Creating an SAT Study Plan

One of the biggest myths out there is that it’s impossible to study for the SAT.

In fact, because the SAT is a standardized exam, this means that it is a highly predictable test. 

While no two SATs are alike, every iteration of the test will contain the same format, question types, and general frequency of content tested.

In short, it is entirely possible to study for the SAT–and students seeking a good SAT score should take plenty of time to do so!

We recommend that all of our students build an SAT study plan to guide their SAT test prep journey. This doesn’t mean setting aside a handful of random hours one week before the test, however.

An effective SAT study plan is realistic, comprehensive, and smart. In this post, we provide the tips you need to build such a plan.

Here’s what we cover:

What Does it Mean to Study for the SAT?

Studying for the SAT can be a lot like studying for a normal high school exam. Effective study for the SAT can rely on flashcards, for example, note-taking, strategic study sessions, and regular practice. 

The difference, of course, lies in the fact that the SAT itself is an entirely different beast than the tests students encounter in a standard high school classroom.

In general, there are three huge differences between the SAT and high school tests:

  1. Strategy
  2. Content
  3. Duration

Strategy plays a larger role on the SAT than most students realize. In fact, the Evidence-Based Reading section, the first of the test, requires no outside content knowledge. 

Success on this section depends significantly on strategy–and a student’s capacity to move quickly through dense, complex reading material.

SAT Reading Section
The SAT Evidence-Based Reading section depends entirely on strategy.

Specific strategies can also aid the savvy test-taker on the other sections of the SAT, including Math, the most content-dense section.

Rarely do high school students have to practice strategy to ace a classroom exam!

SAT test-takers will be tested on their knowledge of standard English and math content: namely, English conventions & rhetorical skills, algebra, arithmetic, advanced math, and geometry. However, this familiar content often appears in unfamiliar ways on the SAT.

Half the battle with the SAT can involve simply figuring out what the questions are asking!

Lastly, the SAT itself is over three hours long. Students must apply their brainpower to this exam for a marathon of a sitting. For this reason, effective SAT study often involves building the physical and mental stamina for taking the test.

Every student’s process is different, but studying for the SAT generally involves the following:

  • Timed practice (to build stamina)
  • Content review and application
  • Strategy learning and application
  • Regular review of progress through drills and practice exams

It is possible to study for the SAT on your own. 

However, working with professionals through private tutoring or master classes can give students the greatest potential for holding themselves accountable to their study–and gaining that competitive score.

Registering for the SAT

Whether you’ve chosen to study for the SAT yourself or with professional guidance, the first thing to do is register for the SAT.

Doing so can give your test prep a healthy trajectory and end goal. After all, once you’ve registered, you’ve pretty much got to show up on Test Day!

How far out should you register for the SAT?

This depends on when you’re starting your SAT test prep. If you’re a high school senior, for example, you may not have a lot of time to take the test before college applications are due.

Create an effective SAT Study Plan

If you’re a high school junior, on the other hand, you may have a lot of options ahead of you.

In general, we recommend that students allow at least three months for SAT test prep. The most effective prep involves two official testing dates, which often equates to 4-6 months of regular prep (with a healthy few months in between testing dates).

The College Board recommends that students take the SAT for the first time in their junior year (typically the spring) and a second time in their senior year (typically the fall).

What do we recommend? We believe students should consider taking the SAT or ACT for the first time between August and March of their Junior year.

You can read more about different ACT and SAT testing plans (and 8 factors to consider when registering) in a different post.

For now, do your best to select an SAT test date that is at least three months out from the day you begin test prep. Registration for the SAT usually closes about a month before the test, but you can register several months in advance if you’d like.

Register at the College Board’s website. 

How to Build an SAT Study Plan

Once you’ve registered for your SAT, it’s time to craft an effective study plan. Here are our recommended tips for doing so.

Know Your Testing Date

This one is a given. Even if your testing date is several months out, register now to check one more thing off of your list!

Be mindful of college application deadlines. Many U.S. colleges and universities have a strict cut-off date for last-minute SAT-takers.

Some students’ schools may offer the SAT on set dates. Inquire with your school’s guidance counselor to see if this is the case for your high school.

Not sure when to take the SAT? Check out 9 sample testing schedules.

Take a Diagnostic Exam

We cannot emphasize the value of taking a diagnostic SAT practice test enough! 

