How To Study For The SAT – 18 Techniques To Learn And Retain

by | Apr 7, 2021

Wondering how to study for the SAT? Preparing for the SAT is no small feat. In fact, it’s a task that leaves all students sweaty and nervous, wondering how they can get themselves ready for test day without taxing all of their brain cells in the process!

The good news is that there are all kinds of SAT prep resources out there to help make preparing for this exam seamless and simple. Whether you’re hoping to improve your baseline score by ten points or 100, studying for the SAT to reach your target score is easier than you might think.

So, let’s dive in so you can learn all the tips and tricks you need for how to study for the SAT and get the score of your dreams!

Studying For The SAT

How To Study For The SAT

When it comes to studying, there are quite a few great ways to study for the SAT. Below are some top tips for how to study for the SAT – no matter what kind of student you might be or what kind of goal score you are shooting for. 

1. Do Your Research 

Take the time to do some research into the kinds of questions that are asked by the SAT – and also to give you an idea of the test format. You can find all kinds of information on websites like the College Board and the Princeton Review. However, you’ll also find plenty of details on the test in various prep books and by taking practice exams. 

Your high school might be a valuable source of information, too. The guidance offices in most schools have plenty of information on what you need to do to get into college – and that includes preparing for admission exams like the SAT and ACT, too.

A girl researching

2. Take the PSAT/NMSQT

Taking the PSAT for NMSQT exams is a great way to figure out how you will do on the real thing – the SAT. Although these tests aren’t exactly practice exams in and of themselves, they offer a great way for high school students to get an idea of how they might score on the SAT. 

If you can, take these in your sophomore year so you know how you’ll perform on the SAT as a junior or senior. 

3. Set a Goal

Before you start any test prep, make sure you have a clear goal in mind as a student. Consider your learning style and decide on a score goal so you know what your abilities are – and what kinds of scores you should be searching for.

The best way to do this is by taking a practice test to see what your baseline is. It will also acquaint you with the concepts set forth in the exam and give you the confidence you need to start improving your scores!

Setting Goals For The SAT

4. Mixed Practice Tests

There are three different components to the SAT exam – reading, math, and writing and language. 

While you can easily chunk your time out and only study for one section of the test at a time, it’s often far more effective to do full mixed practice tests in which you do a set number of math questions, then a set number of reading, and so on. This will help prepare your brain to switch between the multiple sections on test day.

5. Invest in Prep Materials

You don’t have to pay a fortune to invest in SAT prep materials – but just getting a few basic tools in your study arsenal can help you out. You can try out flashcards, prep books, and many other resources.

When shopping around, keep in mind that not all prep materials are created equal – some can even hurt your score by giving you examples of questions that aren’t representative of the test itself. 

SAT Prep Materials

6. SAT Prep Courses 

Although signing up for an SAT prep course might not be something that everyone can do, it’s a great place to learn more and build your confidence if you have the financial resources to do so. Consider signing up for a structured class – these are often found with resources for students of all learning styles and can be found both online and in-person.

If you’re the kind of student who needs a more structured response to studying, then a prep course is a great resource to consider. 

7. Read Lots 

An easy way to ensure you’ll nail the SAT the first, second, or third time you take it? Read as much as possible. The SAT is very heavy in the reading department – you’ll have to read five extremely long, complicated passages in just an hour.

The questions themselves aren’t difficult – it’s navigating all that reading that will be tricky!

Because of that, it’s important that you build your reading stamina before you take the exam. Reading any kind of passages can be helpful, but avid readers of nonfiction tend to perform the best on the exam. After all, four out of the five passages you see on the test will likely be nonfiction. 

Read For The SAT

8. Work On Your Grammar 

Although reading is a great way to organically build your grammatical skills, you can also improve your skills by using flashcards and other study techniques. Keep in mind that roughly half of the verbal section of the exam consists of basic grammar questions – so being skilled in this is a great way to improve your overall score.

9. Learn How to Do Mental Math 

There is one full section of the SAT in which you will not be allowed to use a calculator. You can prepare for this section by doing as much mental math as possible. 

Quit relying on a calculator – even for the section that does allow a calculator, knowing how to do mental math will be helpful because you will save time by not having to type out basic computations. You can just do them in your head!

SAT Math

10. Avoid Cramming 

Some students swear by cramming, saying that it’s the only way they can effectively study for exams. However, it’s not the best idea.

When you’re cramming, you might feel like you’re retaining tons of information. However, that information is often retained in a  panic state and won’t be fully cemented in your brain. You’ll be better off trying to prep more consistently so you can review what you have learned in a steadier, more permanent way. 

11. Consider Getting a Tutor

If you lack the confidence you need for independent studying, you might want to consider investing in the help of an SAT tutor. A tutor will have all the study resources you need, like books, flashcards, and more, plus they’ll have the expert-level knowledge to get you through the exam successfully. 

SAT Tutor

12. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses 

It’s normal to be stronger on one section of the SAT than others – we all have our own strengths and weaknesses! However, the key to doing well on the exam is to figure out where you stand. Take a diagnostic test to figure out which areas you need to work on – for some students, you may already know this based on which subjects you naturally excel at in school.

