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Can You Really Study for the SAT?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

A common myth is that the SAT is an “IQ test” and studying for it won’t help. The SAT is actually mostly a knowledge based test and requires a little bit of logic. There are specific areas of high school mathematics and reading techniques you need to know and there are methods you can use to quickly answer questions and eliminate incorrect answers. Therefore, studying for the SAT can greatly increase your score and help you get into the college of your dreams.

Here are some tips for tackling the SAT:

1. Create a Study Schedule

Before beginning your studies you should take the PSAT to see what areas of the SAT you’re weakest in. Once you identify your weaknesses you can focus on those areas to increase your score. The table below gives the approximate number of hours needed for particular score improvements.

Table created by Samantha Lindsay from PrepScholar

I would suggest studying for about 3 months for somewhere between 50-70 hours. This may seem daunting, but if you study for 5 hours per week for a 3 month period (about 13 weeks) this comes out to 65 hours of studying. So you could spend 3 hours during the week and 2 hours each weekend studying and this would be more than enough preparation.

2. Use High Quality Test Prep Material

What test prep materials should you use? I would greatly recommend using Khan Academy’s free SAT test prep services for the majority of your studies. In 2015, they partnered up with College Board, the creators of the test, to develop a comprehensive study program that provides practice problems for each type of question on the SAT. They give step by step solutions to each problem and have an adaptive learning system that adjusts the level of difficulty of problems based on how well you’re doing on the material. They also include short 10 question timed quizzes, 8 full length practice tests, and specific test taking strategies. There are other test prep companies that provide high quality SAT prep books, such as Kaplan or Barron’s, which can be useful for supplying extra supplemental problems and practice tests.

3. Take Practice Tests

You should take several practice tests under timed conditions to simulate test day. 8 full length practice tests can be found here. Since College Board creates the SAT test, taking these practice tests should give you a measure of how well you will do on test day. However, College Board made changes to the SAT in 2015. Practice tests 5-8 are actual SAT tests administered to students between 2016-2017 whereas practice tests 1-4 were created as test prep material for the new SAT. Therefore, practice tests 5-8 will be slightly more reliable since they are past SAT tests. You can find out more about the differences between these two sets of practice tests here.

4. Consider Hiring a Tutor

Hiring a tutor can help you go over content on the SAT that you find particularly difficult. They can also give you specific test taking strategies that can enable you to solve SAT problems effectively and in the shortest amount of time. This is important because each portion of the SAT has a specific allotted time. For example, the no calculator math section (Section 3) of the SAT has 20 questions and allows 25 minutes, so you should plan to complete each question in about 1 minute.

5. Don't Stress

If you’re achieving high scores on practice tests chances are you will achieve a high score on test day. Be sure to get plenty of rest and don’t study too hard the day before so that you’re burned out by the time you take the test. If you feel anxious just pretend you’re doing another practice test and remember that all the hard work you did will pay off with a great test result. You got this!

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