IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Seven Secrets of Acing the SAT’

Based on the first study of 1600 scorers, new book by author Tom Fischgrund offers insight on how to succeed on the SAT.

Every year roughly 2.3 million high school students take the SAT; of those, however, only 650 students on average achieve a perfect score of 1600. Such a statistic raises obvious questions: Who are these kids? What are they like? And how do they do it? In a new study, educator and executive recruiter Tom Fischgrund became the first researcher ever granted comprehensive access to these high academic achievers by the College Board, the body that administers the SAT. Weaving together in-depth interviews with perfect-score students, insights from their parents, and exclusive College Board data, in his new book, “1600 Perfect Score” he reveals the seven secrets that separate the cream from the crop. Fischgrund discusses the book on “Today.” Read an excerpt below.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET A 1600? On a given Saturday seven times throughout the year, 330,000 high school students will wake up after what we hope was a good night’s sleep. Some will be able to swallow their breakfast; others won’t. With two no. 2 pencils and a calculator in hand, they will head off to one of the test centers. After months of practice and in some cases thousands of dollars spent on Kaplan or Princeton Review prep courses, it will all come down to three hours of intense test taking. Then they and their parents will spend weeks waiting nervously for the results — results that, like it or not, bear massive importance in determining the academic fates of college-bound American students today.

Only 541 college-bound seniors achieved a perfect SAT score in 2000. Just 587 seniors performed this feat in 2001, and 615 seniors in 2002. With a million and a half seniors taking the SATs each year, it’s remarkable that the number of students who obtain a perfect score doesn’t vary much from year to year. The test is designed to ensure that nearly all students make a number of mistakes — all but those exceptional few.

Getting a high score on the SAT has always been a key goal of most college-bound high school students. But today it’s even more important than ever before. The number of students applying to colleges is at a record high, and this larger pool of students must compete with one another for the same number of admission slots.

As a result of this increased competition, colleges have raised their standards for admission, including raising the average SAT scores for incoming students. Over the past ten years, New York University raised its SAT requirements from an average score of 1190 to an average score of 1334. Harvard raised its average SAT requirements from 1370 to 1485. And Yale University raised its requirements from 1365 to 1450.

State colleges have also become more demanding. Unable to shell out $25,000 a year for private college tuition, thousands of high school students have been turning to state-funded schools. As a result, these schools have experienced a huge increase in applicants in recent years and have also increased their admission requirements. In my local area, the average freshman SAT score at the University of Georgia in Athens rose from 1060 in 1992 to 1215 in 2002. A decade or two ago, achieving a decent SAT score was important but not necessarily vital to earning admission to many state universities and other “second-tier” schools. Now many students are finding themselves closed out of these schools if they don’t meet the more stringent admission requirements.

Yes, it’s true that a new curve system instituted in 1995 has caused SAT scores to rise by an average of 50 to 100 points, but this still doesn’t account for the entire increase in SAT score requirements. Today’s high school students have to increase their efforts to excel academically if they want to get into the college of their choice. They must strive to achieve a solid class rank and a respectable grade-point average. And they have to fulfill their academic potential on the SAT. All of this is just the minimum of what college admissions officers now expect from freshman applicants.

Results from the Perfect Score Study suggest that doing well on the SAT isn’t all about what kind of prep work a student does. In fact, investing in private SAT tutors or spending a small fortune on an SAT review course isn’t necessary to get a perfect score. (Only a handful of perfect score students used these methods.) And although taking practice exams and memorizing vocabulary words can be excellent ways to improve an SAT score, they comprise just a small part of most 1600 students’ preparation.

In fact, the results of the Perfect Score Study turn the idea of SAT preparation on its head. Instead of cramming for the SAT two or three months before the test, perfect score students come by their learning naturally through a strong foundation laid by their parents. This foundation enables these students to learn to the best of their abilities. When it comes time to take the SAT, these students then draw on the vocabulary they absorbed from reading extensively. They might memorize additional vocabulary words, but that’s just a supplemental part of their SAT preparation.

So who is the perfect score student?

If you saw seventeen-year-old Susan D., from South Peoria, Illinois, walking down the street, you would probably say she looks like an all-American girl. She has long, shiny brown hair, freckles splattered across her nose, and brown eyes that sparkle with intelligence. In high school, she did the ordinary kinds of things that most girls her age do — hanging out with her friends, performing in plays at her small high school, and surfing on her computer. But she also participated in some activities that were more exceptional: heading up her school’s Model UN, playing violin in the all-state orchestra, and working four hours a week with residents of a nursing home near where she lived. “The work in the nursing home was probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done,” Susan says about working with the elderly. “I learned a lot from just listening to those folks — just asking questions about their lives.”

What defines Susan most is her thirst for knowledge. “I’m an extremely curious person who loves seeking out information about the world,” she says. “I’m constantly searching to understand myself, those around me, and my place in the universe. I’m someone who is always striving to be the person I want to be, whoever that is.”

Susan’s curiosity helped her accomplish an extraordinary feat: she got a perfect score on the SAT.

The foregoing is excerpted from “1600 Perfect Score” by Tom Fischgrund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022