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Planning and preparing for the SAT and ACT is tough proposition. Let our experts make it easier for you and your student by reviewing some of the many options available to improve scores, grow scholarship offers, and get into the best college!

How To Cram For The SAT

Of course, you already know this, but it’s never good to cram for any exam, especially the SAT. Even if you’re a brilliant student, you need to be familiar with the format of the SAT, and with the types of questions it asks, as well as know what right and wrong answer choices look like, in order to do well. This requires a great familiarity with the exam, which can only acquired by taking lots and lots of practice tests over a substantial period of time.

However, if you haven’t done this, and you happen to be taking the SAT in just a few days, there are a few things you can do to cram. Take a few practice tests, review the rules of grammar and transition words, and reacquaint yourself with the important formulas and equations used on the Math tests. This will give you a basic familiarity with the exam and its components, and help you to perform much better on the exam than you would have without any prep.

Still, consider taking the exam again in the future, after you’ve had much more preparation. For better help on the SAT, check out our SAT prep course.

Take As Many Practice Tests As Possible

In the short amount of time that you have, take as many timed practice tests as possible.

If you’re cramming, you probably don’t have any practice tests at your disposal, so go to the College Board website, and download the eight practice tests it has made available. You probably don’t have enough time to take all eight of these tests, so just do as many as you can.

Importantly, you should take these practice test timed, so that you can get an idea of how to pace yourself on exam day. You should also take these tests in a place that is quiet and free of distractions. Some good places for this are the library, or perhaps the dining room in your house. (No one in my house growing up ever went into the dining room.)

Bad places to study are the kitchen, where your family will be in and out, making lots of noise, and your bedroom, where distractions like your bed, TV and electronic devices will be too tempting.

Analyze Those Practice Tests

After you’ve taken a few practice tests, analyze your results. They’ll show you what areas you need to work on.

Don’t simply take a practice test, calculate your score, and then move on. Your results will provide you precious information that’ll make the rest of your cramming far more effective. The materials included with your practice test download—particularly, the answer explanations—will show you which types of questions you’re getting wrong, so you can pay more attention to them the next time around. You’ll also see what content knowledge you’re weakest on—do you need to re-learn the rules of grammar, or linear algebra concepts, or the Pythagorean Theorem, et cetera?

Time spent analyzing your practice test results is well worth it—it’ll help you prioritize the rest of your precious time.

Review Grammar Rules

Make sure you remember how to use periods, commas, colons, and semicolons, the rules for verb tenses, and the like. They’re essential for the Writing & Language test.

Even if you’re a star English student, chance are good that you’ve forgotten some tiny details about things like punctuation and verb tense, and the SAT Writing & Language test happens to focus quite heavily on these things. For example, if you don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” or that colon usage requires an independent clause before the colon, you’re going to run into trouble on this test.

So, take an hour or two to reacquaint yourself with things you probably haven’t studied since Freshman year or earlier. Luckily, it doesn’t take long to re-master these rules, so this should be part of any cramming you do.

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Review Those Formulas And Equations

Make sure you know things like the equation of a line and the Pythagorean theorem—the Math tests will require you to use them over and over again.

As with the Writing & Language test, there’s stuff you just need to know to do well on the SAT’s two Math tests. So, after you’ve taken a few practice tests, identify the areas from algebra, geometry, and trigonometry where you need work. In particular, you’ll want to be certain you know all the equations and formulas you need to use on the SAT, such as the equation of a line, the quadratic formula, the Pythagorean Theorem (this you’ll use over and over again), and the distance formula.

To repeat, the best way to figure out what your weaknesses are, including which equations and formulas you need to re-learn, is to take some practice tests.

Check Your Problem-Solving Pace

Make sure to see if time limits will give you trouble on any part of the exam.

One of the toughest parts of the exam is finishing on time. Be sure you know how to pace yourself on the different sections of the SAT. After taking a few practice tests, you’ll know what sections of the exam you’ll have trouble finishing on time. In particular, the Reading test proves to be troublesome for students, time-wise.

You can help yourself improve your pacing by wearing a simple wristwatch while you take the exam. This will allow you to keep track of time yourself, rather than relying on the proctor or a clock on the wall. Remember that you won’t be allowed a smart watch or one with lots of bells and whistles, so pick up a simple one, with just a face and two hands.

On the Reading test, if you’re struggling with time, it might be helpful to skim the nonfiction passages. Skimming means reading only parts of the passage, to absorb as much information in as little time as possible.

To skim, try reading the first and last paragraphs of the passages in full, in order to get the main idea of the passage, and then read just the first sentences of each body paragraph, so you know what they’re about. Don’t skim the Fiction passage—Fiction passages don’t have a predictable structure, so there’s no way to know where the important information is.

You can also get a sense of what passages you perform best on, rank them in order from your best to worst, and then complete them in that order on test day. This way, if you run out of time on the test, you’ll be left to guess on questions you would have more likely gotten wrong anyway.

If you’re having trouble finishing the Math tests on time, complete them as though there were fewer problems to solve. This will allow you to pace yourself more slowly at the beginning, where the questions are easier, and prevent you from making simple mistakes. The biggest error students commit on the Math tests is rushing to finish, and thus missing lots of tiny details on the easier questions, and getting them wrong. If you change your goal of how many questions you need to finish, these simple mistakes will be less likely to occur.

Also, never spend more than ten seconds on a question you’re not making any progress on. If you’ve hit the ten-second mark, circle it and move on. You don’t want to waste precious time you could be using to answer other questions on a White Whale of a question. Furthermore, fixating on a problem you don’t know how to solve will rattle your nerves, sap your confidence, and affect your performance on the rest of the test. Just circle the question number and move on. If you have time left at the end, you can always come back to it.

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Be Sure You’re Prepared For Test Day

Make sure you know where your test center is, what you’re allowed to bring, and how to spend your time the day before the exam.

Hopefully you’re not cramming the very day before the exam. It’s best to take this day off to rest and calm your mind. You’ll also want to get a good night’s sleep the night before the exam—don’t spend the evening cramming!

Check your College Board account to see where your test center is, and do a practice run if you can, so you don’t get lost on the morning of the exam. Also, make sure the calculator you’re using is allowed—most TIs are acceptable, but those with CAS aren’t. You should bring a few pencils, a snack, and a bottle of water, too.

Consider Re-Taking The Exam

After you’ve completed this exam, sign up for a new test date and study in earnest.

Cramming might land you a decent score on the SAT, but it’s certain that a real study regimen, consisting of lots of practice tests over the course of a few months (3-4 is good, 5-6 is better), will land you a far better score. Since the SAT will take your highest score combo anyway, you can consider this“ first test a practice run, and if you do poorly on it, you only have up to go. We can make sure, you get all the help you need at Prep Expert.

Now, get to that cramming!

Clay Cooper

Clay has scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT, ACT, PSAT, LSAT, and ISEE, among other standardized tests. He has taught and developed courses for high school, college, and graduate-level standardized tests extensively around the country, and specializes in the field. He has studied law at Georgetown University Law Center and worked in the legal field as well, for attorneys, judges, and the Tennessee Attorney General.