SAT prep students often wonder what might benefit them more: hitting weak areas hard or seeking to perfect their performance in areas where they’re stronger. Doing both, of course, is optimal—but today I’m writing to stress the importance of strengthening areas that are already strong.

Consider a student who’s weaker in math. Maybe they’re scoring a 600 on the Critical Reading and a 600 on the Writing section, but their Math score is around 400 points. Of course they’ll want to work on Math, but they shouldn’t forget that there are still 400 points to gain in the Reading and Writing sections! And if they say they’re good at Reading and Writing, this should be easy for them—particularly in the Writing section.

The difference between a 700 and an 800 in the Writing section is about 4 multiple-choice questions. That’s not much! By mastering the grammar rules and taking practice tests that accustom students to seeing grammar errors ‘in the wild,’ a diligent student with an aptitude for English can gain a couple hundred points simply by answering a handful of questions correctly that they might have otherwise missed.

Certainly, that student shouldn’t forget about practicing math. But answering 4 more questions correctly on the Math section doesn’t offer the same kind of leap in scaled score. The student will need to answer significantly more questions correctly—all of the easy and medium questions, as well as a hard question or two—to notice substantial improvement.

In terms of time put in versus tangible output, perfecting their Writing performance is a no-brainer for a student who’s already doing well! The same is true, though to a lesser degree, for Critical Reading and Math performance. The Writing section is ripe for making leaps in score improvement simply because there are fewer multiple-choice questions in it, which means that each question is worth a lot more.

When students who perform above average in one section of the test come to me, I’m committed to bringer their weaker areas up to par. But I also remind them that if they’re looking to maximize their overall point gain, they should still work just as hard on their strengths. If those strengths aren’t strengthened, they risk atrophy!

Here’s the takeaway: it’s just as important to go from good to perfect as it is to go from sub-par to par!

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