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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 Study for the SAT: Tips & Tricks to Improve Your Score

Are you committed to improving your SAT score, but unsure how to go about it?

Well, luckily, the answer’s simple: study and take practice tests!

Specifically, set a consistent study schedule, study under test-day conditions, take as many practice tests as possible, and tackle your weaknesses, and your score is bound to improve.

To make things even easier, here’s a step-by-step plan for how to study for the SAT.

Set a Consistent Study Schedule

Until you’ve hit your score goal and sent your college applications out, test prep should be near the top of your list of priorities.

We know you’re busy. You’ve got lots going on in life—school work, extracurricular activities, sports, family, friends, maybe even an afterschool job. So, where does studying for the SAT fit in? The answer is just about everywhere.

There’s no question that it’s important to always devote time to family, but you can’t neglect your schoolwork; after all, your GPA is just as important to, if not more important than, your SAT score when it comes to college admissions—but after these priorities, test prep should be tops.

That’s right. Until the SAT is in the rearview mirror, test prep should come before sports, extracurricular activities, friends, parties, and all that other stuff that fills up your day—TV, video games, social media, you get the point. If that seems rough, remind yourself that studying for the SAT, in the long run, represents a very short period in your life. From the time you start studying, you only need to continue until you get the score you’re aiming for, to achieve admission to the college of your choice. So, buckle down and work hard—the sooner you get the score you need, the sooner test prep is done and over with. Then you can hit that party on Saturday night or tackle that new season of Game of Thrones.

Be Sure to Study in Test-Day Conditions

You want to acclimate yourself to what it will be like on test day. That means studying with a timer, in a quiet place, free of distractions.

I can’t tell you how often I sit down for my first meeting with my online tutoring students, and hear in the background a dog barking and running around, parents and siblings hovering in the background, mom cooking, et cetera. This is not the type of environment in which you can study effectively!

Bad places to study include your living room, kitchen, your school cafeteria, and coffee shops. I recommend seeking out a place where other people (and pets!) won’t be. When I was in high school, I studied in the dining room of my house, because no one ever went in there (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter). A couple other good places to study are the library or in an empty classroom at school. The point is to find a place where you won’t be distracted.

Which brings me to my next point: don’t study in your bedroom!

You might think, what better place to study than my own room, where I can close the door and be alone. The thing is, though, you’re not really alone.

Your bedroom is full of the worst types of distractions—your TV and computer, your bed, even your bookshelves are a distraction, when you’d rather be reading the latest Hunger Games book instead of studying. Don’t tempt yourself by trying to study with all of these things mere inches away. Plus, it’s always good to physically separate the place where you work and the place where you relax—mentally, it will help you make better use of both places.

Be Truly Alone

While it might be helpful to study in a group for things like your chemistry final or your next math quiz, SAT prep is really a solo endeavor. And that includes ditching your phone.

A test prep course like Prep Expert’s will provide all the supplemental material you need to study well, so you don’t have to worry about picking your classmate’s brain. So, there’s really no advantage to having friends around while you drill Reading or Math or tackle the essay—they’ll only serve as distractions.

Which brings me around to another huge distraction—your smartphone.

You might need to have it on you, but turn it off and put it away! The last thing you need while you’re studying is to hear the ping of notifications from Facebook, Instagram, and the like, just begging you to take your eyes off SAT prep.

And I know what you’re going to say next: I need my phone for the timer, so I’ll just put it on airplane mode.

No!

We both know there’s plenty of visual distraction on your smartphone screen alone, so get a wristwatch or use a wall clock, and bury that iPhone until study time is up.

Time Yourself

Speaking of time, manage it well while you’re studying for the SAT.

If you’re taking practice tests, you’ll want to time yourself as you’ll be timed on test day, to prepare yourself for the rigors of answering all those questions in a short period of time. If you’re studying underlying content and not focused on practice tests, it’s still useful to devote a specific amount of time to studying.

I recommend that my students study for 50 minutes at a time, and then give themselves a 10-minute break. That way, they can stay focused on studying, knowing that if they stick with it, their reward will be 10 guilt-free minutes to get a snack, check their Instagram, or text with their friends.

When you have specific amounts of time reserved for both work and play, you can enjoy both without feeling bad or frittering away time switching from one to the other.

Have a Consistent Study Schedule

Just like you would for sports or extracurricular activities, set aside a specific time each day—ideally at least two hours—devoted to test prep.

It’s fine if you skip a day or two here or there to rest or focus on something else, but you should try to stick to this schedule as closely as possible. This will make your study time predictable, and train your mind and body to be ready for it.

Of course, if for whatever reason it’s impossible to have a consistent study schedule, that doesn’t mean you should forget about studying at all. If this is the case, just try to fit in SAT prep whenever you can, as much as possible.

As I said earlier, it’ll be tough, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s only a short period of your life, and it offers great rewards: a high score, and with it, the school of your dreams.

Have the Right Study Materials

When it comes to SAT prep, your best friend is a great SAT prep course like those we offer here at Prep Expert.

In addition to helping you tackle all that underlying content you might have forgotten or missed in school—stuff like where to put those pesky commas or how to find the volume of a cylinder—Prep Expert will also equip you with tried-and-true strategies that have helped thousands of other students improve their scores.

After all, SAT prep isn’t just about academic knowledge, it’s also about learning the test itself. When you can anticipate the traps built into questions and answer choices, and identify with precision the types of answers the test makers are looking for, you’ll see your SAT points go up like crazy.

Besides the materials a test prep course like Prep Expert will provide, you’ll want to study for the test with actual SAT practice tests, which are released by the College Board, and available on its website. Taking real SATs is the best way to be ready for test day—the types of questions and passages you’ll encounter are unique to the test, and while other test prep companies offer books of practice tests for sale, they’re never close to the real deal. (That said, there are a limited number of real practice tests available, so you’ll probably have to make due with test prep book tests after a while. Just make sure you max out the College Board tests first.)

What else do you need? Very little. Some scrap paper, pencils and erasers, a watch or clock, and your calculator are pretty much it. If you’re studying away from your house, be sure to have a bottle of water and some snacks so you can take care of yourself while you’re studying. But that’s it! Don’t play music or listen to a podcast while you study—those are just as distracting as your friends are.

Keep It Simple!

Set a consistent schedule, equip yourself with the essentials, and study somewhere quiet and free of distractions.

No more, no less.

That’s all you need to do to study well for the SAT and achieve the top score that you’re aiming for. Good luck and happy studying!



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.