SAT® Study Guide
How To Do Well On The SAT
Creating an SAT® study guide can be difficult since it is an exam that isn't directly tied to a course in which students are currently enrolled. Without the structure of a class or syllabus, the first step in SAT preparation is to identify "what" and "how" to study. Our study guide will help you set goals for your upcoming SAT test and advise you on when to start studying and how to study for the SAT. We will also go through important SAT study tips to help you prep faster and smarter!
Planning Your SAT Prep: Things to Consider
If you have already signed up to take the SAT or know exactly when you plan to take it, you can begin studying now and, regardless of how much time you have left, see improvement by test day. Here are five questions to help you make your SAT study plan:
What’s my target score?
Research the schools you want to get into and identify the average scores they accept. Your target score will ideally match the highest of these averages.
How much time do I have?
Most students will want to take the SAT twice, so plan to study three to four months before your first test and two to three months between each subsequent test.
Have I taken a full-length test?
Sit for a timed diagnostic test even if you're unprepared. If possible, have a family member, friend, or teacher proctor it so you can see how you'll feel on test day.
What are my content strengths and weaknesses?
After taking the diagnostic, review all your correct and incorrect answers. Categorize the types of questions you missed and use this information to set a study plan.
What’s my study type, and what do I need to succeed?
Some students prefer short sprints of practice throughout the day, while others prefer a structured course setting. Regardless of your study style, focus on the content you need to review first and include well-explained practice problems.
Setting Goals for the SAT
The first thing you need to do before planning a study schedule is to set an SAT target score for yourself. Your target SAT score should match the college you’d like to attend. Make a list of at least five schools you’d be happy to attend, then research the 25th and 75th percentile scores accepted by each.
25% of accepted applicants scored at or below the 25th percentile score, which indicates the minimum score you should expect to be accepted. Similarly, 75% of accepted applicants scored at or below the 75th percentile, providing a target at which you can feel fairly confident of acceptance. To help visualize your goal, consider making a chart with three columns.
- In the first column, list the schools you’re interested in attending
- Title the second as “25th” percentile
- Title the third column as “75th” percentile
Once you’ve populated the chart with the relevant scores, you should have a better idea of what your goal score should be. If your score matches the highest value in the 75th percentile column, you’re more likely than not to be accepted by each school on your list.
When should you start studying for the SAT?
After you’ve set a target score, the next question you need to ask yourself is when to start preparing for your SAT test. Three factors should inform the length of your SAT study schedule:
- Your goal score
- How much time can you devote to practice each week
- Your most recent diagnostic score
If you don’t already know that score, we recommend taking a practice test as the first step of your test prep. This practice test functions as a way to establish a baseline for your performance. You can use the data from your initial performance to create a streamlined and effective study plan that will help you achieve your desired score.
With a fairly average schedule, studying for three months before your test date will allow time to take about seven full-length practice tests and at least 70 hours of untimed practice. Even students who tend to score well on standardized tests will benefit from practice and exposure to the test format and content. Many students will find that there are at least a few concepts on the SAT that they are either unfamiliar with or unsure of how to approach. Assuming the practice included comprehensive explanations and intentional consideration of strategy, it’s unlikely that any content gaps would remain by test day.
How long should you study for the SAT?
More important than how many months you study is how much time you study each day before taking the test. Fortunately, most experts note that you can study for a short time every day in order to earn a good score. In fact, studying for small amounts of time each and every day is usually the best option. Studying an hour each day is usually sufficient, and if you like, you can break this into two separate sessions. Below are a few points to keep in mind:
- Choose a study time or times that work well with your schedule and stick to them.
- Set yourself up for success by keeping all your study materials and stationery handy; that way, you won’t waste time looking for pencils, paper, a calculator, or other supplies.
- Turn off your phone, get rid of distractions, and focus solely on your studies.
SAT Study Plans
Our personalized SAT study plans are designed to help you prepare for the SAT in an efficient manner. These study plans are tailored to suit your prep time, learning habits, strategies and focus on a section-wise preparation schedule to set you up for success.
Begin month 1 with a timed, full-length practice test, and review your answers to determine your knowledge and strategy gaps. If you’ve already mastered a section, limit your practice to one week. Spend an hour a day practicing SAT-like questions, studying or creating explanations, and journaling mistakes. While alternating your study sections over different weeks, make a point of spending two weeks on your weakest areas. Take a timed, full-length practice test every weekend before the test to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
From month 2 onwards, review the broader gaps you identified during Month 1. Work on those areas by streamlining your strategies, practicing with less common question types, and developing a deeper conceptual understanding of what each question is asking of you.
Take a full-length, timed practice test every other weekend before the test to assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you feel compelled to study, do so by going over your own notes rather than trying to learn new content.
How to Study for the SAT?