13. Get a Study Buddy 

Chances are, you’re not the only person in your class preparing to take the SAT right now. If you can, find a partner or two who will help keep you accountable as you are studying for the SAT. You might want to team up to share strategies, tips, and resources – or you can compete against each other to see who gets the higher score on practice tests! 

Whatever you do, try not to go it alone – there’s definitely strength in numbers! 

SAT Study Buddy

14. Read the Instructions 

Take the time to get familiar with the instructions and format of the test. Pay specific attention to these aspects so that you don’t have to spend valuable moments of test-taking time on test day by reviewing instructions – you can dive right in (although you should, of course, skim these to make sure nothing has changed). 

15. Think Outside the Box 

Mix up your SAT prep! In addition to standard techniques like taking practice tests and going to study classes, feel free to do more unique prep work such as reading and summarizing long articles, reading editorial articles, or doing more complex math problems. 

This will help you develop a unique approach to the test that will make you more mentally flexible – and will serve you well on test day, too.

16. Take a Break

This can be tough advice to follow – but it’s important. Take a break the night before the exam! You need to be rested and relaxed. You should also take regular breaks in your study sessions – a nap isn’t just okay, it’s encouraged! Consider building in time for quick ten to twenty-minute “resets” during longer study sessions to help keep your brain recharged and ready to go.

And remember – don’t forget to sleep! It’s important that you practice self-care at all times while you are preparing for the SAT, but especially in the week before the test. Stop studying about a day or two before the exam and make sure you go to bed early three nights before the test. This will ensure that you are well-rested and prepared to tackle the rigors of the exam.

Take A Break During SAT Studying

17. Keep Adjusting Your Study Plan 

Don’t get complacent-  keep reviewing your study plan to see if there are any adjustments that need to be made. You will still want to study areas of consistent strength but you don’t want to just dwell here, in your comfort zone. 

Keep adjusting your plan so that you can make changes to your strategies as you master new areas of the exam and as you continue to improve.

18. Study on the Move

All of us have certain parts of the day in which we aren’t exactly making the most of our time – these could be referred to as “dead periods.” You might be waiting for the bus, sitting through an annoying commercial break, or sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room. 

Whatever the case may be, maximize these moments to help you prepare for the SAT. You might keep some vocabulary flashcards either on your person or on your phone or download a study app that will help you maximize your free minute.

When Should You Start Studying for the SAT?

There’s no concrete answer on when you should start studying for the SAT. However, many people will recommend starting at around three to six months out from the test.

Six months is a bit on the longer end – you need to start slowly and gradually, keeping an organized schedule so that you can start building up your skills without developing study fatigue! Three months is more ideal, allowing you plenty of time to get up to speed on the format and content of the test as well as giving youtube to drill down the areas in which you need to improve.

You can even prepare for the SAT in one month or less, though you’ll need to be highly strategic in your approach. You should set up a detailed schedule for yourself so you know exactly which areas you need to practice. 

How Many Hours a Day Should I Study for the SAT?

That depends. If you’re the type of person who can spend three hours a day, five days a week studying for the test, that’s great.

However, for many of us, it may make more sense to spend just an hour or so a day, spread out over several weeks, to prepare for the exam. This will help you study for the test in an adequate fashion without becoming fatigued and bored with the process.

In almost all cases, slow and steady wins the race!

Hours Of SAT Studying

Personalize Your Plan of Action

There are many different ways you can study for the SAT. Ultimately, finding the best method of preparation and creating your study schedule will depend on your personality, how much time you have available, and what college you want to get into.

Don’t panic, though. It’s easy to improve your score on these stress-inducing exams by following some of the simple strategies we mentioned above!

Studying for the SAT: FAQ

How long does it take to prepare for the SAT?

That depends on what your goal scores are and what your baseline is. You might spend as few as six or as many as twenty hours preparing for your first SAT, but if you want to see significant score improvement, you might take twice or three times that amount.

Is a 1200 on the SAT good?

Yes. A score of 1200 is exceptionally good, placing you in the top 76th percentile of test-takers. 

How can you study for the SAT by yourself?

There are plenty of ways you can prepare for the SAT on your own. YOu might want to read as much as possible, work to increase your vocabulary, and work on basic memory skills. Tools like study apps, flashcards, and practice tests can help you master the content on your own, even if you don’t have a study buddy.

How many hours a day should I study for the SAT? 

The answer to this question will vary, since it will depend on how many days you want to spend studying for the test and what your goal scores might be. You’ll want to spend around 10 hours, at a minimum, in total preparing for the SAT exam. You can divide that out however you’d like.

Andrew Green

Andrew is a successful entrepreneur and lifelong learner. Throughout his career, he has watched hundreds of online courses that have allowed him to achieve success in highly competitive fields such as online marketing, investing, and sales. Andrew is committed to expanding his knowledge and expertise and he reviews the premium courses he watches on his online blog.
Posted in: Education,Studying

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