You know that you have to take the SAT at some point (maybe soon!) in your high school career. First, though, you need to figure out how much time each week you really need to devote to studying for the SAT. Unfortunately, there is not one right answer to this! I just cannot say that if you study for an hour every week until the exam, you will do just fine. Maybe some students will, but not all. So, how do you figure it out?
First, you will need some data! Answer these questions:
If you do not yet know what score ranges are acceptable at the colleges of your choice, find that out first! Check out the College Board’s BigFuture website to find and save that information for several schools all at once.
If you have not yet taken a PSAT, SAT, or other practice exam, that is your absolute next step. You cannot get anywhere if you do not have a starting point. One thing to note, however: if you have scores from one of those exams, but it has been a while since then (even if it has only been a month or two!), then it would be a good idea to take another practice exam. You might be surprised at the increase in your knowledge and skills!
Once you have taken a practice exam, you will be able to look at your score to determine your strengths and weaknesses. As you go through how you did on the practice test, don’t just pay attention to the number of points scored. Look at the questions you got wrong. Try to understand why you got them wrong. Noticing the patterns in the questions that you missed will help you tailor your SAT practice to what you need to focus on most. If you are having trouble analyzing your results, our tutors are here to help you determine what sort of SAT practice you need as well as how to maximize the time you spend on SAT prep.
While this question comes with its own set of variables, generally speaking, most students take the SAT at some point during their junior year. This is recommended because you are far enough along to have the necessary knowledge and skills assessed on the SAT, while also having some wiggle room to further improve and retake the exam before beginning your college applications during your senior year. Some high schools will schedule an SAT School Day for their juniors to take the exam during the school week. If you have not taken the SAT “for real” yet and your school offers the SAT School Day (ask your counselor!), then planning for that date may be a good place to start.
However you do it, try to schedule your exam so that you 1)have a fair amount of time to prepare and 2) also have time to schedule a second exam in case you want to further improve your score while also having 3) enough time to meet college application deadlines.
If you have procrastinated, registered for the last available exam at the last minute, and only have two weeks to prepare, all is not lost! I have a plan for you too!
Consider all your other responsibilities for each week. Do you have extracurriculars that take up time after school? Do you have a part-time job? Family responsibilities?
Time is your most valuable resource; learning how to schedule it properly is one of the most important soft skills you can develop. (And you thought you were just here to learn how to prep for the SAT, but look at you, learning how to best manage your time!) If you are not already using a planner, now is the time to do so. If you do not think you can keep up with a pen-and-paper planner, there are plenty of apps to choose from. Even just using the calendar app on your phone works wonders.
If you have only taken a practice test once, or the PSAT when you were a sophomore, you may have struggled to pace yourself through each timed section in order to answer all of the questions. Maybe you ran out of time and had to leave ten, fifteen, or even twenty questions unanswered.
If you are that student, then you will need to spend more time overall in order to become accustomed to not just the content of the exam but the techniques necessary to maximize your time while taking the test.
If you have taken the SAT or are generally more used to taking standardized tests in a timed setting, then you may need to spend less time learning the format of the exam. Furthermore, score reports from the PSAT or SAT will help you understand just what you ought to focus on to make the greatest amount of improvement in your score.
What kind of student are you?
If you find it relatively easy to understand new concepts or to put new techniques into practice, you might need to spend less time preparing for the exam overall.
If you need more time to review concepts and techniques in order for them to stick, then obviously you will need more time to study, especially when it comes to drilling the techniques.
While a simple math formula for studying would be nice, it all depends on who you are and where you are starting from.
Now that you have determined your answers to these questions, let’s look at a few different timelines depending on how far out you have scheduled your exam.
If you have six months or more…
First of all, it is probably not worth your time to start studying more than six months before the exam. If you are planning that far in advance, it is good to remember that the SAT focuses on knowledge and skills you are learning in school. Thus, trying to study for the SAT too far in advance may be more frustrating than worthwhile, particularly with math concepts that build upon each other. So, if you are more than six months away from taking the SAT exam, focus on doing your best in your classes.
At the six-month mark, you can afford to spend just about an hour a week on SAT prep. Don’t forget to start with a practice exam, and use that to decide where to start. Maybe you begin improving your vocabulary or refining your understanding of general grammar.
Continue to take a practice exam every four to six weeks in order to track your progress and tweak your study plan. Depending on how close you are getting to your score goal, you may need to increase the amount of time studying each work as the exam date approaches.
If you have three months to prepare…
Make a plan and get to work! You will want to spend at least two or three hours every week reviewing material and learning strategies, as well as practicing whole sections of the test. Except for the Reading section, each section takes less than an hour, which makes it a great way to plan out your time. You can practice time management and other strategies for each section, and then review your mistakes to improve your content skills.
Take a full practice exam every four weeks to monitor your progress and make changes to your study plan as needed. If you are doing really well on one section, study for it less and direct your energy elsewhere.
If you have one month to prepare…
Take a practice test first so that you can hyper-focus on your weakest skills. Plan to spend at least thirty minutes on SAT practice every day during the week—assuming you are going to school. Spend more time if it is summer! On weekends, spend at least an hour. This will provide you with about four and a half hours a week—a little more than twenty hours total before taking the exam, which will improve your score!
Focus on learning testing techniques for each section and practice using them with sample tests for each section. Review the questions that you miss in order to understand why you answered incorrectly. The more you can learn from your mistakes, the less likely you will be to make similar mistakes on exam day. If you find yourself having trouble with vocabulary in particular, download an SAT vocab app or use Quizlet flashcards for an extra 15 minutes every day to increase your familiarity with words you might see on the exam.
However much time you have before the exam, give yourself permission to take breaks when you need them, especially the day before the exam. You have done all the work you could do. You deserve to be well-rested and relaxed (as much as possible!) on the day of the exam.
The time you need to dedicate to the exam is entirely up to you: your score goals, your available time, and your ability to use that time efficiently. Regardless of how much time you do have, you will be able to improve your score as long as you make a plan and resolve to carry it out!
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