Once you have a study plan, you need to understand how to approach the content tested on the SAT. This will help you stick to your study plan and optimize your test prep time. Preparing for the SAT involves two aspects: knowing the test format and understanding the content tested on the SAT. Let’s look into each aspect in detail:
- Format – We cannot stress enough the importance of taking SAT practice tests. Familiarize yourself with the structure, language of SAT questions, and timing by taking repeated practice tests. This will improve your ability to comprehend question prompts quicker, limit confusion, and manage time effectively.
- Content – Each component of the SAT is designed to assess specific aspects of college readiness. So, it is crucial to understand the content and skills tested on the SAT. Start by familiarizing yourself with the SAT Syllabus and then focusing on each test separately. You can take the help of Reading, Writing, and Math study guides to review each test.
Given that proficiency in both categories is critical to performing well on the test, the best method of SAT preparation is to practice with a question bank paired with comprehensive explanations. Use timed tests or sections only for full-length practice. Practicing untimed will allow you to focus on learning content and experiment with different approaches until you settle on one to implement in timed practice.
Once you’ve taken a few practice tests, you will be able to keep a tab of the questions you missed or answered incorrectly. Missed questions can be attributed to one of two issues: content gaps and ineffective strategies.
- Content gaps represent topics within the test that students need to remember or comprehensively learn. While these gaps often feel the most daunting, they’re the easier of the two issues to correct. Learning the solution once, taking notes, and reinforcing it with additional questions are often enough to ensure that you never miss a similar question again.
- Ineffective strategies represent approaches that take too much time, are inconsistently successful, or are utilized without conscious intent. The common complaint that questions are missed due to “silly mistakes” also falls into this category because such mistakes generally correspond to questions for which a student lacks a comprehensive strategy. These issues often take longer to resolve than content gaps because many are ingrained in how a given student thinks about a section. Therefore, they must repeatedly and consciously practice a new strategy until the former habit is broken.
Fortunately, both issues can be overcome with proper practice. To make your practice efficient, here are a few SAT study tips:
Identify your learning pattern
Every student has a unique learning pattern and learns differently from their peers. Some learn best in a group, while others do better alone. Some are great at studying for longer durations, while others absorb information better in shorter and more frequent study sessions. Knowing your learning style is key to an effective study plan.
Personalize your coursework based on your strengths and weaknesses
Identifying your testing strengths and weaknesses is crucial before you finalize your study plan by taking a diagnostic test. If you’re struggling in a particular content area or skill, you’ll want to identify it and ensure it receives a more thorough approach to practice. Full-length tests interspersed with untimed practice will help you identify a single, accurate approach to every question type in a section.
Start studying while you still have time
A general rule of thumb is to begin studying at least three months before your scheduled SAT test date. If you want to perform substantially better, at least six months of prep time is advised. This leaves you more time to spread the workload evenly and conduct multiple full-length practice tests before the real thing.
Choose review materials carefully
You can’t just take practice tests to prepare effectively for the exam. You really need to analyze your answers to determine why you got a question wrong and how you can correct your mistakes next time. As mentioned above, you should consistently incorporate full-length practice SATs and evaluate every question you got wrong.
Maintain a healthy routine
An intensive SAT prep course should be accompanied by a well-balanced lifestyle. Undergoing the constant stress and pressure of test prep without adequate rest or nutrition can lead to fatigue and anxiety. Prepare your mind and body before every prep session. A healthy breakfast, meditation, mindfulness techniques, and breathing exercises are all good ways to achieve calm and focus.
SAT Review/Study Materials
Finally, you need to supplement the SAT study tips discussed above with reliable test-prep materials. Here are the best resources to help you with your SAT test preparation.
- College Board®’s full-length practice tests: You’ll have access to at least 10 official free full-length practice tests on the College Board’s website. These downloadable tests are especially useful as diagnostic tools, because a timed, full-length practice test will provide the most accurate prediction of your score.
- UWorld’s SAT practice questions: Make your exam prep more effective with SAT-like questions that come with thorough and immediate explanatory feedback. UWorld’s SAT practice questions are accompanied by comprehensive explanations of all answer choices, which include tips, fundamental content, and strategies for scoring higher and more consistently. Explanations are also often accompanied by visuals, definitions, and hyperlinked lessons that ensure no subject relevant to the SAT goes unexplained. All UWorld SAT practice test questions are written by former teachers and SAT tutors and are designed to mimic the feel and difficulty of the questions you’ll see on test day.
The key to performing well on your SAT test is not just studying but knowing how to study effectively. The best method, however, varies for everyone. It’s up to you to find or design your own process. Follow the previously mentioned tips and come test day, you’ll have the preparation to perform at your best. In addition, it might help to remember that you can usually retake your SAT and try for a higher score if you’re unsatisfied with the results. Good luck!