You only have a couple days before the SAT (or maybe less than a day!), and you’re determined to ace this test! Whether you're looking for last-minute study tips, advice on how to prepare the day of the test, or test-taking strategies to maximize your scores, I've got you covered.
Here are a bunch of handy last minute SAT tips that will help you stay focused and raise your scores.
Last Minute Studying
Tip #1: Focus on Your Weak Spots
It’s tempting to just “study” by taking a bunch of practice tests, but that can only help your scores so much. Now is the time to drill down into your mistakes and analyze the reasons why you made them.
Make sure you understand the route to the correct answer and why your answer choice was incorrect. Even if you just do this for one section, you should start to see major score improvements.
Tip #2: Be Time-Conscious
You don’t want to be taken by surprise when you hear “time’s up” on the SAT, and you haven’t gotten to all the questions. Don’t take a whole practice test, but do a few questions and experiment with estimating how much time you’re spending on each. This will help you get a sense of how long 30 seconds or a minute feels so you'll know when you need to skip questions on the real test.
You shouldn't be spending more than a minute on SAT Reading questions or more than 30-45 seconds on SAT Writing questions. On the Math section, I also recommend initially spending no more than a minute on each question in both portions. You technically have more time per question on the calculator part than on the no calculator part, but it's better to be safe than sorry. If you linger too much, you won't have the chance to answer easy questions later in the section!
Day of the Test
Tip #1: Sleep Strategically
Go to bed early, and try to sleep at least seven hours the night before the test. Plan to wake up an hour earlier than you have to; if you just roll out of bed, you might still be sleepy when the test starts. You should be totally alert by the time you get to the test center.
Tip #2: Don’t Take the Test Hungry
Unless you’re one of those people who gets nauseous if you eat breakfast, you should try and eat before the test. Don’t eat too much (you don’t want to get sleepy again), but snack on something small and high in protein so your brain has something to work with, and visions of waffles don’t start dancing in your head during the test. Also, bring a couple of filling snacks that you can eat during breaks if you end up getting hungry again (nuts and granola bars are good).
As for whether you should drink coffee...that depends on the person. If you're already a coffee addict, then you're probably fine with drinking a cup or two before the SAT. Don’t drink it if you’re not used to it because the caffeine could make you anxious and less focused on the test.
Tip #3: Dress for Success
You want to dress as comfortably as possible. Bring layers so you don’t get distracted by being too hot or too cold. You should also pack up everything you need for the test the night before to ensure that you don’t forget anything. Here's a list of what you should bring to the SAT in case you don't know:
- Admission Ticket
- Photo ID
- Two #2 pencils (non-mechanical) and an eraser
- Watch (there will be a clock, but it's easier if you can check the time on your wrist)
- Water and snacks
Wear whatever is most comfortable for you. The testing room is a judgment-free zone. But you might want to take off the mascot head so that you have enough peripheral vision to see your answer sheet.
During the Test
Tip #1: Don’t Freak Out
It’s much easier said than done - sometimes the more I try to get out of my own head the less successful I am. But really try and shut out anxious thoughts that arise during the test. Do a little mini mindfulness session where you focus on your breathing and nothing else for a couple of seconds. This will lower your blood pressure and clarify your thinking.
Remember, the most productive thing you can do right now is to keep on going even if some of the questions scare you. Don’t let yourself fall victim to the vicious cycle of anxiety -> lost focus -> less efficient test taking -> can’t finish sections -> MORE ANXIETY.
Tip #2: Skip It
If you come up against a difficult question, don’t spend a ton of time on it. Already spent a minute looking at a math or reading question and don’t know how to answer it? Skip it. Spent more than 30 seconds looking at a writing question with no success? Skip it.
You can circle the questions you skip and come back to them at the end if you have extra time. If you let yourself get bogged down, you might not make it to future easier questions that could earn you more points.
Tip #3: Always Guess
There's no penalty for wrong answers, so make sure to put something down for every question. Even if it's a completely random guess, there's a chance you'll get it right and earn the point.
