Tips for Preparing for the SAT

Written By Trent Lorcher

The bulk of your SAT preparation has already taken place. With every test, lecture, reading, and math problem, your teachers have been preparing you for the SAT and getting into college since you were in kindergarten. That being said, the months leading up to the SAT is NOT the time to slack off. There are still things you can do to maximize learning, pick up bits of knowledge, and improve your SAT test-taking skills. The following suggestions on how to prepare for the SAT will give you a plan for how to use the time effectively leading up to the test.

Practice Makes Perfect (or, at least, makes your score high enough to get into your dream college)

Those who set goals in life achieve more. Those who set SAT goals get more questions right. So what does this have to do with taking practice tests? It’ll be a lot easier to set goals if you have a baseline.  Take a practice test or two. Take the PSAT. Talk to your school's guidance counselor, if you're not sure where to get a good practice test. Replicate testing conditions to the best of your ability. Once you've taken a practice test, do the following:

  • Analyze the score by looking at strengths and weaknesses
  • Decide where you can most improve and by how much
  • Set goals for score improvement
  • Focus on improving weaknesses, but don't ignore strengths
  • Create a study plan
  • Retest periodically

Taking practice tests does more than helping you create goals. It gives real practice answering the types of questions found on the exam. The more comfortable you are with the test format and question types, the more relaxed you'll be on the day of the actual exam.

Create a Study Plan

Once you've diagnosed your skills with a couple of practice tests and created goals for the exam, you'll need a plan. Here's how to prepare for the SAT by creating a study plan.

  1. If you haven't already done so, register for the test. Rare is the student who maximizes study time without a concrete date for taking the test. You need to register. Now!
  2. Locate test prep materials. The proliferation of standardized testing has given rise to standardized test prep materials. Whether you attend a private test prep academy, a class at your high school, an online program, or buy a test prep book depends on your learning style.
  3. Schedule study time. It doesn't matter when you study, but your study plan must include study time. For best results, schedule a consistent time. How much depends on your goals and how far in advance you register for the test. You have registered for the test, right?
  4. Take practice tests. There's an entire section above devoted to taking practice tests. Practice tests familiarize you with the test format and test content. Practice tests also help measure progress toward your goal. 
  5. Read complex materials. You don't need a practice test to practice reading. You will improve your chances of success on any standardized test in any subject by improving your reading skills. In other words, every teacher since kindergarten who told you to "read to achieve" was right. If you're looking for good SAT reading material, talk to your school's AP teachers or your guidance counselor. They'll steer you in the right direction.
  6. Use dead time. Instead of checking Facebook, check your SAT prep notes. You'll be amazed by how much you can learn with 5 minutes of focused study. Following through on a plan depends on successful time management. Not wasting 5-10 minutes doing things that won't help you achieve your goal is not good time management.
  7. Brush up on test-taking skills. Your teachers have probably gone over test-taking skills a thousand times during the last ten years. Just in case you weren't paying attention, review them.

If it doesn't feel like you're making progress with your study plan, remember that the actual test day will bring out your best. You'll be more focused when it's real. But only if you follow these last minute tips on how to prepare for the SAT.

Optimize Your Abilities on Test Day

Don't be that kid who throws away months of preparation by not taking care of herself in the moments leading up to the test. Score evaluators want your best. So give them your best!

Don't study the night before the test. You may even want a 2-3 day break. You want to enter the test with a refreshed brain. Take the time you'd allotted for test prep during the past months and do something fun. Play a game. Pet your dog. Watch a movie.

These test day practices will help your best self show up on test day.

  • Exercise. Moderate exercise the day before the test or the morning of the test will get your blood flowing and your brain working. You'll also feel good about yourself.
  • Be confident. You've prepared. Believe in yourself. Confidence will raise your score.
  • Rest. Sleep the night before. Your brain works better when it's rested.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast. A certain candy bar company has made great commercials stating the obvious: We're not at our best when we're hungry. Don't test hungry.
  • Be on time. Optimized test-taking takes place in a non-stressful environment. The SAT administrators don't mess around when it comes to showing up on time. If you're running late, you'll feel stress. If you're early, you won't feel stress--other than the stress of taking a test that could decide your scholastic future.

Now you have the secret on how to prepare for the SAT. Of course, setting goals, creating a plan, and optimizing yourself on test day is no secret at all. The real secret is whether you're willing to follow through and achieve your best?

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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