9 SAT Tips for Acing the Test
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- Students should begin studying for the SAT months in advance.
- Understanding the SAT's tricky language and question structure is key.
- Day-of prep should include getting good rest, energizing your brain, and arriving early.
- Taking the SAT more than once can increase your chances of earning a high score.
The SAT is a college entrance exam taken by over 1 million students each year. One of the most important tips for getting a great SAT score is to study specifically for the SAT, which is uniquely designed to gauge your college readiness.
Most of your SAT prep should take place months in advance, and experts generally don't recommend relying on last-minute SAT tips. Any day-of preparation should focus on getting yourself to the testing site on time and feeling energized for the long day ahead.
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Below, we break down nine ways to prepare for the SAT, with advice from test-prep experts.
1. Create an SAT Study Schedule
It may seem obvious, but your score will improve if you study for the SAT. Many students take a few practice tests and call it a day. A schedule, however, can keep you on track and ensure you study consistently.
"Create a strategic study plan based on your strengths and weaknesses of test content," advised Bara Sapir, CEO and founder of City Test Prep. "Focus on learning the material you've not performed well on, but also continue to practice material you have mastered."
To create your study schedule, start by choosing an SAT test date. Once you know when the test will take place, you can begin scheduling regular study sessions. Try to budget at least 2-3 hours a week for studying. You want to keep the material fresh in your mind without burning out before test day.
"Think of this as a marathon you're preparing for rather than a sprint," said Sapir.
2. Use Quality Prep Materials
The quality of materials you use to study for the SAT can affect the score you earn and how prepared you feel on test day.
The College Board website should be your first go-to resource. There, you can download the free SAT Study Guide and access practice questions, full-length practice tests, answer explanations, and tips. You can also use Khan Academy, a partner of the College Board, to access hundreds of official SAT practice questions and video explanations.
Other resources include highly rated SAT prep books, apps, online prep classes, and private tutors.
3. Increase Your Reading Speed
A big part of the SAT is reading the questions quickly and accurately. On the Reading section in particular, you want to get through long passages fast without losing track of key points. By decreasing the time it takes you to read questions and passages on the test, you'll have more time for contemplating the answers.
"On reading-based questions, around 80% of what you are tested on comes from around 20% of what you read," explained Sapir. "Being a more efficient reader means you have more time for critical thinking and answering questions."
Reading through and practicing SAT questions will help you become more familiar with the question structure and language. You can also research ways to increase your reading and comprehension speed. For example, you might try a technique like word-chunking or practice limiting the impulse to reread sentences.
4. Target the Mistakes You Can Control
While you can't predict or control not knowing an answer, there are other potential mistakes you can control, such as time pressure, question comprehension, and careless errors.
Many students make mistakes on the SAT because of time pressure. Taking a timed practice test can help you get used to the speed and pressure. When taking practice SAT tests, set a timer for the amount of time you'll actually have on test day.
You can also practice increasing your efficiency by timing individual questions. By becoming more comfortable with the time limits, you're less likely to make careless errors.
|Section||Time Limit||Number of Questions||Time per Question|
|Reading||65 minutes||52||75 seconds|
|Writing and Language||35 minutes||44||48 seconds|
|Math — No Calculator||25 minutes||20||75 seconds|
|Math — Calculator||55 minutes||38||87 seconds|
Half the difficulty of the test isn't just knowing the answer but comprehending the question. "The SAT has to find peculiar ways to create difficulty," said Travis Minor, founder of Open Door Education. "To do this, the SAT targets the most common mistakes students make: overlooking double negatives, using too many commas, reading too quickly, and forgetting to pay attention to what the question is actually asking."
By reviewing the types of questions on the SAT, you'll become more familiar with the tricky language. Pay attention to questions that use terms like "except," "least," "however," and "rather than."
5. Come to Test Day Prepared
Your day-of preparation should be focused on getting in the right mindset and energizing yourself for a long day. As Sapir explained, "Test day is game on. Your only job and purpose is to be present."
