How to ace your SAT and get more scholarship money

For high school students preparing to take the SATs, getting a good score can be crucial to securing a scholarship. Many colleges and universities offer merit-based scholarships based on SAT scores. Alabama State, for example, offers a full ride to students with a 3.76 GPA and an SAT score of 1240 or higher.

While scoring a perfect 1600 would make you a very desirable candidate, the College Board says only a “fraction of a percent” of students score a 1600 on the SATs. In 2018, 2.1 million students took the SAT, and the average score was 1068.

While you most likely need to score higher than that to secure scholarship money, Brooke Hanson, CEO of Supertutor TV, says the key to doing well is to treat the SAT like a game.

“It's like a game in the sense that you are trying to beat the test, so there are rules to it, and it can be cracked,” Hanson says. “If you can just figure out the game that they're trying to play with you and figure out the moves that they're making and anticipate them, then you can beat the test.”

When it comes to the reading section, Hanson says the key is to “zoom out.”

“A lot of times kids get so wrapped up in the little tiny words and the little details of the question, that they don't really stop and sort of feel it out,” she says. Hanson says it’s important to look at the context and main idea of the question, as opposed to focusing on individual words. The answers will click, and you’ll begin to spot patterns, she says.

Her advice when it comes to the math section is to do the opposite and “zoom in.”

“A lot of times students get so overwhelmed by the math questions: There are these word problems, there are numbers all over the place, and it's really stressful,” Hanson says. “Take it one little bite at a time and don't feel like you have to digest the whole thing.”

Hanson also says it’s very common to make careless errors in the math section that can cost you points. She recommends rereading each question so you understand what the test is asking.

If you want to ace the essay, Hanson says the key is to practice as much as you can in advance, because this is often the most challenging part for students.

“It's the most flubbable part of the test, to be honest,” she says. “If you can't think of a good idea to write about, you can just be sunk.”

She recommends writing at least one essay before test day, and setting aside six to 10 weeks of SAT prep ahead of the test. Hanson, who scored a perfect score on both the SAT and ACT, offers online test prep. The Khan Academy is another free online resource offered through the College Board.

If you take the test and don’t do as well as you had hoped, Hanson says you can simply plan to take the test again.

“I think if you take that pressure off — ‘I have this one day in which to make or break my entire future’ — and say instead, ‘You know what? I've got several chances,’ you're going to be in better shape,” Hanson says.

Best US places to retire are college towns
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Best US places to retire are college towns

East Lansing, Mich.

University: Michigan State University

The “ivy-covered halls” referred to in Michigan State’s alma mater “MSU Shadows” are just part of what makes the campus so beautiful, but beyond the scenery, East Lansing has a lot to offer. You can attend concerts at the Wharton Center, visit the beautiful Horticultural Gardens or enjoy some ice cream at the MSU Dairy Store.

Madison, Wi.

University: University of Wisconsin

Outdoor life in Madison is lovely, with five lakes covering 15,000 acres and plenty of hiking and biking trails. There are fun events and culture to take in as well, from outdoor concerts like “Opera in the Park” at Garner Park to the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Learn More: How to Maximize Your Social Security Income

Oxford, Ohio

University: Miami University

If you just did a double-take at the presence of a Miami in Ohio, you should be aware that Miami University alumni are fond of pointing out that Miami was a university before Florida was a state. The university’s hometown since its founding in 1809 — Oxford — is scenic and beautiful, offers plenty to do for students and area residents alike, and is located in Ohio, where the median home price is just $130,300.

Athens, Ga.

University: University of Georgia

Harvard might be the first university founded in the United States, but the University of Georgia is fond of staking claim to the title of the first public university founded on these shores, in 1785. Retirees in the city have plenty to enjoy, like visiting its historic house museums or the Georgia Museum of Art.

Read: Best Places in Every State to Live on a Fixed Income

Iowa City, Iowa

University: University of Iowa

Not only is the cost of living in Iowa below the national average, but Iowa City — home to the Hawkeyes — has a variety of attractions that can help make for an exciting retirement. You can look at 375 million-years-old fossils at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, visit the Museum of Natural History or even check out the beautiful migrating butterflies at the Monarch Festival.

Lincoln, Neb.

University: University of Nebraska

The home of the Cornhuskers, Lincoln is also one of the cheapest places to retire in America. But the lack of costs doesn’t mean a lack of things to do. Lincoln has plenty to offer, including the 57-foot tall multi-colored Ascent Tower from artist Jun Kaneko or playing golf at the Hidden Valley Golf Club.

San Marcos, Texas

University: Texas State University

San Marcos is home to Texas State University, but there’s a lot more going on than just the university. San Marcos features a variety of attractions, from brewery tours to Dick’s Classic Garage Car Museum. And if you’re interested in potentially opening a business and having a second career in retirement, Texas is the state to do it in.

Kalamazoo, Mich.

University: Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo — no, that’s not a typo — is located in the one of the states with the lowest cost of living in the country, but retiring there isn’t just about saving money. The city is the home to Bell’s Brewery — named the best brewery in America by the American Homebrewer Association — in addition to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the Gilmore Car Museum and the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary.

Lawrence, Kan.

University: University of Kansas

Whether it’s walking in the Prairie Park Nature Center, learning about the history of “Bleeding Kansas” at the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area or even using your newly acquired spare time to learn to play an instrument at the Americana Music Academy, the abundance to activities in Lawrence might have some retirees shouting “Rock, chalk Jayhawk!”

Related: What It Costs to Attend the Most Beautiful Colleges in America

Oxford, Miss.

University: University of Mississippi

Mississippi is home to the lowest cost of living in the country, making it an ideal spot to consider retiring to. And Oxford could be just the place to take advantage of those low costs, with options for live music at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the Powerhouse or visit independent book store Square Books in William Faulkner’s home town.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.

University: University of Alabama

While not as cheap a place to live as neighboring Mississippi, Alabama is nonetheless still very affordable. And choosing to spend your retirement in Tuscaloosa not only means being close to the stomping grounds of the Crimson Tide, it can mean anything from strolling down the Riverwalk, shopping at the River Market or even catching a concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater.

Bozeman, Mt.

University: Montana State University

While Montana might be among the states that are least tax-friendly to retirees, anyone planning on enjoying nature in their retirement likely won’t do much better than Bozeman. Reasonably close to both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Bozeman is a college town ensconced in natural beauty.

Lexington, Ky.

University: University of Kentucky

Not only is Lexington a great place to retire where rent is under $1,000, but many will find it’s just a great place to retire, period. You can visit the Kentucky Horse Park or take the Horse Farm Tour to explore the state’s rich tradition of raising horses, learn about area history by visiting one of the five Historic Homes — including houses owned by Henry Clay and Mary Todd Lincoln — or even see a restored Shaker community at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

Fayetteville, Ark.

University: University of Arkansas

Tucked in the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville offers a wide variety of outdoor activity in the area. But even if hiking and biking aren’t your speed, there’re plenty of indoor destinations as well, from visiting the Clinton House Museum to checking out local artisans and crafts at Terra Studios to taking in a show at Theatre Squared. And all in a state where the median home price is just $121,000, meaning retirees can probably expect to find a nice house without shelling out too much of their savings.

Bloomington, Ind.

University: University of Indiana

Bloomington can be so nice it’ll make you wonder what Bobby Knight was so angry about all those years. From visiting the beautiful local lakes for fishing or swimming to taking in a show at any of the city’s many theaters and concert halls to just strolling around beautiful downtown Bloomington, you should find plenty of options for enjoying your time off. And all this in one of the most tax-friendly states to retirees.


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