Doing so effectively introduces students to those components that make the SAT so different from standard exams:

  • Duration
  • Content
  • Strategy

It also establishes a baseline score for all sections, giving students a clearer sense of what stands between them and their dream score. 

Diagnostic score reports can additionally highlight content areas for further work, essential strategies, and timing issues.

You can find 10 free Official SAT practice tests here. These also include answer sheets and detailed proctoring instructions.

If you’ve taken a PSAT, you can refer to that score report when crafting a study plan, too. The only difference between the PSAT and the SAT is timing and length: the PSAT is fifteen minutes and fifteen questions shorter than the SAT.

Determine Your Resources & Study Tools

Effective SAT studying requires effective resources. Take the time prior to jumping into your prep to assemble the SAT study tools guaranteed to give you success!

For most students, this means working with a private tutor or test prep company. If you choose this path, most companies will recommend certain SAT prep books or provide their own.

Create an SAT Study Plan

Others may take the DIY path. (It is possible to self-study, and to do so successfully, but only if you follow these tips.)

For reviewing content like math formulas and grammar principles, flashcards can be vital. We also recommend tracking homework and practice test errors as you study to deepen understanding.

Set Aside Weekly Time

Effective SAT prep requires consistent time and effort. Treat your prep as you would any high school class, and devote weekly time to homework and practice.

Determine which times per week suit your SAT prep the best. Starting your SAT prep on Wednesday evenings at 10 P.M., for example, may not be as beneficial in the long-run.

Practicing on Saturday mornings, however, when you’ll likely be taking the official exam, may be more productive. 

Students who work with a private tutor are at an advantage here, as such a partnership often involves scheduled homework and weekly meeting times.

Take Regular Practice Tests

Regular practice tests give students the surest means of enforcing the strategies they’ve been developing on their own. It can also build physical and mental stamina–not to be underestimated on Test Day!

Luckily, there are plenty of practice tests available to students through the College Board. Other tutoring companies may also distribute their own, in-house practice materials.

However, taking College Board practice tests is vital, as these offer the most representative SAT practice. Official practice tests also provide the most accurate benchmarking.

We recommend taking a practice test every 3-4 weeks prior to your official test date.

Establish Goals

Your SAT study plan should include realistic, specific, and actionable goals. Begin by setting a goal SAT score.

A diagnostic SAT exam can help students set their goal SAT score at the beginning of their study. Students should also research average SAT scores of successful applicants to their schools of interest. A “good” SAT score can mean different things to different students, so choose the score that suits your aspirations and baseline!

Set smaller, individual goals throughout your practice to help you reach this goal score. Here are some examples:

  • Getting questions 1-10 of Math No-Calculator 100% correct on your next practice test
  • Actively reading every attempted Reading passage in 3 minutes
  • Nailing every punctuation question on a timed Writing & Language drill
  • Creating an effective outline for an SAT Essay practice prompt

Notice how these goals are specific, realistic, and concrete!

Hold Yourself Accountable

It can be tough to commit to SAT prep, especially on top of a busy schedule. Holding yourself accountable to your SAT study, however, is very likely to pay off.

According to the College Board, consistent practice can lead to significant score increases:

Over 100,000 students who used Official SAT Practice in the 2017–2018 school year improved their SAT scores by 200 points or more…Students who spent 20 hours on Official SAT Practice saw an average gain of 115 points from the PSAT/NMSQT to the SAT.”

-The College Board, 6 Steps to Improve Your Score

Creating an SAT Study Plan

How can you hold yourself accountable to your SAT prep?

Study with a peer and build a group study schedule. Ask a mentor or a friend to check in with you weekly about your SAT prep. Better yet, work with a private tutor to build that accountability from now until Test Day.

Utilize the SAT Question and Answer Service

The SAT Question and Answer Service is available to most students who take the SAT officially in March, October, and May. After you take the SAT, this Service provides students with the following:

  • a copy of the SAT questions from that specific test date
  • a report of your answers to these questions
  • the correct answers to these questions
  • discussion of the type and difficulty of each question

This Service can be a valuable tool for identifying your areas for improvement, especially if you anticipate taking the test more than once.

Next Steps

We can help you build an effective SAT study plan–and take conscious steps towards that dream score. 

In fact, we strongly recommend working with professionals to ensure a competitive score report, no matter where you are at in your test prep journey.

We offer both SAT master classes and private tutoring for all prospective clients. Ready to learn more? Schedule your free consultation today!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.