In 2017, 1.7 million graduating students had taken the SAT. Of those, only 5% scored above 1400. How many scored a perfect 1600? Only around several hundred. When we spoke to the College Board, they confirmed: “A top score on the SAT is achieved by only a fraction of a percent of test takers.”
Not scared off yet? Good! Let those numbers inspire you. Because guess what? Someone has to score in the top 5%. And why can’t you be one of the perfect SAT scorers?
We’re not saying it’s easy. That perfect SAT score of 1600 definitely takes some serious legwork, as well as some serious strategy. But we’ve done our research, talked with some of our highest-scoring students, and found perfect scorers from around the country.
So if you thought it was impossible to get that perfect SAT score, think again! Here are some students who did just that…and are here to tell you how.
What Does It Take to Get a Perfect SAT Score?
To get a perfect SAT score of 1600, you’ll need good prep materials, persistence, an understanding of the format, and more. Chances are, if you know somebody with a perfect SAT score, they didn’t just breeze through the test without ever having seen the official exam before. (If they say they did, take it with a big pinch of salt.)
How do we know this? We’ve talked with students who have gotten those scores…and every. Single. One. Prepared.
Not just some of them. Every single one.
But these students with perfect SAT scores didn’t just sit down and stare at that big blue College Board book for 50 hours. As we discussed their study habits with them, we noticed that a few big trends emerged.
- Use good materials. Over and over again, students told us that learning about the test was super important to their success. They looked at practice tests and practice questions. They analyzed those. They took them apart to understand how they worked.
If you’re not using test-like materials, that’s not only a waste of time, but it’s also damaging to your score. Lousy materials just teach you what their writers think the SAT is about—not what the SAT is actually about. So be choosy in your materials: get testimonials, statistics, previews. Whatever you do, make sure that those materials mirror what you’ll see on test day. (The College Board, the test-maker, has some great practice tests you can use for both practice and comparison.)
- Know why you want that high score. Did you visit a competitive college and fall in love with it? Did your parents dress you in onesies with “YALE” on them? Do you want to prove something to yourself? There’s no bad reason to aim for a high score—but the more specific our high scorers were, the easier they found it was to get through the hard times and stay persistent with their drive for a perfect SAT score.
- Consistency matters. When it comes to SAT prep, 20 hours aren’t 20 hours, and 50 hours aren’t 50 hours. In other words, not all study time is created equal. 20 hours over the four days before the test will actually end up being a lot less useful than spending five hours a week for four weeks preparing (and even less useful than doing it over 10 weeks!).
You will come across times when you don’t want to study. You will get frustrated. You may even want to throw in the towel. This happens to so many high-scoring students. What separates those test-takers from the ones who might have gotten a perfect SAT score but didn’t is that they kept going. Motivation? Key.
- Learn the test, not just the material on it. No matter how people talk about it, the SAT is not and never has been an IQ test. It is a test that can be prepared for. It is a test that can be learned. You can be an absolute, bona fide genius, but if you walk into the exam room without ever having seen the test before—and more than that, without having studied its format, question types, and quirks—you’re not getting a 1600. It’s that simple.
- Think strategically—but don’t overthink. The SAT is tricky, yes. But what we’ve heard from some students who got a perfect SAT score is that it’s important not to overthink the test—because it’s not, at the end of the day, a trick! Even if you’ve studied extensively for the test, you might find that you start second-guessing yourself and justifying wrong answer choices. Again, the SAT is tricky, but you shouldn’t need to write a paragraph to explain why the correct answer choice was right.
- Don’t forget about your schoolwork. Not only are grades and your curriculum going to be the main factors determining your college admissions (test scores are actually the second biggest factor), but you’ll also learn things that will help you ace the SAT. This is especially true if you’re currently taking any math at the Trig/Algebra II level or below, but it’s true for English students at every level.
- Never, ever, ever, give up. While the students we talked to had varied schedules, varied goals, and varied eating habits (yep, we were thorough), they all emphasized the importance of persistence. So if you’re getting down on the test? As one of the test-takers said, “Just keep on trucking.”
- Oh, and also? Every one of the students ate breakfast. It’s a good habit, we’re just saying!
Perfect 1600: Perfect SAT Scorers
Hari from Colorado got a perfect 1600 on the SAT—and a perfect 36 on the ACT. He took an in-person prep course, and going into the exam wasn’t even sure about his score. “I actually never got a perfect score during SAT practice,” Sowrirajan told the South Metro Villager. “At one point I was missing over 10 questions on the reading section.” And yet he chalks his impeccable scores to those very tests: “In the end, there’s no substitute for doing the actual practice tests.”
Andrew from Washington scored a perfect 1600 as well. After a 1550 the previous year, Andrew decided to go back and try to score even higher. He took in-person classes at a tutoring center. Andrew’s secrets? Positive thinking, learning about question types and test-taking skills, and not second-guessing himself unless he had a good reason to, as he told the Herald Net. As he told that publication, “At first it seems very daunting, but once you get into it you notice patterns for what type of questions come up and what kind of answers are usually not the right answers.”
