The SAT exam has become somewhat of a rite of passage for every prospective college student. With over 2 million SAT test takers alone in the 2019/2020 school year, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) has become the gold standard entrance exam along with others like the American College Test (ACT).

For most test-takers the SATs can be a stressful endeavor, which is why preparing for the exam is key. On average, students put in around 10 to 20 hours per week throughout a course of two to three months of SAT exam prep before their SAT test day.

Yet, one should always consider what their individual goals and ideal scores are before taking the exam. Here is how to find what your SAT score goal should be.  Some students might need to study for a total of 150+ hours over a course of 4 months to improve their SAT score by 200-300 points, while others need a total of 10 hours over a course of a month to achieve a 30-point score gain.

Regardless of set goals and ideal scores, there are some fundamental strategies that every SAT test taker should master before taking the exam even on their first time.

SAT studying
The SAT exam is a total of 3 hours plus a 50-minute optional essay question. (Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash)

The SAT Format

The SAT exam has gone through numerous revisions since its early inception in 1926. The latest revision to the 180-minute exam was made in 2016, with various changes made since the 2005 revision.

The new 2016 SAT version made major changes, the biggest being that the 50-minute essay is now once again optional. Although many colleges and universities recommend and even require it, it is only taken under the student’s choice and for an additional cost of $15 to the already $52 SAT registration cost.

Other revisions to the 2016 SAT exam have been the addition of passages from a broader range of disciplines in the reading and writing sections. Disciplines include scientific-based, history, humanities, and literature. The exam also includes less complex vocabulary knowledge and more vocabulary comprehension regarding how the word was used in a passage or its context.

The math sections have also changed to include questions where the use of calculators is not permitted. The addition of more complex and advanced math concepts has also been a turning point for many students taking the SAT. These advanced math questions have allowed colleges to have a better understanding of each student’s application, logic and math levels.

Now that you know a basic breakdown of the SAT test, let’s dive into each section a little further. Each section will allow you to get closer to the ideal study program that is right for you.

SAT math
Mental math and drills can help not only to solve an answer efficiently but also gain speed when taking the SAT exam. (Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash)

Get a High SAT Math Score

The SAT math section is divided into two parts. The first math subsection is comprised of 20-questions timed at 25 minutes with the use of calculators not permitted. The second subcategory is made up of 38 questions timed at 55 minutes with the use of calculators accepted.

Because the exam is closely timed, time management and mental maths skills are essential for this portion of the exam. For some math isn’t their strong suit, but keep in mind that the SAT was formatted to test students with basic to complex math concepts that every student should at least have a grasp on.

Yet, if you still feel uneasy about the numerical-based sections consider taking a self-guided math refresher course. If a more structured math refresher course is what you are looking for then consider registering for a course at a local community college, study prep company, or through an online SAT prep source.

Once you have a stronger grasp on the fundamental math concepts of the exam, you are ready to take your first math SAT diagnostic practice test. This practice test should be timed according to the SAT structure and will give you an idea of the areas you still need to dedicate more study time.

Acing the Evidence-Based Reading/Writing Sections

The evidence-based reading and writing section is divided into two sub-sections. The first section focused on reading comprehension, comprised of 52 multiple-choice questions with a total time of 65 minutes. The main focus of this subsection is to test your comprehension skills, reading speed, and knowledge of reading passages of various disciplines.

The second subsection focused on writing and use of language includes 44 multiple choices with a total time of 35 minutes. These questions will be more geared in testing your grammar, ability to grasp vocabulary in context, and editing skills.

An optional 50-minute essay question is also a portion of the test you should consider. Most schools still require it or at least recommend it as it shows your ability to dissect a passage, gather evidence, and explain your comprehension of a given persuasive passage.

Even though the use of complex vocabulary is not the main focus on the latest version of the SAT, it is still something to consider putting in a few hours in study preparation. Instead of studying the specific definition of the word, try adding the words into sentence structures and dissecting the word from the context around it.

For a more complex SAT verbal study guide try to add different ways to study, from reading magazine articles to learning how to read scientific journals included data sets.

