How to Prepare For the SAT - Prep Tips and Timelines

Child with yellow pencil taking an exam
Updated:
January 30, 2024
10 min read
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/26/23

Want to learn how to get prepared for the SAT from testing experts? Read on! Here we discuss how to study for the SAT, tips for taking the test, and much more. 

Student filling out Scantron test

Well, you have made it, the date is set. You are going to take the SAT. This test can help make or break your admission into your dream school. Like any other test, your score has to be high and acceptable. Not unlike any other test, this is a test that consists of multiple sections, each graded differently with questions that you may have never seen on any other test. 

This requires a study program like one you have never seen before. This article will help guide you on the best resources to study for the SAT, tips and tricks when taking the test, and other options you may have if you still have some concerns regarding being able to get the grade you wish.

About SAT Prep 

The SAT, or Standard Aptitude Test, offers prep courses that teach you about the key subjects and concepts on the exam. Courses will teach you a range of things, from the structure of the SAT to test-taking strategies

A challenge you will face while studying for the SAT will be figuring out the best schedule to help you succeed. SAT study plans are usually customizable; there is no one-size-fits-all. You should take your study preferences, SAT score goals, and resources into account on how to prepare for the SAT.

SAT Preparation Timeline

When determining how long to study for the SAT, you should examine the content and see the recommended plans based on your dream colleges. If you start studying too late, you probably won’t get your desired score. But if you study too early, you may not be familiar with all the exam’s content and could easily forget the material by the time you take the test. 

Before starting your SAT preparation you must figure out when to take the exam. With general college application timelines, most students aim to take their first SAT in the fall of their junior year. That way, you can retake the SAT in springtime if you want a higher score. This will free up a lot of space in your senior year, where you will focus on college applications.

You have the option of either an intense study schedule, for example, ten hours a week for two months, or a more measured one, like four hours a week for five months. These methods can work and help increase your score dramatically, so your SAT study plan usually depends on your schedule and study style. 

Keep in mind that the recommended number of months to study for the SAT  is three months. So, try to keep this as the minimum amount of study time prior to taking the SAT. If this isn’t possible, however, it is possible to adequately prepare with less than three months of prep. 

Opting to take the Practice SAT, PSAT is ideal for getting introduced to the SAT in a non-pressured situation. The PSAT gives you a baseline score that helps you determine how to prepare for the SAT. The PSAT allows you to get a feel of where you stand with your current skills, what needs to improve, and which sections have your strengths and weaknesses when doing SAT prep. 

If your school doesn’t offer the PSAT, or you missed the deadline to sign up, there are online SATprep tests for you to take in which you have untimed and unlimited access. But here’s a tip: time yourself anyway to simulate how you would perform in the actual test!

SAT Prep: How to Prepare for the Test

Before you get started with your SAT prep, take a look at these tried-and-true tips for acing your exam:

Take Practice Tests

It’s a well-known fact that taking multiple practice tests is a critical step in preparing for the SAT. Most students use the practice tests posted by the official College Board website, which are as close to the real SAT as you can get. 

To prepare for the SAT, it is recommended that you take a minimum of three practice tests. This will help you become more comfortable with the timing of each section, the format of the test, and the types of questions you can expect. 

Additionally, it’s a good idea to have someone else (such as a teacher or friend) review your tests with you. This can help you better understand any incorrect answers and provide guidance on how to improve your performance in the future.

Take a look at our free mini practice SAT test below!

Determine A Score Goal

It's important to establish a target score that you want to achieve on the SAT. This can help keep you motivated and on track with your study plan. Using your practice test scores, you can determine your starting point and set a reasonable goal for improvement. 

It's worth keeping in mind that while the SAT is an important component of the college application process, there are many other factors that colleges consider, such as your GPA and extracurricular activities. So, while it's essential to aim for a strong SAT score, it's important to keep a holistic approach to your college applications.

Develop A Study Plan

Tailor your study plan to align with your learning style and life schedule - and make sure to be realistic! Consider allocating regular time slots each day or week to study, dividing the material into smaller, more manageable sections, and using a variety of study aids such as books, online resources, and group study sessions. 

It's important to maintain consistency with your study plan and take responsibility for your own progress. Stay on track, and stay committed to your study goals!

