How To Study For The SAT? 2024 Complete Test Prep Guide

How To Study For The SAT

Yes. We know that this is something your teachers have told you several times before (probably more than several), but the SAT is one of the most important tests you will ever take. Your SAT scores will have an impact on college admissions, and maybe even impact employment opportunities that you have in the future.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to know how to study for the SAT. If you study properly, then you can increase your chances of getting the score that you need.

On this page, we are going to give you some useful information on how to prepare for the SAT exam. Hopefully, this information will help High School students realize that the SAT doesn’t need to be daunting. With a good plan of attack (and completing a ton of practice questions) you may get the results that you need to bolster your college applications.

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Know What Your Target Score Is 

We know that most people dream of bagging themselves a great SAT score but, truth be told, most people will be leaving that testing center with nothing more than an average score. This is fine. Not everybody can be perfect.

It is important to know what score you are aiming to achieve. So, consider which colleges/programs you want to enter. Look at the required SAT scores. Beat that score, and you have a much bigger chance of those college board offers rolling through.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be aiming for the best score possible. You should. You should always be aiming to beat the baseline score and beating the scores of other students. However, having a rough idea will give you more of an idea of how your study sessions are going.

For example, if your practice exams are regularly dishing out scores well below your target score, then you know that you need to improve your test prep.

Start Your SAT Preparation Early

Once you have your SAT date, you need to start your SAT prep. Most people find that starting your prep 2-3 months before test day is going to be ideal, but we like the idea of six months better. Although, sadly, some people don’t know the actual SAT date that far in advance.

If your High School lets you, then you may want to choose your own day for a SAT test. You want this as far away from college admissions as possible. This is because the College Board has no requirements on the number of times that you can take the actual test. So, if it all goes a bit wrong the first time, then you have space to squeeze an extra test or two in.

Of course, don’t rely on the hope that you can do a retake. Your SAT prep should only ever be with a single test day in mind.

Pay Attention in Class

In the lead-up to the SAT, your High School classes are going to be heavily focused on SAT prep, and you may even pick up a couple of SAT tips from your teacher. Remember, the goal of any High School is to ensure that their students score the best scores on their SAT. It looks good on the school.

A good amount of your SAT prep is going to be in class. Pay attention. Complete any assignments that you are given and pay attention to any marks that you get. Act on any feedback.

Of course, paying attention in classes is going to benefit your college admissions away from the SAT too. You need good SAT scores and good school grades to get into a half-decent college.

Read Through The College Board Website

The College Board is the organization that administers tests in the United States. Go through the website as there is a ton of helpful information there.

The College Board will tell you more about:

  • What is likely to be on the SAT test
  • What you need to bring to your SAT test
  • Full-length practice tests
  • General advice for succeeding with the SAT.

We find that a lot of people struggle with the SAT not because they don’t know how to answer the numerous questions, but because they get a little bit worried about what may happen with the examination.

Therefore, the College Board website will be one of the top SAT prep resources. By knowing what to expect from the SAT, you can give yourself a bit more confidence when it comes to the rest of your SAT prep.

Take a SAT Practice Test Online

Yep. Before you do any sort of major SAT prep, you are going to need to take a practice test. It doesn’t matter if you fail here. It doesn’t matter what your score is. The whole reason why you are taking your first practice test is so that you can get a feel for what the SAT is all about.

By their first full length practice test, a lot of people may not know what the SAT consists of. They have just heard how scary it is. However, once you take a test, we can assure you that you will realize that the SAT is similar to most other exams that you have taken.

There are plenty of places to take a SAT practice test online. We suggest that you use one of two resources for your full length tests.

Khan Academy

The Khan Academy has a partnership with the College Board. This is an online program that has a ton of online resources that most students can take advantage of. It is completely free to use the Khan Academy.

We are going to be talking a little bit about this one of the helpful resources later on, this is because it is going to be playing a key role in your SAT prep. All you need to know right now is that there are several practice tests at the Khan Academy that will give you a feel for where your talents are.

College Board Website

The college board has a ton of free practice tests too. You can download them right from their website although, sadly, you won’t be getting the feedback that you would get from the Khan Academy. Still, this is the only place where you have several different full length practice test options.