SAT studying
On average, students study anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to get ready for the SAT) Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash)

SAT Revision Tips to Get You Closer to a 1600

When preparing for the SAT exam it is essential to also work on your soft skills, as they are as important as your hard skills. Soft skills include your ability for time management, mentally keeping calm, and your ability to transition your mind through different subjects at a fast period of time. Many think that soft skills can’t be improved or strengthened, but they certainly can. Here are a few simple tips and tricks to get your soft skills in tip-top shape before the test.

  • Always time your practice tests as if you were taking the actual SAT exam. This will help you get used to the time format of the exam and will allow you to work faster and more efficiently.
  • When studying for the reading/writing sections try to just read the first and last paragraphs of each passage even if you have a great reading speed. This will allow you to gain extra time. If you can’t answer the questions with only the information you read, try to skim the passage to find the answer while only reading the remaining paragraphs as a last resort.
  • When studying try to transition your subject focus every 45 to 50 minutes. For example, if you are reviewing geometry questions for 45 minutes, move your focus to grammar once that time is up. This will allow your brain to get used to the rapid transition in question topics and will also mimic the exam’s pace and structure.
  • The night before the exam take a well-deserved break from the books and just let your mind relax. Do not try to cram any more information, and just allow yourself to mentally unwind. This will allow you to get a good night’s rest and keep your mind at ease before the exam.

These are just a few tips on how you can strengthen your soft skills. If you are interested in a broader list of study strategies keep on reading through this SAT revision guide.

The Best SAT Resources for Free

Studying for the SAT does not have to come with the added stress of spending money for study materials or prep courses. There are plenty of free SAT resources online, at local libraries, and at your own high school.

When studying for any exam a study guide or schedule is a great base to start with. An SAT study schedule will breakdown what needs to be reviewed, how long, and when. Study schedules for the SAT come at various lengths from 1-month to as high as 6-months. There are plenty of free online schedules that are easily downloadable and can also be easily restructured for your study needs.

SAT schedule
SAT study schedules keep your studying on track and create accountability within yourself. (Photo by Bence Boro on Unsplash)

YouTube videos are also great sources for both math and grammar. There is a large database of math drills and solving methods that can help you learn new and faster ways to approach questions. Grammar videos also help you refresh basic English writing structures along with added tips to approach each passage and or passage dataset.

Your local library is also a great source that shouldn’t be bypassed. Most libraries have the latest versions of SAT prep books that can be borrowed or for use at the library. Just remember not to write or mark the books as a courtesy to others. Yet making copies of the practice tests and sections of the books is an easy solution when wanting to make notes or marking the right multiple-choice answer.

There are many more free resources that can be found around your own community. Do not hesitate to ask your professors or guidance counselor if they have any tips on how to prepare or if they have any resources you haven’t tapped into.

Improving a Low SAT Score

Aiming for a higher score on your SATs? Need a few points to boost to get your ideal score? Then the first step is to find how many more points you are off by. Knowing how many points you want to gain is essential for knowing how much time you need for preparation. For example, if you need a 50-point boost you will probably need around 20 hours of studying before taking the SAT exam again. To study effectively divide the hours into 45 to 90-minute intervals per day which will allow your brain not to get overworked and ultimately fatigued.

Other ways to improve your score are to memorize simple mental math basics like double-digit multiplications, additions, subtractions, and basic formulas. This will allow you to think at a faster rate and will allow you extra time on more complex problems. Also, start reading more on your downtime or work some reading into your day. The more you read the more you strengthen your vocabulary and reading comprehension.

If you still think you need extra help, then a private tutor can help you strengthen the areas you still need help with. Online communities like Superprof can help you find a great tutor in seconds! Superprof offers a database of thousands of tutors that offer online sessions to face-to-face instruction and their zero commitment pay-as-you-go standards make it a budget-friendly alternative to other options.

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A California desert-native who has a passion for baking from scratch, reading 1950-era novels, listening to soul/jazz, and global trotting.