topics to really drill them down. After, we continued doing full sections for practice.

Math Plan

From analyzing Francesca’s last test in the SAT class, we found that her weakest topics were quadratics and data/probability, so we reviewed the concepts and worked through close to 100 questions on those two topics, so she became really strong at them. This was important because those two topics are two of the biggest topics on the SAT. For example, Francesca also struggled with imaginary numbers, but we didn’t focus as much attention on those questions since they are very rare. If she was very strong in all of the other topics and imaginary numbers was one of the only questions she was getting wrong, we would spend more time on it to help her get a perfect score on the SAT.

Ahmed: 1030 to a 1410 (380 Point Improvement)

Ahmed improved his score dramatically. The key to his success was scheduling tutoring when he wasn’t busy with basketball. During the basketball season, he had a lot of practices and a hectic schedule of games, so he prepared for the SAT during the offseason. Because he wanted to do as well as possible the first time around, he went all in with tutoring three times per week, 2 hours each session. Since he covered a lot of material each week, it made sense to take tests more regularly to see how he was improving. He took his second practice test four weeks after his first and then took a practice test every two weeks.

The first step for Ahmed was to take a diagnostic SAT. Ahmed started with a slightly above average SAT score on his diagnostic test, but had much higher goals. Since he took the practice test, we had a better idea of how much work Ahmed would need to reach his goal.

Ahmed's Tutoring Schedule

  • 2-hour tutoring sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • Diagnostic test on Sunday before starting tutoring. Second practice SAT after four weeks, then a practice SAT every 2 weeks
  • 150 hours of private tutoring

Ahmed's Practice SAT Scores & Actual SAT Score

Ahmed's SAT scores

English Plan

For reading, we covered our reading lesson followed by practice. We worked on reading passages together in the beginning. After each paragraph, we would discuss what the important parts were and analyze specific sentences for deeper meaning to gain experience analyzing passages and inferring information based on what is given. After four sessions of working on reading together like this, Ahmed was ready to practice reading on his own and only review what he got wrong or was confused about. Having students read at home prioritizes tutoring time for answering questions and learning from mistakes.

For writing, we went through our in-depth writing lesson that lets student know what to look out for on the test, know how to spot wrong answers, and reviews grammar rules. Writing sections are more interactive that reading sections, so we worked on these together during the sessions. It is especially important to work on them together in the beginning, so the student can be made aware of mistakes that might not be picked up on if only the answers were reviewed after. Topics that had to be worked on specifically were punctuation and combining sentences.

Math Plan

Ahmed was a good math student in school, but didn’t have a very deep understanding of some of the topics because he struggled in sophomore year with geometry. For whatever reason, he did not learn well from his math teacher that year. The good news is that we was able to learn; he just needed to be taught.

We worked through our math lessons from the beginning. It took the first 8 sessions (1 hour of math and 1 hour of English) to get through our math lessons. From there it was about smart practice. Ahmed needed a lot of practice with data/probability, circles, quadratics, and linear functions. Each week Ahmed would finish 2 full SATs worth of work, in addition to a practice test if he took one that week.

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