This is an excellent question to ask. The SAT definitely requires preparation, and it isn’t an exam you can cram for and do well. You need to become familiar with the test—the types of questions it asks, what right and wrong answer choices look like, how you need to pace yourself to finish on time, et cetera. So, here’s what I’d say:
You should study for the SAT over the course of at least three or four months, although five or six is best. Make the SAT your biggest priority after family and school, and do your work on a consistent schedule each day. Also, you should take full, timed practice tests on a consistent basis. This plan is your formula for SAT success.
If you’re looking for help with the SAT, check out our SAT prep course here at Prep Expert. More on your ideal course of study below.
Develop A Study Schedule
You need to study consistently over a period of several months in order to do your best on the SAT.
As mentioned above, it’s best to study for the SAT over the course of months, rather than weeks or days. During the period of time you’re studying for the SAT, it should be a big part of your life – right behind family commitments and academics. It needs to come before everything else—extracurricular activities, athletics, friends, and fun.
This means you need to find lots of time for SAT studying in your weekly schedule. It’s ideal if you can find a consistent time for studying, say, 5-7pm on weekdays, and 11-1 on Saturdays and Sundays. Having a consistent schedule helps you remember when your SAT study time is, and makes you more likely to stick with it.
If you can’t keep a consistent study schedule, then find free times in your weekly schedule and fit SAT studying in there. It may be the case that your schedule is already overloaded, and in that case you might have to let go of a few pursuits for the time being. Tae-Kwando practice eating up your Saturday? Put it on hold until after you’re done with the SAT. Model UN requiring lots of weekend travel and long afternoons after school? Let that go, too—at the end of the day, your test score is much more important to college admittance than your extracurricular activities, and if you do well on the exam, you can resume whatever extracurricular activities you’ve given up next year, if you’re a sophomore or junior. If you’re a senior, then you have precious little time left to put in real SAT studying, so you have to put these other commitments behind you, and get focused.
Devote Substantial Time To The Test
An ideal study schedule includes two to three hours of test prep, every day of the week. Remember, this commitment is only for a few months.
As you see above, as an example, I suggested studying for the SAT for two hours each day. Now, it might not be possible that you can do two hours per day. If this is the case, you should try for at least one hour every day. And you should try to study as many days of the week as you can—a consistent and rigorous schedule will allow you to improve your knowledge of the test in a gradual way, leading to consistent improvement, and preventing you from forgetting important things you’ve learned along the way.
In addition to this mock study schedule I have laid out, on one day per week, you will want to devote a little over three hours to studying, so you can take a full, timed practice test. Studying for the SAT is like a marathon, not a race, and you want to be fully prepared for the real thing, and know what it will be like to sit for the entire exam. And when you take the practice test, make sure you replicate exam day conditions, too, by studying in a quiet place that is free of distractions.
Be Sure To Take Breaks
Take a ten-minute break for every hour of studying.
During your study time, it’s important for you to take breaks. My recommendation is, for every hour of study, give yourself a ten-minute break. Taking a ten-minute break gives you time to get something to eat, use the restroom, check your texts, Facebook, or Instagram, et cetera. Knowing that you will have time to do these things will allow you to focus more during your study time—“If I work hard, I can reward myself with a break.”
Remember that if you’re sitting for a full practice test, you should take breaks based on the allowances the College Board provides on test day. These are different than the one hour-ten minute breaks that I’ve suggested here. You can find the real SAT break schedule on the College Board website.
Spend Your Time Wisely
Keep a log of what types of questions you’re getting wrong, and focus in on them.
As you complete practice tests, you should be keeping note of what types of questions you’re getting wrong—there will almost certainly be a pattern—as well as the content areas you need to work on. For example, you might need to review the rules for comma usage, or reacquaint yourself with systems of equations. Once you know your weaknesses, you should commit to focusing on them during some of your set-aside SAT study time.
If you’re finding it difficult to re-learn some of these things on your own, or need strategies to do better on the types of questions you’re getting wrong, it would be a good idea to sign up for an SAT prep class.
Prep Expert offers classes throughout the country, throughout the year, every day of the week. It also offers online classes, with an On Demand feature that allows you to watch classes you missed, or couldn’t make due to other commitments, anytime you want. In addition, Prep Expert offers one-on-one tutoring, both in-person and online, as well.
Classes and tutoring will provide you with the strategies you need to improve your score, and thousands of students have seen substantial score increases using Prep Expert’s methods. What’s more, our instructors, all of whom scored a 1600 on the SAT, can help you get up-to-speed and re-learn all those things you forgot from Math and English class.
Unhappy With Your Score? Keep At It.
Be ready to take the SAT more than once.
Most students end up taking the SAT more than once. Sitting for the exam the first time gives you your first experience with real test-day conditions. Along with these can come considerable anxiety, which can have a big effect on your performance. In addition, most students, when they get back their score, know that they can do better with just a bit more preparation.
So, don’t consider the first time you take the SAT your last time, and don’t give up studying after you’ve taken it, either. Instead, wait for your score report to come back, and take a look at the types of questions you ended up getting wrong. Now you have a rock-solid, reliable idea of where you need to do more work.
Use this information to recalibrate your study plan, and adjust the amount of studying you’re doing. Re-focus on concepts and question types that you missed. And if your score was substantially lower than what you had hoped for, plan on adding more hours to your study time—it’s likely that you haven’t been studying enough.
Happy With Your Score? Congrats, You’re Done!
When you’ve reached your target score, you’re finished studying for the SAT.
You’ll know you’ve done enough studying for the SAT when your score report comes back and you’ve reached or exceeded the score you were aiming for. Pat yourself on the back, and put those Tae-Kwondo lessons and Model UN trips back on the calendar!
What score should you set as your goal? This differs from student to student. Your target score might be the score you need to be competitive at a particular college or university you’re applying to, or it might be the score requirement for a scholarship you’re applying for. Or perhaps you’re looking to balance a less-than-stellar GPA, and so you’re aiming for the highest score possible.
Know Your Limits
Don’t work yourself to the bone if your score has stopped improving after lots of committed studying.
Know when to call it when you’ve worked incredibly hard, devoted countless hours to study, and seen your score plateau, even if it’s a number lower than you had hoped. Not everyone can score a 1600, after all, and it’s quite possible that you’ve done the best you can do. There’s no reason to drive yourself crazy or wear yourself out in maniacal pursuit of a higher score. Like Captain Ahab and the White Whale in Moby Dick, you don’t want to pursue something unattainable single-mindedly at the expense of all else, and wear yourself down.
Adjust your expectations, and draw up a list of colleges where your score is competitive. Keep in mind that a higher GPA can balance out a score that isn’t quite what you’d hoped. And pat yourself on the back for all your hard work and commitment. If you maintain this attitude throughout the next few years, you’re going to have a very valuable college experience, for certain. Hard work, even more than intelligence, is what is required of a successful college student.
For more information about the SAT, check out our website Prep Expert. Best of luck studying for the SAT!
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