10 Steps To Preparing For The SAT
With SAT having gone through a make-over in early 2016 it’s essential you’re up to speed with all things SAT related.
1. Know what you need to study
The new SAT has 3 mandatory sections and one optional section.
1. Math test (1 hour 20 minutes)
2. Reading test (1 hour 5 minutes)
3. Writing and language test (35 minutes)
These tests add up to 3 hours in total.
An optional section is the essay. You’ll need to check the colleges you’ll be applying to as to whether they require the essay. If you’re not yet sure which colleges to choose, cover your bases and take the essay regardless.
The essay will last 50 minutes and will consist of reading a passage of text and then writing an analysis on what you’ve read.
The good news is that the SAT is testing the skills and knowledge you’ll need for college and not how well your memory can recall certain facts.
In the mandatory sections you’ll be asked to evaluate and analyze questions and then find solutions which will be your answers.
There are seven different SAT dates each year to choose from to take your test (usually October, November, December, January, March, May and June).
Once you receive your results you can retake your SAT test at a future date if you want to increase your score.
2. Set your sights on a score
The overall SAT score, which most colleges use as one of their assessments on your suitability for college, can range between 400 to 1,600 points.
In addition, you’ll receive a breakdown of each of your section and sub section scores, as well as comparison scores to other students in your state and to all students who took your SAT test.
You can assess all your scores online at CollegeBoard.org via your online college board account.
It's important to make sure you know the minimum score required by your colleges in order to accept you on to their course.
Once you have this figure, you can take steps to achieve (and hopefully) exceed it.
3. Learn mental arithmetic
One of the two Math sections on the SAT will not allow you to use a calculator. However, you don’t have to get stuck doing equations with only a no. 2 pencil.
Prepare for SAT Math by using your brain to do calculations.
You’ll save a lot of time on test day if you know the answer to, say, 5x12 straight away.
4. Revise your grammar
Almost half of the Verbal section in the SAT is comprised of grammar questions.
While many are associated with the general essay questions, others rely on basic grammar.
You might not enjoy learning grammar, but it is one of the easiest topics to improve on when preparing for the SAT.
5. Read more textbooks
Or newspapers, online journals, magazines - whatever takes your fancy!
The SAT features a lot of reading, with five long, dense passages one after another in an hour.
However, the questions themselves aren't that difficult, but it’s the reading part that is tough, because your brain will likely run out of concentration at some point during this particular part.
To prevent this from happening, do lots of nonfiction reading when preparing for the SAT.
The reason is four of the five passages you’ll see will be nonfiction. High school reading curriculums deal mainly with fiction, so to counterbalance this and prepare for your SAT reading, grab a magazine, newspaper, or anything nonfiction that you will enjoy reading.
The sooner you can get used to reading this type of text, the better.
6. Use online resources
Other websites with practice tests include:
- College Board
- Khan Academy
- Test Prep Review
- The Princeton Review
- Varsity Tutors
- Power Score
- Ivy Global
The more tests you take, the more prepared you’ll be for the actual SAT and you’ll be used to the types of questions asked.
Always make sure you time yourself when taking your practice tests and keep to them.
This means when the test day arrives you won’t be surprised or daunted by any of the timed test questions or essay.
7. Focus on all areas (and not just one!)
There are essentially three different parts to the SAT test: Math, Reading, and Writing and Language.
Often when students prepare for their SAT they decide to just focus on the maths or the grammar.
Studies have shown that it is much more beneficial to do practice sessions in which you do, say, 35 minutes of Math practice and 35 minutes of Writing and Language practice.
This will reflect what you’ll do on test day, moving from section to section.
8. Don't leave it all to the last minute
Cramming is a bad idea. While you are doing it, it feels like you are retaining so much information, but within a week, most of that information vanishes.
Instead, you should make sure to prep at least a few times a week and review what you’ve learned. You’ll find it is easier for you to learn when you are re-exposed to information you recently attempted to learn.
And there is no need to do more than three hours total prep on a day; you’ll start to get diminishing returns.
You also need to take a break in between all that studying to let the information sink in. So make sure you schedule in regular breaks throughout each day, and do something fun at the weekends to take your mind off it all.
Try to structure your time with a calendar or planner. This will help you stick to a revision timetable.
9. Analyse and work on your weaknesses
You’ll naturally be good at some things on the SAT, and it’s good to maintain that edge by practicing those concepts from time to time.
However, it's best to try and work out which areas you really struggle on.
To help with this, take a diagnostic test to see which parts you need to address when preparing for the SAT.
Persistence is a key trait you’ll need to succeed at college.
By persisting with your SAT research, taking SAT practice papers, however hard or challenging you find them, and continuing to develop your skills and knowledge at high school, these activities will definitely help you succeed at your actual SAT test.
Squeeze in SAT revision whenever you have some down time. Ways to do this include:
- Review vocabulary flashcards on your phone
- Read this great SAT study guide
- Practice your mental math
- Discover top tips from students who got a perfect score on the SAT
If it helps, find a friend or a group to study with, and keep each other accountable when preparing for the SAT.
Share strategies, resources, and SAT study tips. Test each other, compete against each other, and, most importantly, commiserate with each other.
The SAT is a rite of passage, full of its ups and downs. It is best not to go at it alone.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparation is key to success in your SAT.
Prepare to take your SAT by giving yourself lots of time to research what’s included in the SAT, the best types of answers to submit and building up your confidence to believe that you can be great at your SAT test.
Try to be as flexible as you can with your study time and built it around your day to day life so it becomes part of the norm and not an extra chore.
A test is never daunting if you’ve practiced beforehand with example questions.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Fee waivers for SAT tests are still available if you’re an eligible student. Your high school will be able to advise you further on this.
You can still take SAT subject tests in science, history, languages, literature and math as well as the main SAT test and these haven’t undergone a makeover this year.
They will test your knowledge in your chosen subject and each test is one hour long. It’s worth checking the colleges you’re applying to, in case they require SAT subject tests as well as the main SAT test.
Still undecided on the SAT or the ACT? Find out more about the ACT in our comprehensive guide.
For more tips and advice on applying to college, please see: