Preparing for the SAT Test – 10 Effective Ways

Introduction

Taking the SAT exam is like a rite of passage if you are in high school and heading off to college. As your test date approaches, you may be feeling the pressure and stress of doing well. Maybe, you’re not that good at taking tests.

The best way to ease that pressure is to be better prepared. We hope our post “Preparing for the SAT Test – 10 Effective Ways” can help you do just that.

#1 – Plan Out a Study Schedule

Your first step on preparing for the SAT test is to plan out your study schedule. The main question you need to answer is: how much time do you have before the test.

Check The Test Dates First

The College Board lists the SAT test dates for a particular calendar year. The Board also lists anticipated dates for the following year if you really want to plan ahead.

The chart below gives you an example:

If you know the test date, you can work backward and start planning for your exam. The more time you have the better. For the June 1 test date above, you would need to start January 1 for a 6-month study schedule and April 1 for a 3-month study schedule.

Notice the deadline for changes. This allows you to change your test center, date and type.

Dates for International Students

The College Board also posts SAT test dates for international students.

The SAT is offered internationally in October, December, March, and May. SAT Subject Tests are available internationally in October, November, December, May, and June.

There are many more restrictions and guidelines for international students taking the SAT exam. Check the College Board for the policies related to the following: 

Create Your Schedule

Once you know how much time you have, you can create a study schedule for your SAT test preparation. Better yet, Khan Academy has a 6-month, 3-month and even 1-month study schedules already prepared.

The schedules list out when you should take practice tests, how much time you should dedicate to studying, and how to make the most of your study time.

Here’s a PRO TIP: Plan to finish studying one day before your exam. This way, you can relax and take your mind off exam prep so that you are fully rested (in mind and body) on the day of the SAT. 

#2 – Practice Taking a Full SAT Test (Several Times)

Another tip on preparing for the SAT test is to take a full SAT practice test, several times if you can manage it. In the 6-month schedule above, the recommendation is to take a full practice test at the beginning, at 3 months before the deadline, and then one practice test PER WEEK one month prior to the deadline.

In addition, you should also take one full practice SAT test ON PAPER. You want to simulate a real test taking experience, with pencil and paper. Remember, the more familiarity that you have with the exam, the better chance you will have of reducing your anxiety about it.

#3 – Become Fully Acquainted with the SAT Exam

Another tip for preparing for the SAT exam is to become fully acquainted with the test. You don’t want to spend time on your test day trying to understand what each section means.

This is one of the advantages of taking a paper-based SAT practice test. You can flip through the pages and become familiar with the format. Again, on test day, you want to start answering questions as quickly as possible without having to understand the directions for each section.

Note the following details:

  1. There are four sections to the test: reading, language and writing, math (no calculator) and math (with calculator).
  2. Each section is timed so you cannot move onto the next section until you are directed.
  3. There are some very important instructions for the correct way to mark your test in the General Instructions.
  4. You are not penalized for wrong answers so you should at least guess if you do not know an answer.
  5. Become familiar with the logic and phrasing of different parts of the test.
  6. Don’t forget about your timing and pace as you go through the test. You want to have a sense if you are spending too long on a question.
  7. You should familiarize yourself with certain math sections as the instructions for marking down your answers can be quite elaborate (see chart below).

#4 – Focus on Your Weaknesses

Taking a practice SAT exam early in the process allows you to identify the areas of the test where you need to improve. You should dedicate extra time in your schedule to your areas of weakness since they will have the greatest impact on raising your score.

Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice Website is a valuable resource for this purpose. Here are a few guidelines to maximize your results:

  1. Connect your College Board and Khan Academy accounts to get personalized recommendations based on your PSAT results
  2. If you did not take the PSAT, then you will have to take several diagnostic quizzes (in math and reading / writing) to determine the areas where you need practice
  3. The practice website will give you personalized plan of study based on the results of your diagnostics. You get instant feedback as you progress through the practice quizzes.

#5 – Mix Up Your Study Materials

Preparing for the SAT test does not mean that you must only use official test prep material. There are many ways to acquire the reading, logic, and analytical skills you need besides taking practice tests.

For example:

  • Long Articles or Essays – To improve your reading skills try reading long articles or essays and then summarizing the article’s main points. Wired or Science magazine have plenty of great articles to tune your mind (some may even include charts and graphs to help you improve in that area).
  • Non-Fiction or Fiction Books You can also read portions of books that are above your grade level in order to acquire more verbal skills.
  • AP Language / Literature Questions – Many questions are based on reading passages and understanding their structure and logic.

