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How to Study for the SAT

Here are four key strategies for a steady and effective studying as you approach the big test day.

Four formidable words: the SAT is coming!

It’s momentous. It’s scary. And every moment, it’s closer! Without some study tips, SAT preparation can seem hopeless. So—ta-da!—we have study tips, and we have hope!

Here are four key strategies for a steady and effective studying as you approach the big test day.

Practice and prepare for the SAT online

Khan Academy has an excellent new SAT practice program—and it’s totally free! Diagnostic quizzes suggest personalized practice, so simply follow along. If the program seems to be pushing a difficult question type at you, don’t be discouraged. Instead, try to work through it using the resources on the site (or on other sites). Practice, practice, practice!

Khan Academy also has eight complete practice tests available online. The first four are identical to the ones in College Board’s textbook. I would recommend that you take the first four on paper (with the textbook; see below) and then complete the last practice tests online. Yes, that’s a lot of practice SATs, and you don’t have to do it so many times if you don’t want to, but full practice tests are one of the best ways of preparing you for the real thing. And, after all, they’re free!

Note: Once the timer starts for each section you take online, you cannot stop it! You can space the sections of the practice tests however you like, but try to take the entire test (three hours plus the optional 50-minute essay) at least once.

Use the official SAT prep book

College Board publishes an official SAT prep book with test-taking strategies, frequently asked questions, sample test questions, four full practice tests, and essay prompts. Take advantage of this resource!

It’s not free (typically around $20), and, true, you can take the practice tests using the Khan Academy site mentioned above. But I recommend actually buying the book so you can review the other resources, scribble it up with notes, and use the tear-out answer sheets for the practice tests. My favorite feature is the answer explanations for each of the four full practice tests. If you don’t want to buy the book, you may be able to borrow it from your high school, local library, or even a friend.

You can also buy last year’s official SAT prep book, which will always be cheaper than the current edition. The material really won’t be that different! However, make sure you’re using a textbook for the “new SAT,” which came out in 2016. Speaking of which, if you’re expecting the same test as your big brother took before March 2016, some things have changed! (You can learn about the major differences between the new and old SAT here.)

When you practice the SAT essays in the book, log your time, but start out by not limiting your time. Look at which parts of the essay took the longest (reading the article, organizing your thoughts, word choice, editing, etc.). Try to cut down the time with practice. After you’ve completed a couple practice essays, set a timer for 50 minutes and see how far you get! Put down your pencil the second you hear the timer go off. Don’t even bother to finish the word. That one word probably won’t affect your score, but if you’re still writing after the timer goes off, your entire test could be revoked.

Related: How to Set Good Expectations for Your SAT or ACT Scores

Review the right concepts

To study for the SAT Math sections, look over old math formulas, even ones from a few years ago. Focus your review on the math concepts you had the most trouble with too. (You’ll find handy guides to prepping for the Math section and everything on it here and here.)

The SAT assesses basically everything you’ve learned in high school, not just in your junior or senior year. A math reference sheet will be provided on the test day, but it will save you time to have most of the formulas memorized and feel comfortable with them. Then you can use the reference sheet to double-check yourself if you have extra time.

To study for the Reading and Writing sections, try to read classic novels, newspapers and long-form journalism, scientific articles, law documents, and more throughout your SAT preparation period (and, you know, for forever, because being informed is good).

Again, try to focus on reading the genre that is the most difficult for you. I know this sounds unpleasant, but it’s important! You don’t necessarily need to brush up on subjects you already love and have devoted lots of time to. So if you found the Constitution and its Amendments fascinating, pick up Jane Eyre. If you adore Ivanhoe but abhor experiment analyses, start browsing Scientific American and settle down with the most technical article you can find.

Take care of yourself

Last but not least, take care of yourself! Not just the week before the SAT, but consistently. Make it a real part of your overall study strategy so you build up healthy habits toward test day.

It can be tempting to drop things like going for a run, eating veggies, or just taking some “me time” when you’re stressed and looking for more time to study. Resist this urge! I’m not saying you should throw away your SAT prep book and put all your energy into following the antics on The Voice, but rather try to lead a balanced lifestyle.

For example, sleep is way more important than we often realize. Studies suggest that the average teenager gets about seven hours of sleep each night—though they probably need around nine hours. Even though you’re not alone in sleep deficiency, healthy sleep habits will promote your mental facilities! For starters, try not to look at digital screens (laptops, phones, etc.) before bed. Make your bedroom as dark, cool, and relaxing as possible. And try reading for fun and/or listening to calming music as you wind down for the night.

Eating the right foods can also benefit your brain function, in addition to overall health. WebMD recommends these foods for brain power: blueberries, salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice, freshly brewed tea (not powdered or bottled), and dark chocolate—in moderation (no more than an ounce per day).

Finally, continue any healthy habits that you already practice. Do you exercise, play an instrument, play sports, or sing? How about just keeping a weekly social date with your friends? If it keeps you healthy and balanced, keep it up!

Related: What No One Tells You About Taking Standardized Tests

With these SAT study tips in mind (and more!), you’ll feel more confident on test day and perform as best as you can. Best of luck!

What are you doing to study for the SAT? Did we miss any brilliant test prep tips? Share your stories and advice in the comments.

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About Julia Seaton

Welcome to CollegeXpress! I'm glad you're here. My name is Julia Seaton. I'm a language and music fanatic with a heart for children and animals. I have written stories since I was five years old, I play the violin, and I hope to teach private music lessons as long as I am able. I love talking with people, and one of my favorite things is making them laugh. Enjoy your stay!


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