The SAT is a test that seems to loom over you for the entirety of your high school life, like a giant stack of bricks threatening to descend onto you in free-fall or an annoying sibling clutching onto your shoulder who refuses to let go.
The SAT is often made out to be a hugely important component of your university applications, and it’s easy for the stress of doing “well” on this test to get the best of already frazzled high schoolers.
As a high school junior, the SAT has been a constant stress in my life for more than a year now. But I recently took my SAT in November, and seeing the 1580 on the collegeboard website made me feel as if all the hours I spent studying and the sacrifices I had made had all paid off.
I hope that this article will help any students out there who feel like they have no idea where to start with prepping for the SAT, or want to figure out how to study efficiently so that they’re able to achieve their ideal SAT score.
Here are 6 tips on how you can study efficiently for the score of your dreams.
#1 Start as early as you can
Sign up for the PSAT at school, take a practice test on your own, or even begin thinking about your target SAT score and how you might get there. If you’re currently a high school freshman, don’t think that you’re too young to start studying for the SAT and decide to put it off till next year. A common myth that many students believe is that simply getting older will help them to score better on the SAT. Despite how much you might grow from an additional two years of learning at high school, the SAT does not test concepts that you learn in class, which means that you can start studying for it anytime. In fact, the earlier that you start studying for the SAT, the more time you will have to strategize and improve your performance in the future.
What if you’re already a junior or senior? That just means that you have to work at double speed, and put SAT prep at the forefront of your mind for the following months. Don’t give up on the SAT, and use swiftly approaching college applications as motivation towards your studying.
#2 Figure out your target score
You might have a broad idea of what a “good” SAT score is, or maybe you have no idea of what score you should be aiming for. Some people might think that everyone should aim for a 1600, but I believe that everyone’s target SAT score should be different depending on which schools they are planning on applying to. You can look up the 25th-75th percentile SAT scores up for your dream college to see what SAT score you should be aiming for.
For example, the 25th percentile SAT score at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) is 1250, which the 75th percentile SAT score is 1500. This means that scoring a 1250 or below would give you below-average chance of getting accepted to UCLA, which 1500 or above would give you an above-average chance. (Remember that these “acceptance rates” are purely based on SAT scores, and there are many other important components to a college application that are not taken into account here.)
In general, you should aim to achieve a 75th percentile SAT score to have a good shot at getting into any given university. That means that if your dream school is UCLA, you should shoot for a 1500. Write this score down- your months (even years!) of SAT prep will all be working towards this score.
Then, TAKE A DIAGNOSTIC TEST! I know that sitting through the full 4 hours of an SAT test on the weekend can seem like pure torture, but taking this first practice test is extremely important for you to figure out your baseline and where you need to improve. You’ll be able to discern which sections of the SAT are most difficult for you, and most importantly, how many points you need to improve by to achieve your target SAT score.
There are 8 official practice tests available on the SAT website that you can use. Take one of the tests under realistic conditions (with no breaks other than those allocated!) and calculate your score. This is your base score- and if you’re not happy with it, don’t worry! You can only go up from here, and with lots of hard work, you can reach your target score 🙂
Now subtract your target score from the score that you got on your practice test. This is the number of points you have to improve. No matter how alarmingly huge this number might seem, remember that if you put time and energy into your prep, the results will reflect your efforts.
#3 When are you going to take the SAT?
Now that you know how many points you need to improve, you should start thinking about what specific month you want to sign up to take the SAT. You can use this website to see the dates available for 2018 and 2019. Pick a date, discuss it with your parents, and set this date as SAT D-day.
When deciding on your SAT date, be sure to give yourself ample time to practice for the test- you can’t expect to see a huge score increase if you only give yourself a month to prep. I would recommend at least 3-6 months of practice, but the amount of time each person needs depends on their starting score and how many points they need to improve to hit their target score. In general, the more points you need to improve, the more time you should give yourself to prepare.
Once you choose a date, log into collegeboard and sit through the 30-40 minute process of signing up for the SAT. This can make the SAT seem much more real and like something that is truly looming in the near future, which can translate into motivation for you to begin preparing for the SAT.
In addition, think about how many times you’d like to take the SAT. Optimally, we all only want to go through the stress of test day once! But it makes sense for you to choose a date for a second testing in case you are unable to achieve your desired score on your first attempt. It’s best to space these two test dates a few months apart to give yourself time to study to improve your score.
While you technically are only limited by the number of testing dates offered in the number of chances you have to take the SAT, it’s emotionally and mentally draining to take the test numerous times in succession and still not be able to achieve your desired score. It also doesn’t look great to colleges if you take the SAT 6 times and are barely improving each time- it seems like you’re a robotic SAT machine whose life revolves around this single test, and that you haven’t been able to employ effective strategies for studying.
So study hard for each test you take, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can slack off before your test date because there are chances for you to improve later. Do your absolute best at each test sitting, and you’ll be on your way to SAT success.
#4 Plan your SAT schedule
Now that you have a test date chosen, count the number of months you have to study until then.
