Little orange alarm clock, pencil, pencil sharpener on SAT answer sheet

6 Things You're Doing Wrong in SAT Prep, Plus Tips to Fix It

Do you know you may be unintentionally holding yourself back in your SAT prep? Here are six things possibly preventing you from getting your best scores.

The SAT is one of the biggest tests of a student's life. You may think you're doing everything possible to earn a top score—but you may be wrong. There are many everyday habits that could be hurting rather than helping in your SAT preparation. From the way you study to what you eat, there are many ways to fine-tune your SAT prep strategies. Below are a few things that may be inhibiting you achieving the best possible SAT scores, plus what to do instead.

1. Studying only while sedentary

Students who spend hours at a desk studying are depriving their brain of much needed stimulation through physical activity. Many studies show a positive association between physical activity and academic performance. While researchers haven't determined the reason this happens, many experts point to an increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain as well as higher levels of chemicals that help improve mood. Instead of dedicating all your time to studying in a chair, take breaks to get out and go for a walk, play your favorite sport, or find another way to infuse physical activity into your routine.

2. Hiding your phone while studying

Students can access so many options for SAT prep through their phones today. Though it may seem counterintuitive, if putting away your phone is part of your study plan, you could be missing out. SAT study apps can break up monotonous routines. Additionally, many websites and tutoring companies like Kaplan offer a free SAT Question of the Day on their websites. By using your phone, you'll be able to tackle SAT prep even on the go!

Related: The Top 7 Apps for High School Students

3. Concentrating on the clock

One of the biggest barriers to achieving high SAT scores is the lack of time during the exam. Most students would do much better if they weren't stressed and worried that they may not finish all the questions in time. One strategy to overcome this problem is to put away the clock during your SAT practice exams; if you do better when not timing yourself, you'll know lack of time on the SAT is an issue for you. You can then use your remaining study time practicing time-saving techniques. You can also take comfort knowing that the more you practice, the faster you'll get.

4. Seeing the road instead of the destination

It’s easy to get caught up thinking about the actual test during SAT prep. But by concentrating on the actual exam—what it’s going to be like, how to manage time, and so on—you can forget about the end result: your SAT score. In any goal setting, it’s helpful to picture the end result. This kind of visualization might seem wishy-washy, but this strategy can help. Envision yourself achieving the score you want. To aid these efforts, you should write your SAT goal on a piece of paper then pick a place you see often, like a bathroom mirror or the family fridge, and post your goal there. This physical reminder will help you see your goal.

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

5. Not maximizing downtime

Students are busier than ever with athletics, arts, social activities, and not to mention regular schoolwork all competing for time in your schedule. But there are small available windows in your day that you may forget to use—before class, in between activities, or right before dinner, for example. These pockets are a great time to learn SAT vocabulary. By committing to learning one or two words during breaks throughout the day, you'll easily be able to memorize over 10 new terms, which will not only help you score higher on SAT Sentence Completions but also on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading section. This will also help broaden your vocabulary for college and scholarship essays.

6. Eating an unbalanced diet

What you eat may seem like it has nothing to do with SAT prep, but that old adage of “you are what you eat” does have merit. Binging on fast food can affect your energy levels, which can have adverse consequences on your study habits. Try eating more whole fruits, vegetables, and grains during SAT prep (and throughout life, of course). Foods rich in phytoestrogens, like soybeans and soy-based products, can also be beneficial. Soybeans have phytoestrogens, such as isoflavones, that have been linked to improved function of the frontal lobe, which is responsible for short-term memory, attention, and motivation. Students who eat healthily can see improved results in their academic performance as well as their overall well-being.

Related: The Best Advice for Healthy Eating in High School

When trying to achieve your highest scores possible on the SAT, every little bit of prep helps. Being aware of some of the things that may be hurting your SAT prep and what you can do about it may be just what you need to succeed.

While you're adjusting your SAT prep approach, check out Our Best Advice for Homework, Studying, and Tests for even more great tools and tips!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and the winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies taught in Prep Expert's SAT and ACT courses.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Brooke Maggio

Brooke Maggio

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously in my college search in narrowing down the schools I’m interested in. Using the college search tool, I was able to narrow down my choices to schools that matched what I was looking for. I also used CollegeXpress for their scholarship search, which helped me find scholarships that I meet the requirements of.



Student, University of the People

I registered with CollegeXpress and filled all my necessary and relevant information as well as the course I wished to study. A few days later, an email was sent to me with a list of schools offering the course; amongst them was the University of the People, the school I got admitted to.

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

Fernando Ponce

Fernando Ponce

High School Junior

College is a way of life that helps us find out who we are as a person, and CollegeXpress is a great way to stay connected with our future, even for students with little time on their hands due to the challenges of high school we face.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Seton Hall University

South Orange, NJ

Emerson College

Boston, MA

University of Portland

Portland, OR

University of Louisville

Louisville, KY