How to Get an Accurate SAT Diagnostic Score by Anthony-James Green

The first, and by far the most important, step in your SAT prep process is to your baseline scores.  Getting an accurate SAT score and establishing a proper baseline will do all of the following for you:


1. You’ll immediately get a better idea of what the test is like.  Familiarity breeds success – the more comfortable you are with the SAT, the better you’ll do when you take it.


2. You’ll learn which areas of the test require the most focus.  You should always spend the most time on your weakest areas.  Once you have actual, accurate scores, you’ll know which sections you’re worst at, and you can immediately start to focus your time and energy on them.


3. You’ll know how far you have to go.  It’s impossible to set proper goals and plan realistically unless you know where you currently stand.  If you need a 2100 and you’re at a 1950, you’re in pretty good shape.  If you need a 2100 and you’re at a 1430…there’s some serious work to be done.  I’ve seen bigger score improvements than that, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work – knowing what’s ahead of you and what you need to do is essential.


4. You’ll understand your weaknesses.  Good test prep is all about identifying, isolating, and then squashing your weaknesses one-by-one.  Accurate, timed diagnostic exams are, by far, the best way to figure out where you’re strong and where you’re weak.  Once you see how you’re scoring by section, and what’s giving you the most trouble in each section, you’ll be able to study as efficiently as possible.


You need to start your test prep process with a full-length, timed diagnostic exam.  Follow the steps below to take it the right way and squeeze as much useful information out of it as you possibly can.




1. Use the first practice test in:

The Official College Board Guide to the SAT


Note: when you get this book, it’s essential that you ONLY use it for diagnostic exams.  Use other books for practice, and save this one for actual diagnostic exams.  The grading rubrics in this book are 100% accurate and developed by the actual test makers.  The rubrics in other books and systems are just educated guesses.  Save the tests within the College Board book for diagnostics only!


Alternative: download the free diagnostic test on the College Board website:

Free SAT diagnostic exam and grading rubric.

This is a great resource – it’s an extra, free diagnostic.  Just make sure to order the official book as well so that you have more diagnostics when you need them.  Also, be sure to print out this test and take the paper version – it’s not realistic to take the test on your computer.


2. Over the course of the next 10 days, set aside an uninterrupted 4-hour block to take a full, timed SAT.  It stinks, I know.  But it must be done!


Schedule a block into your calendar and treat it as unbreakable promise to yourself.  There is nothing, and I repeat, nothing as important to your test prep progress as this initial exam.  If you don’t have the time, make it.


3. Before you take your diagnostic, study the format of the exam, read the instructions for each section, and get accustomed to what you’re going to take.  Often, my students’ scores between their first and second practice tests go up by 100+ points on the SAT just because they know what to expect.  Don’t go in completely cold!  Spend 15 minutes with the exam before you take it to get a feel for what each section is asking, how the timing works, etc.


4. Take TIMED, REALISTIC diagnostic exam.


When I say realistic, I mean realistic.  This means:


A) No TV, radio, or computer anywhere near you.

B) Your cell phone is turned off and put away.

C) Take it in the morning, on a good night’s rest, after eating a healthy breakfast – take it the same way you would a real test.  If you’re on four hours sleep and haven’t eaten, you’re not going to get a true idea of your actual abilities.

D) Make sure no one bothers you the entire time. Tell friends, family, and every else to leave you alone.

E) Take the test in a comfortable, well-lit, and QUIET location.

F) FOLLOW THE TIME RULES FOR EACH SECTION.  Every section lets you know how many minutes is allocated per section.  Use a watch or timer and follow this timing exactly (a Testing Timer would be ideal!). Remember: the point of this diagnostic isn’t to prove to yourself how good you can be – it’s to figure out what you’re scoring and where your weaknesses are.  Timing can be a big weakness.  Don’t cheat at all.


G) Take two or three 5-minute breaks between sections.  You’ll get these same breaks during your actual SAT.


H) Use the actual bubble charts provided in your testing booklet.  Don’t just write your grades on the page – I want you to get used to the full testing experience as soon as possible.  Emulate everything exactly.


I) Make sure you have a legitimate calculator on you.  You need to have a good calculator for the SAT math sections, so be sure that you’re packing.  Of course, the best calculator and the most standard is:


The TI-83 Graphing Calculator


Any scientific calculator will do, but this thing is custom-built for the math required by the SAT.


Now take your test all the way through, following all the rules above.


Once you have a proper SAT diagnostic grade in hand, you’ll be able to undergo a proper, scientific prep course.  Until you do, you won’t be sure what to focus on, where to spend your time, or how much work needs to be done!


Establishing your baseline and building real testing experience are the two most essential elements of your test prep plan.  Gaining a sense of your timing issues is also essential!  Your SAT score is a function of your accuracy and your timing – knowing where you stand on both is key to your progress.


For more tips on what to do once you have your first diagnostic score in hand, make sure to check out my free guides at


Thanks for reading, and good luck with your prep!


About the Author


Anthony-James Green is renowned as one of the best SAT tutors in the world.  After working with over 390 students 1-on-1, he’s achieved an average score improvement of over 430 points – more than any other tutor, class, or course in the world.  He’s also the creator of The Green SAT System and the founder of Test Prep Authority, a free online resource center for college advice and SAT / ACT prep.  You can learn more about Anthony and download his free guides at