The Davidson Tutoring “Tutorless” Approach to the SAT

  • August 15, 2018

There are three types of students who don’t get tutoring for the SAT. That’s right. This tutoring company is going to talk about how to not get tutoring for the SAT.

Why? Because we know that the path to reducing stress for test prep can sometimes include not having an instructor. If you are reading this, you are the Batman of SAT Prep prepared to fly solo into the competitive college application process.

Below are the three scenarios of someone who won’t get a tutor for the SAT:

Borderline Genius to Actual Genius. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” isn’t just an American slang axiom. These are words of truth to live by. We have had students come to us for test prep with great scores and we have told them on many occasions that they don’t need us. They should take a few more practice tests and apply the lessons on how to learn from their mistakes and create habits that catch human errors (read our post about The Importance of Being Assessed to learn more).

Borderline Procrastinator. You don’t have time and you are cramming. If you bring in an instructor for one or two sessions, there isn’t much you will get from it. You are better served by taking a practice test and doing some soul searching to find out what landed you into taking a surprise SAT instead of planning the right amount of time to prepare for it.

Borderline Coupon Clipper. Tutoring is expensive. Getting a customized plan for yourself, planning out the materials, providing ongoing support for the parents and our students costs money. Some students opt to avoid the expense of hiring a tutor by planning out their prep themselves.

Any of these reasons make sense to do it yourself – with the exception of cramming, which benefits no one and really just creates more stress – so let’s look into the best ways to take advantage of the resources out there and do a Pinterest-style, DIY SAT tutoring course that will – if implemented correctly – give you the same quality results as hiring a tutor.

Step 1 – The Assessment & Goals

Ideally, you should spend the summer before your Junior year studying for the SAT and you should sit the test in the Fall of your Junior year. Late to the game? Not a problem. You can take the SAT in your Senior year, but it cuts into the time you could be spending touring schools or filling out applications, so plan your summer and fall accordingly.

Take the PSAT or a practice SAT using a reputable test (use the College Board’s material or an old version of the SAT – don’t use any tests before March 2015, that’s when the SAT changed). Print out the test, use a bubble sheet, set a timer. Do everything as close to the actual SAT as you can. You can even put a bottle of water and snacks in a gallon-sized Ziploc under your seat if you want to really go the distance.

Know where you are. Know where you want to be.

Look at the schools where you want to apply. Most colleges and universities release annual data with the median SAT scores per year that they accepted at their institution. This gives you a goal of where you want to be. See? That covers the first SAT session you would have with an instructor right there! You’re going places!

Step 2 – How Much Time do you need?

Follow the rough guide below and use the goals you set and your raw score to calculate about how much time you might need to increase your score to your goal.

This is based on a self-starter who is able to put in about 5-10 hours a week of consistent studying who has a good toolkit for self-teaching.

Score Increase      :       Study Timeline

10 to 30 Points     :       Study for 2-3 weeks

30 to 60 Points     :      Study for 2 months

60 to 100 Points   :      Study for 3-6 months

100 points +          :      Study for 6 months minimum

Step 3 – Learn from the Assessment

The process is the same if you are working with a tutor or not. Once you take that practice test and you have your goals in place, go back over the questions you missed and ask yourself the same question (again and again and again). “What did I do to get this question wrong and what can I do to prevent it next time?”

The reasons why our SAT students miss problems generally fall into some broad strokes categories: forgotten content, speed, test fluency and careless errors.

Forgotten Content! – You may vaguely remember a math teacher going Ben Stein academic in a lecture about polynomials. You remember the fan buzzing, the lights flickering, you may even remember the doodle you were making, but you cannot remember how to do this problem.

Our solution? Basic review. Do Aleks Math, Kahn Academy, Kuta software or get a basic math workbook from Amazon and do some simple math. You probably also have your old textbooks and you can look up the chapters and review.

Make sure you know the fundamental math rules and you can perform the computations quickly. Do as many of them as you need in order to make sure you know Math up to 8th grade with complete fluency before you start to review the nuances of Algebra and Geometry, etc.