Practice Test-Taking Strategies

As the SAT is a time-sensitive exam, it's crucial to develop techniques for managing your time efficiently. Discover how to use methods such as eliminating answer choices, making educated guesses, and pacing yourself throughout the test. Get comfortable with the test's format and the categories of questions you can expect to encounter.

Take Breaks and Stay Motivated

Remaining motivated during SAT preparation can be difficult, but it is essential! Discover ways to keep yourself engaged and concentrated, like setting smaller goals for each study session, rewarding yourself, and maintaining a positive and confident attitude. It's beneficial to have supportive friends and family around you who will inspire you to succeed.

Succeeding on the SAT necessitates commitment, hard work, and a strong study plan. You can improve your chances of achieving your desired score by taking practice tests, setting score goals, developing a study strategy, reviewing content areas, practicing test-taking techniques, and maintaining motivation.

How Long To Study For SAT?

The time needed to prepare for the SAT varies, but most students should plan to study for 2 to 6 months. During this time, practice regularly, review your mistakes, and use study materials. Start with a diagnostic test and set a target score based on your college goals. Be flexible with your plan and get extra help if required. In the weeks before the test, focus on reviewing and test strategies to be well-prepared.

Find out if you're prepared for the SAT with our free interactive SAT Readiness Quiz!

Your SAT Test Prep Options: Courses, Books, Online & More 

There are many resources out there for SAT prep. There are academic books, online SAT prep courses, and online practice tests to help you reach your SAT score goal. There are many forms of SAT prep resources available, as well as tutoring resources you can check out.

Here is a list of the best SAT study guides for 2023, ranked and categorized by online classes, books, and practice tests.

Online: 

Here are our top recommendations for online SAT study resources:

College Board & Khan Academy

The College Board, creator of the SAT, has partnered with Khan Academy to provide the best individualized SAT prep test for free. This is great for anyone who requires affordable SAT prep; these types of products and services cost from $300 to $500+. 

The College Board offers four full-length practice tests for the new SAT. They also offer diagnostic quizzes, studying and tips for taking the SAT, which help tell you which sections you need more practice on. This website also has practice questions, hints, and review videos to help you know where you stand when taking the SAT.

Khan Academy’s research suggests that there are three effective practices when it comes to improving SAT scores: levelling up skills, taking full-length practice tests, and following tailored practice recommendations. Students who have used Khan Academy’s official SAT practice for 6+ hours scored 39 points or higher than students who did not use them. 

For the first time ever, the creators of the SAT have given Khan Academy exclusive access and advice to build a personalized practice program for anyone, anywhere. Students can now have unlimited access to these resources so they can enhance their learning and take hold of their future. 

Quad Education

Private SAT tutoring with Quad Education is your ticket to reaching your dream school. Our 99th percentile SAT tutors offer personalized virtual sessions that focus on your specific areas of improvement. 

We identify your weaknesses and bolster your strengths to maximize your SAT score. With our tailored approach, you'll be well-prepared for success in higher education and beyond.

Books

Below are our top book recommendations to help prepare you for the SAT:

Barron’s SAT Study Guide Premium

Barron’s SAT Study Guide has ample sample questions and bonus online SAT prep exams. The book includes seven practice exams, and the content review can help prepare any student for the SAT. 

Ask anyone who took the SAT; Barron’s prep books are excellent since they help identify your weaknesses so you can work to improve them. It is a comprehensive guide covering all of the SAT, from its topics to its format.

SAT Prep Black Book – Bestseller

Written by Mike Barrett, an SAT prep tutor who has students all over the world,  the “SAT Prep Black Book” offers easy walkthroughs of questions from the College Board’s certified practice tests. This book offers detailed and systematic instructions using these questions, covering each type of SAT question and innovative techniques to approach them. 

It is the best traditional SAT book available on the market today. It teaches the student the structure, outline, and tricks of the SAT, which is very beneficial. It teaches helpful strategies that are time-efficient and help students answer questions effectively. 

SAT prep books


SAT Tips for Test Day

Here are some important SAT tips to keep in mind when studying for test day.

