How to Study for the SAT: An Expert’s Guide

Here’s How To Study For The SAT The Easy Way

Do you need to learn how to study for the SAT this year? A score from a college readiness test such as the SAT or ACT is required by most colleges across the United States as part of a college admissions application. Over 1.7 million students from the class of 2015 took the SAT and, if you’re preparing for the big exam,, these study tips will ensure you feel confident you’ll do your very best.

What Is the SAT?

The SAT tests your verbal and mathematics reasoning abilities. It’s not a test of what you learned in school. Instead, the questions are intended to help educators understand your reasoning skills. The test is supposed to help colleges determine how well you’re prepared to tackle the higher-level thinking required in multiple college courses.

You’ll be tested on your skills in context, not skills in isolation. Because there are fewer ‘tricks’ or things to memorize, it may seem impossible to study for the SAT. But like all tests, practice makes perfect. There are certainly steps that you can take to adequately prepare for the SAT. With this guide and the short weekly plan that follows, along with sample questions and tests, you can feel confident on test day that you’re going to do your best. You can learn more about the test in our SAT Test Overview.

The SAT Sections

The new SAT features three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics. There is an optional Essay section. Some colleges may require the essay, while others do not. Check the admissions policies for the college you wish to apply to in order to know whether you should take the essay section or not.

How to Study for the SAT: Five Strategies

Unlike other tests that you’ll take in high school, there’s no simple way to study for the SAT. Because it tests many things, including how you think and how much you’ve learned over the years, the emphasis should be on study strategies rather than on sitting down with a book and memorizing everything in it. These five strategies will help you maximize your time as you learn how to study for the SAT.

#1: Plan your time.

Choose a test date that gives you adequate time to prepare for the SAT. Look at the calendar and count how many weeks you have before the test date to study. Now take a piece of paper, your smartphone or tablet calendar, or the online calendar of your choice, and start mapping back from the test date to today. Give yourself at least four weeks to study, preferably more. Each week, you’ll assign yourself a study task from the list below. This breaks down the tasks into manageable chunks so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by everything you need to know and do.

#2: Begin with your strengths.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You probably know yours already. Maybe you love math class but can’t stand writing essays, or you love reading but get easily confused in math class. Whatever the case may be, start with your strengths and devote only one week to boosting your strengths. The rest of the time can be spent learning skills to compensate for your weaknesses.

#3: Find or purchase practice tests.

The more you can practice using real questions, the better. Find practice tests online. Some good sources for free SAT practice tests include The College Board and Khan Academy. You can also check out our SAT practice questions.

There are also books, software and more online practice tests you can access for a fee. It’s helpful to have at least one complete full length test to practice with as well as extra test sections for your areas of greatest weakness. This way, you can practice more test questions in the area where you need the most help.

#4: Learn how to use the test format to your advantage.

Because the SAT is a multiple-choice test, you know that at least one of the answers is the correct one. This helps more on the math section than the reading section, but it is helpful nonetheless. If you’re trying to guess between two answers, plug them both into the equation and work backwards to see which one makes sense.

With reading questions, you know that the answer has to be in the passage itself, since the SAT doesn’t ask you to bring any outside knowledge into the test. Another tip is to skip questions that you absolutely can’t answer. Since you’re not penalized, it’s better to keep going than to linger and lose time on the rest of the test. By knowing how to use the test format to your advantage, you can maximize every possible point.

#5: Memorize only what’s important.

Although memorizing isn’t the purpose of the SAT, there are some things worth memorizing in preparation for the test. The SAT math section does allow the use of a calculator, but you will need to know the formulas to answer questions. Memorize geometry formulas such as the Pythagorean theorem, as well as formulas related to exponents, triangles, and other formulas from 9th, 10th and 11th grade mathematics.

Your Weekly SAT Study Guide

The following is a suggested four week study guide to use before taking the SAT. The suggestions can be expanded to include eight or even 12 weeks prior to the test. Just add time on for sections with which you are struggling. Don’t forget to take advantage of any free SAT test prep your school, community, or church may offer. Many localities do offer free SAT coaching. Look online for local options.

Week 1: Prepare Your Plan

During week one, work on your SAT prep at least an hour a night. Set aside time to gather your materials such as sample tests. Decide which you’ll focus on first; is math your strength or language arts skills? Take a sample SAT test and see how you do. Make notes on areas that are confusing to you. Ask a teacher for help if you run into anything that’s really puzzling.

Week 2: Memorize

This is the week to start memorizing those math formulas and reviewing your vocabulary! There are many tricks to memorize materials. You can put the information on a flash card and make it a game. You can sing the formulas to your favorite song, make a rap out of them, or write them down so much that you come to memorize them. This is also the week where you should start reviewing vocabulary items. Use your lists from school or your SAT test prep materials for review. Lastly, make sure you know how to use your calculator and all its functions. You can bring your calculator into the test, but you don’t want to fumble around with it and waste time during the test itself. Become familiar with its functions now.

Week 3: Take a Timed Test. Practice Your Essay.

During week three, be sure to take at least one timed practice test. Why timed? The SAT is a timed exam, and you’ll be under a time constraint to finish the test sections within the allotted time. You’ll need to get used to working quickly and efficiently through each of the sections. You can take each timed section on a different night as you study, but use your watch, a kitchen timer, or a timer app on your computer or phone to test yourself under conditions similar to the actual exam day. It’s also a good idea to take the essay portion to practice writing your essay. Look over past prompts and practice writing a response. Write at least one essay.

Week 4: Practice and Relax

This is the week to brush up on anything that your previous practice tests revealed as needing more work. Review your formulas and vocabulary work. Take another practice test. Then, the night before the SAT, put your books aside. Get enough sleep. Set your alarm and put your clothes out the night before so you won’t be late for the SAT. Put all your materials in one place, like your calculator, so that you can grab and go on the test morning. Don’t forget to eat something before you go, because you can’t bring food or drink into the testing center. Relax and do your best. Remember, you can take the SAT again if you’d like to!

The SAT is an important part of the college admissions process, but it’s not the only part of the process. Your high school transcript, recommendation letters and admissions essay all play a role in whether or not you’re accepted into the college of your choice. So do your best, take a deep breath, and give it your best shot.