If you do use Kahn Academy, you can input your PSAT scores and sub-categories and it will actually give you customized math review based on your results. It ends up being pretty through and very targeted.

You should also get a grammar book and practice and review the rules.

Speed! – You may be too slow and you ran out of time. You need to build habits to help with speed reading, or solving math quickly. This may mean slowing down to get your habits in place (see this blog post to find out more about building habits slowly before you speed it up). The hardest thing about missing questions because of time is that you may know how to do it in an untimed setting, but you just need more discipline and good habits.

Test Fluency! – You might be confused about how the question is worded and you aren’t familiar with the way a test works. The SAT really does have a type and they word their questions in a specific way. They’re consistent at least, so you need to get to know the way they phrase things and find out what they are asking. Use the Khan website for their answers and explanations as it ends up being a great resource (for free!) for all SAT students.

This may also mean you need to spend time on a lot of reading passages, vocabulary words or just overall student of what is on the SAT using the College Board’s book to see what type of information is there. We really like using old AP English exams since the multiple choice sections rely heavily on understanding primary source documents. For students who don’t have a lot of experience with primary sources, they should get at least one book to cover the writing style of the older passages that they will inevitably see on the SAT.

Careless errors! – We talked a lot in this blog post about building the right kind of habits to prevent careless mistakes. Take practice tests on a regular basis and learn from your mistakes. Don’t let a test sit idly by. Get your money’s worth from that test and sleuth your way from start to finish and see what you need to change to make progress. Sometimes you didn’t write out the problem correctly. Sometimes you might have misread the final question and assumed you had the right answer. Sometimes you might have missed the point of a reading passage. Only you will know and the only way to find out is to go back over what you have done and ‘know thyself.’ See what the right answer is and go through the steps in the right way to adjust your approach. Yes, do the problem again the RIGHT way. Circle the keywords, find the answer in the passage, write out the sentence correctly. Go back through the problem using the correct steps to rewire your thinking and make the correction in your neural pathways.

Step 4 – Find the Right Resources

As you prepare, you will need 3 types of books. You will need a book of SAT practice tests since you should be taking them every few weeks over the course of your prep. You will need an overall book that covers the test in its entirety and goes through the general strategies for the SAT and subcategory SAT material. You should also get 1 or two of our fine-tuning books in the sections where you are struggling. You may have enough material on hand for the Math, but you don’t have a good handle on writing, so you will need to supplement with a ‘nuts and bolts’ writing book. Or, you are a grammar guru and want to look into really detailing the math.

We also recommend the following resources as a start for the SAT.

Without question, you should be using the Kahn Academy Resources. We make the following recommendations assuming that you are also at Kahn Academy on a regular basis to do their tests and watch their videos and take advantage of the official SAT prep material that is available for free to anyone with the umph to use them.

Good SAT Practice Test Books

The College Board’s Official Practice Tests

Ivy Global’s 6 Practice Tests

Tutorverse SAT Practice Tests

General Prep Books

Ivy Global’s New SAT guide

SAT Prep Black Book

Apex SAT Prep Study Guide

Resources for the individual sections of the SAT


Vocabulary Workshop by Jerome Shostak

Worldly Wise by Kenneth Hodkinson

Cracking the AP English Language and Composition Exam

Word Memory Power in 30 Days by Peter Funk

The Critical Reading by Erica L. Meltzer (Author)


Elements of Style by Strunk and White

The College Panda’s SAT Writing

SAT Writing: Advanced Level by Khalid Khashoggi

And the following sentence diagramming tool for those who love math and hate grammar:


PWN the SAT: Math Guide by Mike McClenathan

The College Panda’s SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook for the New SAT by Nielson Phu

All of these are great books. Even though we have our own material, we use these books because they are high-quality, vetted materials that have proven time and again with our students to be a clear, valuable resource. As you begin your self-prep journey, we want you to have all the information possible to make this a successful journey. Remember to look ahead to your goals and keep your destination in mind. Good luck!

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