You should get good rest and have a balanced breakfast if you can. Maybe treat yourself to your favorite coffee or tea drink to get your spirits up. We recommend dressing in layers, too, in order to adjust if the testing room is warm or cold.
A short review of math formulas or testing strategies can be a good idea to wake up your brain. But don't overload yourself by trying to cram in a ton of studying on the day of the test. Additionally, plan to arrive early in case there's traffic or other delays in getting to the test site.
"All the study and practice you've done led you to this moment — so you don't want to game the system at this point," said Sapir. "You want to be in the moment and the mental zone of test-taking."
6. Answer the Questions You Know First
A common test-taking strategy for the SAT is to go through the current section you're taking and answer all the questions you know first. If you can quickly fill out the questions you know, you'll have more time to work out the questions you aren't as confident on.
If a question is taking you longer than a couple of minutes to understand, skip the question and mark it in your test booklet to remind you to come back to it later.
7. Eliminate Incorrect Answers
When working on SAT questions for which you're not immediately confident on the answer, try eliminating answers you know are incorrect. If you can eliminate some of the four possible options, your chances of guessing correctly increase.
According to Minor, "Students should know that the SAT is masterful in creating answer choices that are convincing but incorrect, and so it is often easier to find the wrong answers than to find the 'flawless' answer."
Even if you have no clue what the correct answer is, you can sometimes eliminate answers based on the context of the question. "Process of elimination is your best friend," said Minor.
8. Don't Leave Any Questions Blank
Do your best to answer every single question. Budget time to go back to any questions you skipped and don't be afraid to just start filling in circles if you run out of time.
Even if you don't know the answer, you should at least guess. Your score won't be penalized for incorrect answers, but rather totaled up from correct answers. This means that your score has a 25% chance of being correct if you guess, while you'll have zero chance of getting points if you leave it blank.
9. Take the SAT More Than Once, If Possible
Most people think of the SAT as a one-time deal — you take it, then you're done. But the reality is that many students take the test at least twice. Why? Research has shown that retaking the SAT can lead to higher scores.
This may be because you know what to expect the second time around. You may also have spent more time preparing for the exam and addressing your weaknesses.
Unfortunately, retaking the SAT means paying the entire test fee again. If you meet the College Board's requirements, however, you may qualify for a fee waiver.
With Advice From:
Bara Sapir, MA
Bara Sapir, MA, is the CEO and founder of City Test Prep, which combines teaching SAT/ACT content, strategy, and speed-reading with holistic and mindful techniques to help students achieve an optimal mindset. Students learn to allay test anxiety, embody calm, build confidence, and increase focus. Sapir's contributions to the field include The Full Potential Audio Series and MindFlow, an online speed-reading platform. She also co-authored the "GMAT Sentence Correction Intensive" and wrote "The Full Potential Manual."
Sapir holds a master's in education from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a master's in art history from the University of Michigan. She has certifications in hypnosis, integrative life coaching, Reiki, neuro-linguistic programming, and mindfulness (MBSR-T). She also holds board posts on the National Test Prep Association and the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. Sapir is a sought-after speaker and contributor for podcasts, conferences, teaching engagements, and media outlets such as CBS Bay Sunday, Forbes, CosmoGirl, BusinessBecause, Poets&Quants, and The Wall Street Journal. She lives with her rescue pup, Chata.
Travis Minor, founder and owner of Open Door Education in Acton, Massachusetts, has helped thousands of students succeed on standardized tests of all shapes and sizes. Minor earned his BS in secondary education at the University of Vermont and his M.Ed. at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, where he continues to work as the education entrepreneurship teaching fellow. Minor has served as a City Heroes Team Leader and as a volunteer firefighter. He currently serves as chair of The Scholarship Fund of Concord and Carlisle and as vice president of ethics and professional practices on the board of the National Test Prep Association.
Feature Image: Mario Tama / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images