#6 – Take a Self-Guided SAT Test Prep Class

Both Princeton Review as well as Kaplan offer online SAT Test prep courses.

You can choose to study with an instructor or use their online self-guided courses. Princeton Review even has a course that guarantees an SAT score of 1400+ though it’s best to read the guarantee policy before making a purchase.

These options range anywhere from $250 for the self-study course to $1,500 for the guaranteed course. The big advantage to using an SAT prep course is having accountability. Paying for something also means you are invested so there’s a greater chance you will complete the necessary preparation.

#7 – Consider Taking an Intensive SAT Test Prep Course

Another option for preparing for the SAT exam is to take an intensive, in-person, SAT test prep course. This is what we offer here at Lexington Prep School, located in beautiful Lexington, Massachusetts.

We offer both Thanksgiving and Summer intensive programs with experienced SAT test prep professors. During the summer, you can choose a schedule from two weeks up to six weeks of intensive study.

There are big advantages to this type of preparation:

  1. Take advantage of your school breaks – You can take advantage of your school breaks to receive an intensive preparation for the SAT exam. This is especially applicable for international boarding school students who may not be able to travel back to their home country during school recess.
  2. Hands on, one-on-one attention – You can interact with a professor for guidance and when you have questions
  3. Tailored curriculum – After your assessment, you can tailor a program to strengthen your weakest areas
  4. Three practice tests in each two-week period – Taking practice tests in a short periods helps you to quickly become familiar with the format, logic and sequence in a simulated test taking environment
  5. College visits – You can take advantage of your time in Boston to visit world class colleges and universities that you are interested in attending
  6. Comfortable boarding facilities and meals – We take care of lodging and meals so you can focus on your studies
  7. Interaction with students from the world over – Meet and make new friends from different parts of the world and from different boarding schools across the U.S.
  8. Sightseeing in the Boston area – Experience world class sites in Boston, one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S

#8 – Take the PSAT in 9th and 10th Grade

This tip on preparing for the SAT test is for those who are long range planners.

You should take the PSAT test in 9th and 10th grade. The results of these exams will give you a benchmark on where you need to improve as you prepare for the regular SAT exam. In addition, if you connect your College Board and Khan Academy accounts, you can import the results of the PSAT directly into Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice Website.

This will allow the Khan Academy site to assess where you need the most help and provide a detailed study plan accordingly.

#9 – Relax and Rest Before the Day of the Test

Even if you are fully prepared to take the SAT exam, being overly anxious may cause you to underperform on the day of the test. For this reason, it is probably wise to finish up your studies ONE DAY before the exam.

Take that day to do something that does not involve working your brain. Almost any activity will do: taking a walk on the beach or a park, shopping, going to the movies, watching YouTube or whatever else you can do to relax.

On the night before the exam, make sure you get plenty of rest. If you are confident that you have studied well, you should have no problem getting a good night’s sleep.

#10 – Keep Things in Perspective

The final tip for preparing for the SAT test is actually more of mental shift as you head into your exam.

Keep things in perspective.

Keeping things in perspective will help reduce your anxiety on test day and allow you to perform at your best. What does this mean?

 

It means that the SAT exam is BUT ONE of many variables that will determine whether you will gain acceptance into your college of choice. Other factors that determine your acceptance include:

Whether you have taken the most difficulty classes available to you

  • Your extracurricular activities
  • Community service
  • Common application essay
  • Intended major
  • Appropriate social media history (believe it or not)
  • Whether you are the right fit for the college
  • Interview process and your demonstrated interest
  • Character and growth potential
If you want deeper insight, check out Harvard Admission’s article on what they look for as they consider your application. Though this is based on Harvard’s admission process, you can apply these principles to just about any college.

Conclusion

Preparing for the SAT test does not have to be a burden for you. If you plan ahead, prepare a good schedule, and take plenty of practice tests, you should do just fine. Obviously, your biggest gains will come from strengthening your weak areas. You can do this through Khan Academy’s self-guided study (which is free) or pay for a test prep service that fits your budget.

For us here at Lexington Prep School, it would be our privilege to help you prepare for this important milestone in your life.

Good luck! 

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