SAT Advice: Top 5 Tips for Test Prep


Looking through pages and pages of SAT advice, tips, and strategies can get a bit overwhelming. If you’re looking for the information on the most important things to know about taking the SAT, you’ve come to the right place.

Here, I’ll lay out my best SAT advice: five tips to help you excel when you take the test. Read on to get the short and sweet version of everything you need to know.


Tip #1: Figure Out Your Weaknesses

If you're just starting to study for the SAT - or even if you're not - you'll want to focus on improving your weakest skills. There are three core skill and knowledge areas that students struggle with on the SAT - your job is to think about which ones you need to work on the most. 

1. Content

  • The SAT isn't a one-subject test like the exams you take in school. In order to do well, you'll have to prepare for the Writing & Language and Math sections (not to mention the optional Essay section). If you're weak in a particular subject area in school, for example, you may see a weaker performance in the corresponding SAT section. 

2. Timing

  • The SAT is divided into strictly timed sections, meaning less time to work through questions. You may know all the relevant content but still have issues with finishing all questions within the time limit. 

3. Strategy

  • The SAT may include confusing or even misleading questions. You may lose points on tricky questions like this. 

To do well on the SAT, you'll, of course, need to think about all three major problem areas. You'll want to spend time thinking critically, though, about which of these areas are your major "pain points" - areas that are leading to the greatest loss of points. 

The best way to do this is to work through actual study material. Once you've (ideally) gone through a full test under realistic timing conditions, you can sit down and think about where you need the most work: content, timing, or strategy?


Tip #2: Make a Plan

Once you figure out what you need to practice most, your next step should be to come up with a study plan that addresses your weaknesses on a timeline that makes sense. What I mean by this is you should set a study schedule based on 1) the amount of time you have to prepare for the SAT, and 2) your content, timing, and strategy weaknesses. 

The amount of time you need to study depends on how much you want to improve from your baseline score. Here are some general guidelines for the amount of time you should prep depending on these goals

  • 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

Some students can follow through on a plan with just independent study, whereas other students see better results with help from a tutor or an SAT prep course. If you’d like some more information on coming up with a study plan, check out our posts on how long you should study for the SAT and putting together a sample study schedule.


body_goalplansuccess.jpgYou'll be most successful with SAT prep if you lay out a roadmap for yourself before diving into study materials. 


Tip #3: Analyze Your Mistakes

Perhaps the most important part of prepping for the SAT is analyzing your mistakes. It's easy to breeze through questions and answers that you get right - it's a bit more tedious to spend time figuring out how and why you're messing up. Here's the rub: if you’re not thinking about the content and strategy issues where you under-perform, you’re missing out on valuable learning opportunities. 

So what are the most common mistakes you should look out for and learn from? The big categories of errors and mistakes include

  • Careless errors - you should have known the right answer, but missed it
  • Content issues - you didn't have the information needed to answer the question
  • Comprehension issues - you couldn't figure out what the question was asking
  • Errors due to timing - these usually happen at the end of a section

Lucky for you, we have an awesome comprehensive guide on how to properly review mistakes when working through SAT practice materials


Tip #4: Work Efficiently

There are two key aspects of this piece of SAT advice.

First, you'll want to budget your time wisely as you study. You can work efficiently as you study by: 

  • Being conscientious about sticking to your study plan (see Tip #2). If your plan is realistic but still challenging, you'll improve on your weak points without getting overwhelmed or distracted.
  • Use the right study materials. If you practice with materials that don't accurately represent what you'll see on the SAT, you'll end up wasting time. 

Second, you'll want to budget your time wisely on the actual exam. You'll be most efficient on the SAT if you've practiced real sections under strict time limits, of course, but there are a few things you can do to make the most of your testing time:

  • Skip difficult questions - you can always double back to them if you have extra time.
  • If you know you can finish a section with a couple of extra minutes to spare, fill in all your bubbles at the end.
  • If you have extra time, use it. Go back and double-check your answers to catch any silly mistakes.

Still worried about timing issues on the SAT? Check out the following guides:


Tip #5: Take Care of Yourself

The previous tips are meaningless if you show up on test day in bad physical and/or mental shape. Ultimately, your health and wellness are two of the most important factors when it comes to SAT test performance.

The SAT is a marathon of an exam, so it's important to prepare yourself the night before. This means getting a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast. There are even more things you can do to take care of yourself the night before and the morning of the SAT - following those strategies will help you get the best score possible.


Summary:  Top 5 SAT Tips

If you take away anything from this article, remember that these are the five most important SAT tips and strategies to use when prepping for (and taking) the exam: 

  • Tip #1: Figure out your weaknesses
  • Tip #2: Make a plan
  • Tip #3: Analyze your mistakes
  • Tip #4: Work efficiently
  • Tip #5: Take care of yourself

If you implement these five tips, you'll be on the right track to ace the SAT.


What's Next?

There's so much more you can do to prep well for the SAT. A good place to start is with content - if you want to boost your score, it makes sense to be very familiar with the material that will be tested, right?  Read about big picture SAT reading questions, the best ways to use SAT math formulas, and the most important steps to writing an SAT essay

Looking for a survey review of the updated exam? You're in the right place - check out the complete guide to the new SAT



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About the Author
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Francesca Fulciniti

Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.

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