Just like any exam, the SAT should be an exam where plenty of studying and practicing should have been done. Taking an aptitude test of this caliber with a lot riding on the line cannot be taken blindsided or with no prep.

Revision for tests does not need to be stressful but instead should be stress-free, productive, and smooth sailing. Yet, because the SAT exam is fairly unique and specifically timed your studying will also be different from the ways you would normally study for a normal exam.

Creating the best study program unique to your strengths and weaknesses is what will help you score closer to that 1600. Finding the right study schedule that fits your needs could seem daunting at first, but as soon as you start practicing and following the few tips found below it will become an easier routine.

Finding Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Finding your strengths and weaknesses on each of the SAT subjects being tested is a very important factor in creating a great study schedule. Be mindful that test taking skills (i.e. time management, mental awareness, accuracy, etc.) are also just as important if not the same when it comes to SAT exam prep.

SAT time management
Time Management is a crucial soft skill to master when preparing for the SAT. (Photo by Ralph Hutter on Unsplash)

Like most exams, the SAT is proctored and timed, but what makes the exam unique is that it is also timed to add pressure on each prospective college student taking the exam. The timing of each section is not enough time for the average test taker, so practicing time management skills should always be noted. Having allotted time for test revisions should also be your goal after each of the four timed sections and the optional timed essay portion.

The first thing to do when creating a study schedule and program is to diagnose your skills. This initial test-prep will also give you an idea of how many weaknesses you have and how much extra time will be needed to study before test day.

Most SAT prep books have diagnostic practice tests that will give you an initial sense of how close you are to your ideal score. Diagnostic SAT practice tests can also be found for free online if you haven’t gotten an SAT prep book. Make sure to also take an SAT practice test on paper, this is how the actual SAT exam will be administered on test day and familiarizing yourself with the format is fairly important.

SAT Test Format

After taking your first diagnostic test the second step is to familiarize yourself with the SAT and each section’s instructions. Also, make sure to note the sequence and order of how each section will be administered on test date. Below is a quick format of how the new SAT structure will be on test date.

  1. Reading: Reading and Vocabulary in Context; Time: 65 minutes; Questions: 58
  2. Writing: Grammar and Usage; Time: 35 minutes; Questions: 44
  3. Reading: Reading and Vocabulary in Context; Time: 65 minutes; Questions: 58
  4. Math: No Calculator; Time: 25 minutes; Questions: 20
  5. Math: Calculator Optional; Time: 55 minutes; Questions: 38
  6. Essay: Optional Section; Time: 50 minutes; Questions: 1

For each section strive to know not just the basic outline, but what skills are expected for each of the sections. For example, the reading section includes questions on identifying vocabulary definitions and interpreting short passages; while the writing and language section tests students on sentence grammar and writing structures.

For more in-depth study strategies for each of the separate sections check out our math and verbal SAT test prep guides. These guides will give you a bigger picture of what to expect from each of the two main SAT subjects on test day.

Study Plan Remix

Every successful SAT study guide and program needs a bit of spontaneity and study methods that are outside the box. Having various study methods will slow down study fatigue and will allow for more information to be retained and for more skills to be developed.

Reading editorial and news articles is one way of studying outside the box. When reading articles and essays make sure to run a few study exercises after such as: summarizing the article, finding keywords and their context, finding the author’s main point of view, and considering all angles of the passage.

Try to also read excerpts from various subjects and do not just stick with one source. This way you are making sure you are familiarizing yourself with multiple vocabulary sets. For example, reading an article in Politico will allow you to read political vocabulary and nuances versus when reading an article in a scientific journal will allow you to dive into scientific graphs and lingo.

Brush up on your mental math skills. A basic math skill is memorizing the answers to the simple multiples of 0-12, so try to increase your knowledge by extending your multiples Rolodex to 1-15 or 1-20. By adding this skillset, you will be accumulating speed and your time management per section will minimize.

SAT math prep
SAT prep courses are also a great way to strengthening your weaknesses. (Photo by Shubham Sharan on Unsplash)

Extending your grammar is also an easy topic to improve. Try free online resources like proofreading tools and re-reading essays you have written for school out loud. This will allow to you make obvious corrections and think about better word usage throughout the excerpts you are reading. Reading out loud will also help avoid your brain filling in gaps of information when it is not adequately written or presented.

Try mixing up the subjects when taking practicing tests. Set up your tests so that you are doing 30 minutes of math practice questions followed by 30 minutes of reading practice questions. This will allow your brain to be able to change gears faster and ultimately not freeze on test day.

Ultimately these study strategies won’t be enough to adequately prepare you for the SAT, but they will help reinforce your skills and steer you away from a constant pattern that usually causes study fatigue.

Study Re-Evaluation

A week or two before your exam test day take a final timed practice test and if possible, try to use a paper practice format. This final practice test will allow you see how far your hard work has come. But it will also give you a scope of what can be improved with a few days to strengthen those weaknesses.

Try to work on those areas that you are falling behind on when it comes to your final practice test score. It could also come down to better time management, which can also be improved by quicker reading strategies, reinforcing your mental math skills, and or better math formula retention.

Try to also use this time to work on your mental strategy. For nervous test-takers, make sure you come up with a few strategies to keep your nerves low and your mind stress-free. Taking deep breaths between each section and keeping the mind clear and healthy is key.

Have a game plan for each section can also help alleviate test stress and can also boost your speed. Try to remember what is expected of you in each section, what strategies can be used in portions, and what tools and skills are needed for each.  For example, when you come across geometry questions, try to quickly remember what geometry formulas are needed without flipping through the exam booklet for them.

Bottom line is to try to use the last two weeks after your final diagnostic test brushing on those areas you need an extra boost.

Test Day Success

It is hard not to cram a bit more studying the day before an exam but trust us and take a break from studying for the whole day before the test. Take this day as a mental breather and only allow yourself to prepare for what to bring and was is needed for test day.

Make an exam kit with all the tools needed for the test day the day before. You will need a few sharpened No.2 pencils, basic approved calculator, valid photo ID, and your printed up-to-date SAT admission ticket. A few additional items to also include in your test kit is a watch without any audible alarms, extra calculator batteries for backup during the exam, bag or backpack, and a drink and snack for your break. All other tools or gadgets will not be permitted on your desk and will be asked to be stowed away inside your bags or be left at home.

Balanced Breakfast
A balanced breakfast the morning of the exam is crucial for mental clarity and energy. (Photo by Brooke-Lark on Unsplash)

Getting a good full 8-hour night’s sleep the night before the exam is crucial. This will make sure your brain is rested and ready for the exam. It might also help if you start going to sleep earlier for a few days prior so that waking up early feels natural. Waking up early will not only make sure you are on time to take the exam, but also make sure your brain is warmed up before the exam.

Another important factor is to make sure to have a healthy breakfast the morning before the exam. This will make sure you aren’t distracted by hunger or brain fog during the exam.

For more helpful study tips and tricks check out these other helpful guides:

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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.