I get this question from students a lot, and it's definitely an important one: how long before the SAT should you begin preparing for it? Moreover, how long is too long (you won't remember the material)? And how long is too short (you won't have enough time to study)?
You'll need to know how to answer these questions if you wish to study effectively. Our four most important tips will help you determine when you should start studying for the SAT.
Tip 1: Figure Out How Many Hours You Can Study per Week
First things first: how busy of a student are you? Do you only have an hour every Thursday night to study because all your free time is taken up by classes and activities? Or are you the type who can easily free up three hours a day five days a week to study for the SAT?
As a rule of thumb, you should spend at least 10 hours on SAT prep. If you can't study for more than 10 hours, it's rarely worth it to take the test. Considering that the SAT itself can take up six or more hours of your time (if you count driving time and immediate prep, that is), it just seems silly not to spend at least this amount of time studying for it!
A much better baseline to use is 40 hours of prep. In this case, every hour can substantially help you. By contrast, a full-on, supercharged study regimen, like a boot camp, is closer to 100 hours.
Here is a chart of possible SAT study times. Especially good combos are marked with an asterisk:
|Study Hrs per Week||Minimum||Baseline||Full Study|
|1 hour||2 months||8 months||Not recommended|
|2 hours||1 month||4 months*||10 months|
|5 hours||2 weeks||1.5 months*||4 months|
|10 hours||1 week||1 month*||2 months*|
|20 hours (summer)||Not recommended||2 weeks||1 month*|
It's important to figure out how many hours you specifically will need to improve by in order to get the ACT score you want.
Here's what to do: first, set an SAT goal score. This score is the one most likely to get you accepted into all the schools you're applying to. To find this number, follow the instructions in our guide to a good SAT score.
Next, figure out your baseline score by taking an official SAT practice test. This score is essentially a starting point for your SAT prep.
Once you have both your baseline and goal scores, it's time to calculate how long you'll need to study. To do this, simply subtract your baseline score from your goal score.
In general, the more time you devote to studying, the higher the score you increase you can expect to have. Here are our estimates for the total number of hours you'll need to prep based on the SAT score improvement you want:
- 0-30 point improvement: 10 hours
- 30-70 point improvement: 20 hours
- 70-130 point improvement: 40 hours
- 130-200 point improvement: 80 hours
- 200-330 point improvement: 150 hours+
Now that you know how many hours you'll need to study for the SAT, you can calculate possible weekly or monthly schedules based on how much free time you have each week. For example, if I want to improve my SAT score by 100 points, I'll need to study for around 40 hours. Thus, I could study about four hours a week if I have two and a half months before test day, or 10 hours a week if I only have a month left.
Tip 2: Pick a Convenient Test Date
Choosing an SAT test date that gives you plenty of time to study and works well with your schedule is vital for quality prep.
Typically, it's best to choose a date at least a few months ahead of time so you can easily tweak your schedule to make time for study sessions. If you choose a date that's very soon (i.e., less than a month before the test), you won't have as much time to study or rearrange your schedule. (On a related note, picking a date early also means avoiding having to pay late registration fees.)
Furthermore, pick a date that doesn't have much going on around it. This way you won't have to shift your activities too much and will be able to dedicate more time to studying without having to worry about other obligations or events going on.
Tip 3: Don't Study Too Far Ahead or You'll Forget What You've Learned
In your SAT study plan, there are some skills I don't recommend studying hard until you're closer to your test date. Study them too early and you're more likely to forget them!
That said, some things are good to start studying early. These are the skills and content you're less likely to forget later on, such as the following:
- Vocabulary (I still remember mine from when I took the SAT!)
- Basic math
There are some things I don't recommend studying more than a year before your test. Study this early and you'll forget more than 50% of what you learned! Instead, it's better to concentrate the time you have on the following:
- Learning key test-taking strategies, such as the process of elimination
- Taking official practice tests
Finally, these are the things I don't recommend doing until at least two months before your test:
- Getting used to the SAT format with multiple practice tests
- Doing one or more dry runs so you can get used to the length (and fatigue) of the test
In summary, it's rarely too early to start, but if you're thinking of starting some intense prep more than a year in advance, think carefully about when you approach new topics.
Tip 4: Try to Study for At Least 2 Weeks in Total
If you've only got a week or two to study, the information you learn won't have enough time to sink in. Ultimately, you have to give your brain adequate time to retain new SAT concepts! So try to study, at a minimum, at least two weeks before your test. A month or longer is, of course, even better.
If test day's coming up, though, and you have very, very little time to study, don't freak out! You can still get a good score as long as you utilize the time you do have wisely. Our guide on how to cram for the SAT tells you exactly what to do in this scenario.
Planning to spend a year or more studying for the SAT? Then you'll definitely want to check out our comprehensive one-year SAT study plan. In this guide, we show you what an effective year-long study plan looks like.
Only got a month to study for the SAT? Don't worry—our extensive guide walks you through the steps you'll need to take to be able to hit your goal score within just 30 days.
Not sure what SAT score to aim for on test day? Learn what a good SAT score is for you and for the colleges you're applying to.
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.