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The 1600 SAT & 36 ACT Edge

When students ask for advice on how to get a 1600 SAT or 36 ACT, it’s usually tough for me to give focused, specific advice for three reasons:

  1. I don’t know enough about their background: strengths, weaknesses, prep experience, and so on.
  2. I don’t know enough about exactly how they approach the test, section by section, question by question.
  3. It’s simply very difficult to get a perfect score on either the SAT or ACT – only a minuscule percent of students ever achieve this score goal.

The most challenging idea to get your head wrapped around is that getting to a 1600 SAT or 36 ACT requires perfection – occasionally you can get a question or two wrong and still get a perfect score, but most of the time you need to get every single question right. And so students who are scoring 1550s and 34s may seem, superficially, “close” to a perfect score, because what’s going to be so hard about getting a few more questions right if you’re already getting most of them correct?

There lies the problem – it’s not just a few questions. In reality, students with 1550s or 34s probably have dozens of leaks in their knowledge and strategy that need to be identified and closed. And it won’t be possible to close every single gap, especially in the limited time students have to study. This is where the luck factor comes in – the students who get perfect scores might just be the ones whose tests fit their skill set perfectly, whereas students who fall short may have been unlucky to get a few questions that pinpoint their weaknesses. This doesn’t even consider the “luck” of not making silly, avoidable mistakes, another culprit for less than perfect scores.

So what to do? All that can be done, realistically, is to close as many of your strategic leaks and content gaps as possible with an eye to increasing your average correct percentage (ACP). In the video below, I’ll show you the chances of getting a perfect Math score on the Old SAT with different ACPs. I think you’ll be surprised – even if you have a 99% chance of getting any given question right, your chances of getting a perfect score on the section are only 58%!

Note: The video below was made when the Old SAT was being administered, so the statistics and info matches the Old SAT Math section and not the New SAT Math or ACT Math. However, the point is still the same – focus on increasing your ACP and your chances of getting that perfect score increase.

About the Author:

I’m Rob Schombs, the founder of Reason Prep, creator of these videos, and your test prep tutor. I earned a BA in Chemistry (2006) and an MA in Science and Technology Studies (2009) from Cornell University. In 2010 I started tutoring SAT, ACT, math, chemistry, and writing full-time, and Reason Prep followed shortly after!