Before we really get into this, let’s get one thing straight: It’s incredibly unlikely than an 800 will open any doors for you that a 770 or so won’t. In fact, it’s usually not a good idea to think of SAT scores opening doors at all. It’s better to think of high scores preventing admissions doors from being closed—your high score encourages an admissions officer to look into your application further. Nobody secures admission to an elite school on SAT scores alone. So if you’re looking at an 800 as a means to an end, you might want to reexamine your priorities. If you’re pining after an 800 just because you really like the challenge, though, then you and I are kindred spirits, and you should read on.

  • Above all, you will need to be nimble. Read this post, and then read it again. And then again.
  • You’ll need to be good at math, but you’ll also need a healthy helping of SAT technique. If you’re really going to be ready for everything the SAT can throw at you, then you’re going to need to be conversant with everything on this page. The SAT math section is not a math test, but there is a bunch of math on it, and if you’re shooting for perfection you’re going to need to be able to switch deftly between math wizard and test taking savant as different questions call for different approaches.
  • There is no room for error. While there are some tests that will bestow an 800 on a student who’s missed one math question, most are less forgiving. A single mistake might drop you as low as a 760. So let that extirpate any misgivings you have about the guessing rule—if you want an 800, you have to guess even if you’re completely stumped. Of course, if you’re completely stumped, then you probably haven’t prepped sufficiently to be shooting for an 800 in math.
  • It’s not enough to get all the hard ones. An obvious corollary of the rule above is that you’re going to have to be perfect on the easy ones, too. It always amazes me when I see a student who is consistently perfect on #15-20 miss #4, but I see it all the time. If you rush through the easy ones to get to the hard ones and you make a silly mistake along the way, you can kiss your perfect score goodbye.
  • It only counts on the real thing. If you can get an 800 on a practice test then I’m impressed, but you don’t get to join the club until you’ve done it on game day. That’s because it’s different when you take the real thing. Have you ever been to the vet’s office with your pet? You know that smell in the waiting room? That’s the smell of concentrated animal anxiety, and it will smell like that in your testing room. I kid, but only sorta. You have to be able to overcome the pressure, the exhaustion, and the entropy that come along with testing first thing in the morning on a Saturday. Kid next to you has the sniffles? They’re mowing the lawn outside the school? The heat is blasting even though it’s unseasonably warm outside and you’re sweating bullets by section 2? Birds get into your testing room? All of these have happened.
  • You must practice as you play. To mitigate some of the difficulties of testing day, you should simulate testing day as best you can when you practice. Wake up early on a Saturday to take practice tests. Take FULL practice tests—all three subjects. No long internet breaks between sections. No cell phone on your desk. No giving yourself an extra 30 seconds to finish a problem. No starting the next section early if you finish before 25 minutes is up. No smiling.
  • You are not entitled to an 800. Even if you take every test you can get your hands on, even if you can do probability questions in your sleep, even if circle questions see you coming and just solve themselves to save you the trouble since you’re such a monster, the SAT might find a way to throw a question at you that’s unlike any you’ve seen before. That’s not unfair; that’s just how it works. You’re going to have to wrestle with a few very difficult questions when the pressure is on, and only if you come out on top will you earn your 800.
  • If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I know this post’s tone has been a bit less rosy than most of my others’, but that’s because I really want to set your expectations: an 800 is quite an accomplishment; it will require toil proportional to its resulting renown. If you expect to muscle through just because you’re really good at math, you might be disappointed. If you expect it all to come together on test day even though your practice tests have been in the low-mid 700s, you might be disappointed. Even if you hit 800 on your last three practice tests, you might be disappointed. But doing so, and enjoying the process, is the surest path to success.

Wanna try some hard problems right now? These drills are difficult, but you should be able to rip through it without making any mistakes if you’re shooting for 800. Good luck!

Comments (12)

 I feel defeated. 

I’ve always been optimistic, and believed that I could get an 800, but now I’m not sure. :(Who are these people who are all doing so well on the SATs?  Am I not that smart?  I mean, you’re clearly smart smart smart, and in some other league, but I always thought I was trainable.  I believed my dad when he told me I could do ANYTHING!I just scored one of my online tests from the College Board Online course, and I’m back to square 1. Sigh.  As in, when I took the test cold, no prep, didn’t understand a thing.  I actually could cry.How can everyone be doing so well on the SATs and I don’t get to be part of that fun?

 Ok!  I’m not.  Have been reading all day about how to study/ learn:  

I think am missing the “inflexible knowledge” that I need.  Need to figure out the most efficient way to build that foundation.

Any ideas?

It might be that the development of your “fundamentals” is hampered a bit by the fact that you’re trying to learn it all at once. Kids in school don’t learn exponents, special right triangles, and functions all in the same year.

Perhaps over the summer it’s a good idea to focus deeply on those things one at a time: a week or two ONLY on functions, then a week or two ONLY on exponents, etc.


Hi, sorry, dropped the ball on finding a funny image. If I come across anything exceptional I will send it in.


I am training for the SAT as well. It started out as doing research on behalf of my kids but has turned into a mini-obsession. I just wanted to wish you good luck on your quest. I would echo the advice to tackle one piece of ‘base’ material at a time. I have used this strategy with the Writing section with a lot of success (so far). I was getting nowhere with practice questions so I just put them away and went and studied the actual grammar rules. I am back to the practice questions now and there has been a dramatic improvement. I’m pretty good naturally with the Math section so I can’t say for sure that this will work on that section (and obviously what works for one person might not work for another), but it seems worth a try.

Good luck,


Hi Debbie,

I have only been at it for a few months. It started with my nephew who was preparing for the ACT and morphed into my coming to the conclusion that it’s never too soon to start preparing for these tests, even if only in small doses. So my plan was to get up to speed and then start tutoring my oldest this summer in Math and Writing (I think the CR section can wait a little while longer). He is entering high school next year.

I use online resources for grammar. I needed to start at the beginning right down to identifying the basic parts of speech. I used various SAT prep blogs to identify what exactly is tested and then went to Google in search of the basics. I found ‘Grammar Girl’ to be useful, but only after I knew the precise topic I was looking for as there is a lot more info there than what is needed for the SAT. I am anxiously awaiting Erica Meltzer’s book which should be out soon (you can get it now in PDF). It is grammar specifically for the SAT. Her blog is right up there with PWN’s as far as ‘must reads’ go.

I am in Illinois, sorry. Plus my wife already thinks I’m crazy so I think I will keep my quest online for now 🙂

Great drill! I have just one question; for #12, I know I have to minus the unshaded area from the whole area to get the shaded area. However, to get the correct answer, both legs of the unshaded right triangle must be .8; I know .8y can be derived from the fact that the adjacent segment is .2y, but how do you know that the other leg will be .8x if you only know that one angle is 90?

Thanks William! (here’s a link to the drill he’s referring to.)

Great question. You know all you need to know about the other leg because the triangles are similar, so all their corresponding sides will make the same ratio. Both triangles are right triangles and they both share angle C, so their third angles must also be the same—AAA symmetry.

Does that help?

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