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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

You know this already, but it’s never a good idea to cram for any test, especially the SAT. No matter how smart you are, you need to be familiar with the types of questions asked, and what right and wrong answer choices look like, in order to do well. This requires a great familiarity with the exam, which is best acquired by taking lots and lots of practice tests over a considerable 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: (1) take a few practice tests, (2) analyze your results, (3) review the rules of grammar and the uses of transition words, and (4) memorize the important formulas and equations used on the Math tests. These steps will give you a basic familiarity with the exam, and help you perform much better than you would have without any prep.

Even still, you should consider taking the exam again in the future, after you’ve had much more preparation. Prep Expert’s SAT prep course can help you boost your score significantly.

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Take As Many Practice Tests As You Can

Download a few practice tests and take them under exam-day conditions: timed, and in a quiet place that is free of distractions.

There are eight practice tests available for you to download from the College Board website. Since you’re cramming, you probably don’t have enough time to take all eight, but do as many as you can.

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It’s important to take these tests under exam-day conditions, so you can get an idea of how you will need to pace yourself on the day of the test. Use a timer or a stopwatch, and take the test someplace quiet.

A few good places to complete your practice tests in are the library, in an empty classroom at school, or in a room in your house (perhaps the study or dining room) that is quiet.

Don’t complete your practice tests in the kitchen, where your family will be in and out, making lots of noise, or in your bedroom, where distractions such as your television, electronic devices, and bed will be too tempting.

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Analyze Your Practice Test Results

Don’t simply take a practice test, calculate your score, then move on. Your results will provide you with useful information that will make the rest of your cramming far more effective. Check to see what types of questions you got, and take note of the areas you need to focus on.

Your College Board practice test downloads include answer explanations that show how to answer the questions you got wrong. Study them, and pay close attention to these types of questions the next time around.

Your results will also show you what content knowledge you’re weakest on. Do you need to re-learn the rules of grammar? Or maybe linear algebra concepts, or the Pythagorean Theorem, etc.?

Remember: time spent analyzing your practice test results is well worth it. It’ll help you prioritize the rest of your very little time to cram.

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Be Sure To Review The Rules Of Grammar

Make sure you study up on grammar: how to use periods, commas, colons, and semicolons; the rules for verb tenses; pronouns; and the like. This knowledge is essential for the Writing & Language test, and will be useful to you as you write the Essay, as well.

Even if you’re a star English student, there’s a good chance you’ve forgotten some tiny details about things such as punctuation and verb tense, and the SAT Writing & Language test happens to focus quite intensely 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 these rules, which you probably haven’t studied since Freshman year or earlier. The good news is that it doesn’t take long to re-master this stuff, so make this step part of any cramming that you do.

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Review Important Math Formulas And Equations, Too

As you prepare for the Math tests, make sure you know the important formulas and equations you’ll need to use for problem solving. These formulas and equations include the equation of a line, the quadratic equation, and the Pythagorean theorem. Your practice test results should serve as a good indicator of which of these formulas and equations you’ve forgotten.

Each SAT Math test includes a number of equations and formulas on its first page. But don’t let this fool you: these are not the only equations and formulas you’ll need to know, and flipping back and forth to these pages as you take the test is a big waste of time. So, be sure you include this step in your cramming.

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Check Your Problem-Solving Pace

One of the most difficult aspects of the exam is its exacting timing. As you complete your practice tests, take note of any sections you’re unable to finish on time. There are a few different strategies, described below, that you can use to cope with time difficulty.

One way to deal with the SAT’s difficult timing is to wear a simple wristwatch while you take the exam. The wristwatch will allow you to keep track of time on your own, rather than relying on the proctor or on a clock on the wall. Remember that you won’t be allowed to wear a smartwatch or a watch with lots of bells and whistles on exam day, so buy yourself a simple watch (one that has just a face and two hands).

The Reading test is the most difficult section of the SAT, time-wise. If you’re struggling here, 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 grasp the main idea of the passage, then read just the first sentences of each body paragraph (so you know what they’re about). Don’t skim the fiction passage: fiction doesn’t have a predictable structure, so there’s no way to know where the important information is.

After you’ve taken a few practice tests, and have a sense of which 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. You want to be sure to answer all of the easy- and medium-level questions correctly and earn those points, because even if you manage to make it to the difficult questions, there’s still a good chance you will get them wrong.

Another Math tip: 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 troublesome question.

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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

Ensure you know where your test center is, what items you need to bring with you, and how to spend your time the day before the exam.

Hopefully, you’re not reading this post the night before your exam. Don’t spend the evening cramming. You need to calm your mind and get a good night’s sleep to do your best on test day.

Check your College Board account to see where your test center is, so you don’t get lost on the morning of the exam. You should bring with you your printed exam ticket, a few pencils, a snack, and a bottle of water. Also, make sure the calculator you’re using is permitted (most TI calculators are allowed).

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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 serious study regimen, consisting of lots of studying and practice tests over the course of a few months, will land you a much better score.

Since almost all colleges and universities will take your highest SAT score combination, you can consider this first test a practice run. Remember, taking a test-prep course with Prep Expert can help you boost your score significantly.

Alright, now get to that cramming!



Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies that we teach in our Prep Expert SAT and ACT courses.