There are other tests out there, but these are the ones that we prefer as the sample questions are actual questions for the SAT. This means that studying for the SAT is going to be so much easier.

Identify Your Weaknesses

Once you have taken your first practice test, you should start to have more of an idea about your strengths and weaknesses.

Most practice test websites will provide you with a clear idea of where you went wrong. For example, you have had a woeful time on the math portions of the test, but you were great at the optional essay part of the SAT.

If you can, keep a copy of this feedback, even if it is basic feedback. It is going to be important for seeing how you improve over time and should give you a decent idea of the score that you can expect when you take the SAT.

Focus On Your Weakenesses (But Don’t Neglect Your Strengths)

There are three elements to the SAT. We won’t cover them in a huge amount of depth here, but you do need to know what they are for when you interpret your practice test results.

The Reading Test

The reading portion of the test will have you reading passages from various pieces of literature and other text. You will then be given multiple questions where are asked to interpret the text. You are going to need to have a very analytical brain to succeed here.

The Writing and Language Test

The writing and language test is a multiple-choice portion of the exam. There will be around 2,000 words of text over 4 different passages.

You will be asked to identify errors in the text, where to improve it, etc. The writing portion will have a lot of focus on grammar rules and vocabulary.

The Math Test

There are two portions to this part of the text; with and without a calculator. You will be tested on math (as you can probably guess). Math is all about thinking logically.

During the practice test review, you will be given a score for each of them. Check whether you are above or below the baseline score for that portion of the SAT. Because this is a standardized test, you can easily find the scores for the whole of the US.

Your Weakenesses

Look at the portion of the SAT where you got the lowest score. This is the area that you are going to be spending the majority of your time on during a study program.

You will be surprised at just how much focusing on the weak portions of your test can boost your overall SAT score. Remember, each ‘chunk’ of the test is worth a third of your mark, so marginal improvements can work wonders.

Your Strengths

That being said, you shouldn’t neglect your strengths either. Most of your time should be spent focusing on your weaknesses. This is where you will see the most improvement. However, your self study should be looking to boost your scores across the board.

Come Up With a Study Schedule

Now that you have a reasonable idea of where your SAT prep needs to be focused, you can come up with a study schedule here.

Ideally, you should have at least six to eight hours of SAT practice per week. Other test information sites claim that an hour is fine, but we don’t think it is. A study plan of 6-8 hours will give you around 1 hour of work per day. Of course, the more time you have for your study plan, the more you can learn.

Your self study plan should consist of the following:

  • Full length practice test
  • Regular review of your strengths and weakenesses
  • Practice

The exact study plan will be dependent on your learning style, but here is a rough guide for how you can do things throughout the weeks/months before you take the SAT.

This study plan is essentially going to be a loop. At the start of the week, you will always take the SAT practice test, and then you will work on your education for the rest of the time.

Practice Test

In the early days, you will want to do a weekly full-length practice test. Try to replicate the SAT conditions as much as possible. This is going to take a good couple of hours, unfortunately. However, it is vital to your education.

As time goes on and you know a little bit more about where your strengths and weaknesses are, you may be able to trim out certain parts of the test. For example, if, when you prepare for the SAT, you realize that you are great at the math portion then you don’t need to practice that. Just focus on the other two parts.

Review Answers From Practice Test

Once you have the practice test results, you can look at what you managed to get right and wrong. As we mentioned before, your main focus is going to be where you went wrong.

In most cases, there will be specific areas where you are failing. For example, you may never get the right answer when discussing grammar, or you may not be thinking logically enough to get a high score on the math part of the test.

If in the early days, you have poor marks across the board, you shouldn’t worry too much. You can always improve yourself. You just need a bit of extra time.

Study The Areas You Regularly Go Wrong

Spend the rest of your week focusing on your weaknesses. You may want to grab a couple of SAT books that are full of advice on dealing with the sections that you struggle with.

About 2/3rds of your time should be focused on your weaknesses. The rest of the time should be spent working on ways that you can boost your strengths as you prepare for the SAT.