Come Prepared

When taking the SAT, it's important to come prepared with the necessary materials to ensure a smooth testing experience. Here's a list of materials to bring with you to the SAT:

  • Admission Ticket
  • Photo ID
  • Approved Calculator
  • Pencils and Erasers
  • Snacks/Water
  • Sweatshirt or Jacket
  • Watch or Stopwatch 

It's important to note that you should not bring any electronic devices, including cell phones, tablets, or laptops, as they are not allowed during the test. If you do bring any unauthorized materials, you may be dismissed from the test, and your scores may be canceled.

Tackle the Easy Questions First 

It is generally accepted that on the SAT, the less challenging questions are presented prior to the more difficult ones. So, one of our SAT secrets is to answer the easier questions first to save time for the more tricky and time-consuming ones that pop up later on.

Pay Close Attention 

It may seem obvious, but always ensure that you accurately input your answers to the corresponding section and number on the answer sheet. If you fail to pay attention, it is possible to inadvertently misplace your responses. There’s nothing worse than finding out you got a question wrong just because it’s in the wrong section!

Budget Your Time

Remember to keep an eye on the clock! It is critical to manage your time effectively during the SAT since the test is timed. You should consider that you’ll only need under a minute to answer easier questions and limit yourself to one or two minutes on the more demanding ones. 

Remember, the SAT is composed of multiple short, timed tests. Keeping track of the time during each section will help you have time to answer every question until the very last ones. This is one of the most valuable strategies for the SAT to keep in mind. 

Make Sure You Understand the Question 

Make sure that you fully understand each question before you answer it. If you've taken a lot of practice tests, you'll be tempted to answer questions you recall from practice tests. Make sure to answer the questions being asked and not those from practice tests.


SAT Prep FAQs

We’ve outlined several questions and answers below to help you prepare for the SAT exam. 

1. Can I Cancel My SAT Scores?

Yes, you can cancel your test scores. Ask the test supervisor for the "Request to Cancel Test Scores" form, and submit it right away at the center or within a day or two by mail. Ensure ETS receives it by the Thursday after the test.

2. How Important Are SAT Scores?

The importance of SAT scores varies by college. Admission decisions consider many factors, like GPA, records, recommendations, and essays. Most U.S. colleges accept ACT scores instead of SAT scores. For specific details, contact your target schools' admissions offices.

3. When Should I Start My SAT Prep?

The best timeline for SAT prep is 5-12 weeks or three months total. If you study in the summer months, you can be offered online SAT prep courses or in-person classes. Many places offer free practice tests and SAT review courses right before the fall test dates. 

4. Do Students Need to Take the PSAT?

The SAT comes from the Educational Testing Service, a company paid by the College Board to create the test. Both are private companies.

5. I Am Not in High School. Can I Still Take the SAT Test?

There is no age limit for the SAT. If you haven't completed 9th grade, your scores expire unless you request to keep them. Adults take the SAT for various reasons like college enrollment, tutoring, or employment. To take the SAT after high school, bring a valid government-issued ID, like a driver's license or passport, and note that adults may have separate testing rooms.

6. When Is the Best Time to Take the SAT?

The ideal time for the SAT varies based on your school schedule and college application deadlines. Generally, it's best to take it during your junior year of high school. This gives you room for retakes and other college application tasks.

7. How Long Does it Take to Fully Prepare for the SAT?

To get ready for the SAT, it's best to study for at least three months. This gives you time to learn about the test topics, format, and test-day tips and work on areas where you need improvement.

8. Is 1 Month Enough to Study for the SAT?

One month is not enough time for SAT prep. Try to give yourself three months. However, if one month is all you have, it could suffice based on your initial knowledge and study hours. Stick to a tight schedule, review all areas of the exam, and practice test-taking strategies.

9. Can I Prepare for the SAT by Myself?

You can prepare for the SAT alone successfully. Stick to your schedule and take practice tests. While tutors and groups can help, many students study alone and reach their target scores.

10. Is two months enough to study for the SAT?

You can study for the SAT in two months; however, it is tight. Three months is the recommended time frame. If you only have two months, make sure to stick to a rigorous schedule, use practice tests, and become familiar with the test format.

Final Thoughts

After reading this guide, you may now have a general idea of how to prepare for the SAT. There is a lot to learn about this exam, and going through this guide is the first step in setting a goal. 

If this has enlightened you, you are welcome to use this to launch other resources regarding SAT exam prep. The most challenging thing about preparing for the SAT is applying your knowledge. It is hard, but it will pay off when your future is set!

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