With many colleges and universities declaring themselves test-optional and emphasizing a holistic approach to reviewing applications, it may seem like the SAT is falling out of fashion. But so long as US higher education relies on a core curriculum, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT will continue to serve a purpose. SAT scores provide an easy-to-assess benchmark that admission officers can use to infer an applicant’s readiness for introductory college courses. Scoring well on the SAT could help an applicant stand out and solidly demonstrate their proficiency. It also gives first-generation students access to universities they might otherwise seem out of reach.
One of the biggest deterrents to the SAT for students is the misconception that you can’t study for it; you may feel like there’s no way to significantly improve your scores on this potentially life-changing exam. This doubt might stem from thinking that the Verbal sections are too subjective to practice for, or maybe you just don’t have a head for math. The hopeful truth is that consistent and thoughtful preparation using SAT-like questions can help anyone improve. Here are some key tips on successful test prep strategies to optimize your scores.
1. Start with a practice test
The essential first step is taking a full-length, timed, and scored practice test, especially since practice exams are in a digital format and the SAT is officially going digital this year. Then practice with additional exam-like questions and thoughtfully review your answers and methods, even when you get a question correct. Such practice will not only expose you to the content of the SAT but will help you feel more at home sitting for the exam itself, which can greatly decrease your test-day anxiety and issues like second-guessing or poor time management.
2. Create your own study schedule
Your performance on practice tests will give you a sense of how ready you already are for the SAT, both in terms of content you may need to learn or review any of the exam’s timing and format. You can then tailor your study schedule to the amount of improvement you’d like to see before test day. As a general rule, plan to spend three to six months practicing for half an hour to an hour a day during the week. If this doesn’t work for you, adjust it to your schedule—maybe with fewer days but longer sessions. Taking another full-length practice test every two to three weeks is the most effective way to gauge your progress.
3. Don’t just answer questions—explain them
When it comes to SAT preparation materials, previously administered tests are undeniably the best free resource you can use. They provide a means of benchmarking progress, and their questions are basically what you can expect on exam day. You should approach these questions thoughtfully; official practice tests include short explanations, but most students will find more value in explaining the right and wrong answers for themselves—often alongside peers or teachers.
The best SAT practice involves actively learning through answering, so any tool worth spending money on should prioritize questions over passive learning, like long videos or chapters of content review. Worthwhile paid tools should include explanatory feedback beyond what could be found in previously administered tests. For example, UWorld’s online preparation for the SAT is designed to test the same content as the exam and follows each question with a comprehensive explanation that applies both to the question at hand and to similar questions you may see in the future.
While some colleges may be declaring test scores optional, college admission is still extremely competitive, and strong SAT scores can help you stand out from the pack. If you’re still unsure about whether to take the exam, bear in mind that you don’t need to submit scores you’re not pleased with. And if you give yourself time to take the exam more than once, you can submit your highest scores from each section. In short, high scores can only help your application, but no scores won’t hinder it. With effective practice and a proactive study schedule, you can earn test scores that can help you get into your dream schools.
DYK another major benefit of taking the SAT is potentially winning money for college? Check out How to Win Scholarships With Your SAT Scores to learn more!