Time planning is essential here. When you are studying for the SAT, or any other test, then it is better to study in small bursts. This not only helps you to stay motivated, but it prevents tiredness. After lengthy study sessions, information just won’t stick.

We recommend that you do about an hour of work and then take a twenty-minute break.

Try to do a little bit of study each day (you can take one day off per week). You can study for as many hours as you want, but never do more than 2-3 hours per day. You will have diminishing returns after that point.

Use The Khan Academy SAT Practice Site

One of the best ways to boost your SAT score is to use the Khan Academy website. As we mentioned earlier, they have partnered with the College Board so you can be sure that the information at Khan is sound.

Khan includes:

  • Eight full-length practice tests produced by The College Board
  • Thousands of questions that are written in the style of the real SAT.
  • Lessons
  • Instant feedback
  • Custom study plan.

If you do everything through the Khan Academy, then you will get a good overview of how your score is improving over time. Khan will also be able to push you more toward studying to deal with your SAT weakenesses.

You can do self-study away from Khan (and we highly recommend that you do), but the bulk of your study will be done through the Khan Academy. It is far too useful of a website to ignore it.

Your teachers will probably be telling you about it a lot. This is because all the best test takers will have learned using this system, at least over the last few years.

Take a Prep Class

If you are aiming for the top scores on the SAT, or perhaps are struggling with your results, then find a prep class.

You will probably find several classes running at your school. If you don’t, then you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be some running in the local area.

The class will do exactly what it says on the tin; it will prep you for the SAT. You will be given practice questions, helpful advice on scoring the best scores, and a ton of feedback.

You may struggle to squeeze a class in but, we promise you, it is going to be worth it. If you see somebody with an awesome score on the SAT then you can be sure that they have attended a class or two.

If you take a class, then you can ditch a couple of hours per week of your self-study, so you will be saving a bit of time there.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Everybody around you wants you to succeed in the SAT. Your teachers, your parents, and probably your friends too.

You shouldn’t have to struggle alone. We know that it can be tough to study for the SAT, particularly since this is probably going to be the first major exam that you have ever studied for.

If you are struggling with key areas, then ask for advice. The people around you will be more than happy to point you in the right direction, or they may even give you a few resources that you can use.

If you don’t ask for help, then you may always struggle to improve in some areas. This is because some people have a tough time not seeing how they went wrong, but why they went wrong.

Keep Your Extracurricular Activities To The Minimum

When High School students do their SAT practice, it won’t be long before they realize that they do not have a lot of time before they need to take the real SAT at their local testing center.

Therefore, for the months leading up to the SAT, you may want to keep those extracurriculars to the minimum. Any time taken away from you when you prepare for the SAT is time that you won’t get back.

We won’t go as far as to say that you should ditch them completely, though. This is because your extracurriculars are going to play an important role in college admissions.

It is also going to provide you with a bit of relaxation, something which you need while studying. You can’t be focusing on test scores every moment of your life. You will burn yourself out.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep Before The Test

We have heard countless stories of people trying to cram before test day. Don’t do that. Under no circumstances should you be turning up to the testing center tired.

As we mentioned a bit earlier on, there is only so much that you can study per day. If you are cramming for more than an hour or two, then you aren’t learning anything. Your study session is pointless.

Secondly, nobody ever performs to the best of their ability while they are tired. They may think that they are doing a great job, but they will rarely give the correct answer. Taking the SAT test while tired will probably give you a considerably lower score than you normally would have got.

Before the SAT, make sure that you get a good 8-hours of sleep. Have a hearty breakfast too. You need fuel for that brain!

Final Thoughts – How To Study For The SAT

Hopefully, these tips on how to study for the SAT are going to be of some benefit to you. Honestly, it isn’t all that hard. Just do the following:

  • Take practice tests
  • Review your results
  • Work on your weakenesses

Every single week, for a few hours, and you will probably see a considerable jump in your test core with the minimum amount of effort. It is going to be hard at the start, but once you get into the swing of things it will be awesome. You can relax once the test day has passed!

Josh Hutcheson

E-Learning Specialist in Online Programs & Courses Linkedin

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