Think about how many hours of pure, uninterrupted SAT practice you’ll be able to put in each week. Realistically. Sometimes school can get hectic and it can be easy to push away practice for a test that’s not for a couple of months, but remember that you’re doing it all so that you can feel confident and prepared in the weeks leading up until test day instead of frantically trying to cram study the week before. Whenever you can, put down whatever you’re doing and really sit down and focus on your SAT prep. Distracted, half-hearted practice will more than double the amount of time you need to spend plugging away to truly improve on the SAT, so it’s in your best interest to put your phone away and hunker down for some sweet, sweet studying.
Want to learn more about how to study effectively? Read my article on procrastination here!
If you have more ground to cover to achieve your goal SAT score, then you simply have to plan to put more time into your prep.
But as a high schooler with limited free time outside of homework and other activities, you need to make every moment of your SAT prep count- and one major component of your SAT prep is the resources that you use.
Many high school students will sign up for prep classes, online courses, or purchase study guide books to prepare themselves for the SAT. All of these methods are equally useful, and the best method of studying varies from person to person. There’s no given “golden ticket” or particular book that is “the best” for every student, so I would recommend that you scope out a variety of the different resources available to decide what works for you the best. One way to do this for free is to spend a few hours at a bookstore browsing the study help section- but don’t tell the Barnes & Nobles employees that I sent you.
When choosing your SAT resources, you should think about the effectiveness and cost of the different options. In other words, which book/program yields the most bang for the buck? Some resources, such as the program spawned from the collegeboard x khanacademy partnership, are free, while others cost money. In addition, do you work better digitally or on paper? I found that doing SAT work in a real book kept me away from distractions and also helped me to remember everything I learned more clearly. But as everyone learns differently, you just need to find what the best resources are for you.
If you want to read more about what resources I used to achieve my 1580 SAT score, read this article on online resources or this one on prep books!
Don’t forget that there are 8 free SAT practice tests available on the collegeboard website, which you can also get in print form in The Official SAT Guide. Official practice tests are a good indicator of your progress, and also give good information on areas in which you still need to improve. Just remember to take all of these full length practice tests in realistic conditions (without peeking at the answer key!) for an authentic SAT experience.
The SAT is almost like a marathon- and getting your still-sleepy brain to comprehend an article about different species of corn at 8am on a Saturday is all about practice. Just like how you practice for a marathon, you need to put yourself through the entire SAT test to train yourself for how strenuous the real test will be. On test day, you won’t be able to do one section every other day or have a water break whenever you feel like it- bring this mentality to your prep. Don’t prepare for multiple 100 yard sprints and expect to do well at a marathon race- run the whole course multiple times so you can be sure that you’re prepared.
You might find yourself feeling exhausted by the time you get to the math calculator section, but with practice, you will feel the test becoming easier- or at least less mentally tiring so that you can perform to your full ability on test day.
#6 M O T I V A T I O N
I’ve mentioned motivation numerous times throughout this article, because motivation is the key ingredient in baking a SAT success cake.
SAT prep will be difficult a lot of the time. It can be hard for you to stay focused on reading English literature passages when you can be watching a youtube video, but you need to rely on your own internal drive to push you to success. Your friends might be going out together on the night before your SAT test date, and you’ll have to make a choice between joining in on the fun or going to sleep at 8pm on a Friday night. Sometimes you might wonder why you’re even bothering with practice when it seems you’ll never improve anyways. Or maybe someone else got your dream SAT score when they seem to have put little effort into their prep, and life seems incredibly unfair, so hopeless that you just want to give up.
You just have to ask yourself- what is your ultimate goal? Why do you want to achieve your target SAT score? Perhaps you want to have a better shot at getting into your dream college, or you want to prove yourself to your family. Any reason is a good one, as long as it pushes you to study hard to chase your goal. This reason has to motivate you to study hard enough that you are able to go into test day feeling confident and assured that no matter what your result might be, you truly put your 110% into your SAT prep.
If you told yourself that you were going to do an hour of SAT practice today, then do your absolute best to stick to the schedule. Don’t think that you don’t really need to study today, that the test is in a couple months anyways, it won’t hurt for you to take a break for just one day-
And no matter how much other people might hound you to study, the only person that can truly evoke any change in your SAT score is yourself. Hiring a tutor isn’t going to improve your score if you don’t put any time into studying.
On your darkest days, when the studying seems overwhelming, you drop 100 points on a practice test and it seems like you’ll never be able to achieve your target score, remember your goal. Think about how much you want to succeed, and pull yourself out of the darkness. Then keep pushing.
The biggest secret to SAT prep is simply that you have to want it. You have to want it so badly that studying becomes one of your top priorities, and that nothing will be able to throw you off your path to success.
SAT Success Cake
Recipe by Allie
1 tablespoon of Diagnostic Test
1 tablespoon of SAT Sign Up!
1 Cup of SAT schedule
5 Cups of Sticking to the Plan
½ a cup each of books, online courses, classes
10 Cups of Determination
10 Cups of Time
A dash of tears
A hint of luck
Mix thoroughly and pour into pan.
Bake for 3-12 months.
Good luck everyone!!
Have any questions? Post them in the comments down below.
Until next time!