Tip #4: Take the Breaks
Even if you don’t feel like it, take advantage of breaks. They can help reduce your stress and remind you that there's a whole new world that exists outside the testing room. Eat a snack, use the bathroom - you’ll probably feel much more refreshed and prepared to take on the rest of the test.
Tip #5: Check Your Answers!
Have a few minutes at the end of a section? I know you’re tired, but go back and check your answers. Dumb mistakes are frustrating, and usually they can be corrected if you just look over the questions again. You can also use this time to make sure you filled out the answer sheet correctly and didn’t accidentally skip a question and bubble in the wrong answers.
Tip #6: Use Evidence in Your Essay
If you're planning on taking the (now optional) essay portion of the new SAT, you'll have to read a passage and analyze the author's argument. Make sure that you use direct evidence from the passage to back up your points and show the validity of your analysis. As you're reading the passage, underline any sentences or phrases that you think you might use in your essay to explain how the author builds an argument.
Tip #7: Use Everything the SAT Gives You, and Take Shortcuts
This applies to all sections of the SAT. If you think you couldn’t possibly figure out the answer to a question, make sure you exhaust all resources at your disposal before guessing (although as I said, you can skip it on your first pass through the section!). Remember that this isn’t like a normal test. No one cares if you show your work or use the “right” method to solve a problem, so take shortcuts to solutions if you can find them.
Here are some relevant things to keep in mind about each section:
On reading, don’t be intimidated by an unknown word. Especially on the new version of the SAT, you can almost always use context clues to approximate its definition. Save time by skimming the passages in the reading section when you first get to them. If you need to you can read certain sections more closely later to answer specific questions.
Take reading passages at face value. If the answer isn’t DIRECTLY supported by what you read in the passage, don’t choose it.
Watch out for the “no change” answers. If you notice you’re getting a lot of them (more than a quarter of your answers to questions that have "no change" as an option), check those questions again to make sure you didn’t miss something. Study the grammar rules that are on the SAT, follow them, and don’t overthink it.
Sometimes math problems will give you a diagram of a shape, and you're supposed to find an area, angle measurement, or other dimension. Usually, the most logical answer based on what you see is correct. For example, if you're trying to find the measurement of a tiny-looking acute angle, you can rule out 80 degrees as an answer.
On the calculator portion of the Math section, use the computing power of your calculator to its full advantage. If you come across questions about graphs of equations, use the graphing function. At the same time, don't overuse your calculator to the point where it's costing you more time. Be smart about when you need it and when it's faster to just do things the old-fashioned way. And if you haven’t already, review this list of formulas you should know for the SAT.
If you start to do something crazy and complicated for a math problem, you’re probably going down the wrong path! The SAT tests simple concepts that are sometimes presented in weird formats.
Above all, remember that multiple choice is a gift; the answer is right in front of you even if you don’t see it right away.
Oh boy, I hope it's Multiple Choice™!
After the Test
Tip #1: Be Aware: You Can Cancel Your Scores
If you're concerned about your scores because you know something went horribly wrong on the test, you are allowed to cancel them. You must submit your written request for cancelation to the College Board by midnight on the Wednesday after the test. For advice on whether you should cancel your scores and how to go about doing it, read this article.
Tip #2: Taking the Test Again? Consider the Question-and-Answer Service or Student Answer Service
If you know you're going to take the SAT again, you should think about ordering one of the services the College Board offers for you to review your scores in more detail. These can be very useful studying tools because they will show you your weak spots in a real test environment. For more information on these services, read this article.
Tip #3: Chill Out
It's important to give yourself time to decompress and relax after the test! Try not to stress out too much about what may have gone wrong. It’s out of your hands now, and your time and energy are much better spent doing other things that you enjoy for the rest of the weekend.
If you want to get a head start on studying for your next test date, check out these study plans for sophomores and juniors, rising seniors, and our complete plan for all students. You should also figure out your target score so you can plan accordingly.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.