Kyle from Wisconsin kept his explanation for his perfect score simple: “I just went in and did my best,” he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Kyle had taken the PSAT previously, but still took some practice tests before the SAT.
Sunny from Nevada is another double-barreled top scorer: 1600 on the SAT and 36 on the ACT. Just like Hari, above, who studied intensely, Sunny told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she studied for four to five hours a week, took more than 25 practice tests, and had a private tutor. She took the ACT twice to get that perfect score. The Review-Journal speculates that her perfect ACT score may have taken some of the pressure off of Sunny to get a perfect SAT score—which she then did. Her advice? “The most important thing is doing it because you want to do it. Not because anyone forces you to do it.”
1500+ SAT Scorers
Ben from California scored 1550: a perfect 800 in SAT Math and 750 in Reading/Writing. Ben prepped with Clemmonsdogpark and Princeton Review, spending 20-25 hours over the course of a month practicing. He powered up for test day with extra protein: toast, a scrambled egg, turkey sausage, and assorted fruit (our mouths are watering!).
Ben has a lot of great advice for students: “Think of the test as a puzzle, which will make it more enjoyable to solve the questions.” He adds, “Having a totem [or] item that makes you comfortable with you is quite helpful, because it makes the test environment less stressful. It has to be legal for the test though. I have a signature good luck bucket hat that I wear on tests to make myself more comfortable.”
Srikhar from Louisiana is another 1550 scorer: a perfect 800 on SAT Math and 750 on Reading/Writing (he also got a perfect score on the ACT!). He found that the eight official College Board practice tests were helpful in his preparation—and he wasn’t stingy with his prep, either! Srikhar put in 200 hours over 9-10 weeks getting ready for the two exams. After he had his breakfast of a seasoned potato and eggs on test day, it definitely paid off!
Srikhar advises looking into scholarships for high test scores (and/or asking your family for rewards if you achieve your goal score). The recognition that comes with a perfect score was also a key motivator: “For me, this was one major driving factor during my practice period, pushing me through each day of repetitive practice. This adds more weight to the reward of achieving your goal score, keeping you even more motivated to continue working hard.”
1400+ SAT Scorers
Jackie from Colorado ended up scoring a 1440 on the SAT: 780 Reading/Writing and 660 Math. How’d she get such a high score? She put in the time: 50 hours of preparation, including three practice tests to take the SAT twice. And she started early—some “light prep,” in her words, about six months before the test, gradually increasing until test day. So far, she’s been accepted to twelve colleges! In case you’re curious, she ate cereal before the exam and brought a banana for a snack.
Jackie’s advice? “Stick to your study schedule and remember the reason you’re putting so much effort in, especially on days when you have to sacrifice fun for test prep. It’s worth it to be prepared!”
Lizzie’s a committed test-taker: she took the SAT and the ACT three times each! But you can’t say it didn’t pay off. Her best SAT score was 1490: 770 Reading/Writing and 720 Math (her ACT scores were also awesome!). Lizzie only prepped for about 20 hours for each test in the month-two months before her exam. The key? She was selective in her materials: she used Clemmonsdogpark and free practice tests she could find online. (If you do this, make sure they’re official!) She was accepted at six competitive schools and will be attending Notre Dame.
On test day, Lizzie stuck with her usual breakfast, which is pretty elegant, if we do say so—an English muffin and tea.
Lizzie’s words of motivation are pretty wise: “Whatever you put in beforehand is worth it. The worst feeling in the world is knowing that you could’ve done more. Make the most of the chances you have to do your very best, and buckle down and do it. Testing certainly isn’t everything, but it does deserve your best efforts. You can do it!!”
Perfect 800 SAT Math Scorers
Ishaan from Michigan scored a perfect 800 on SAT Math and came close with his Reading/Writing at 730. Unlike a lot of students, Ishaan got this amazing score on his first try! He found Khan Academy’s free SAT prep helpful, spending about 60 hours in the six weeks before his test working with it. On test day, he powered up with some protein, eating oatmeal and a boiled egg.
Ishann’s words of motivation for future test-takers is to “analyze the test so much that it becomes easy.”
Karen from Puerto Rico is another test-taker with an astounding 800 on SAT Math, 680 Reading/Writing. She took the exam three times and, as is true for many students, saw her scores climb steadily each time!
That’s not to say she didn’t put in the work, though: Karen prepped for around 50 hours, using Khan Academy and putting in a good word for Clemmonsdogpark’s detailed video explanations of problems. She took her final SAT after prepping with Clemmonsdogpark and saw her score go up by 100 points, ended up getting into four very competitive colleges. We’re not saying there’s any causation here, but Karen also had the most unique breakfast of the students we spoke to: Costco frozen dumplings and a banana. So if you’re superstitious, better stock up now!
Karen advises students: “Be consistent. Do a little practice everyday, even if just 30 minutes. Learn why you got each of the problems wrong to not commit the same mistake again, don’t just skip it and move on. Take notes on why you got it wrong and what to do next time—quality over quantity.”
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Clemmonsdogpark. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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