How To Study For The SAT: Tips and Strategies for Success

28/06/202424 minute read
How To Study For The SAT: Tips and Strategies for Success

While many colleges switched to a test-optional policy during COVID, many have reinstated the test as a requirement. For the colleges that remain test-optional, submitting your test scores can still have huge benefits.

A good SAT score is important, and the average SAT score for students admitted to the Ivy League or top colleges is high, often around at least 1550. To have a competitive application, getting an excellent score is necessary, which means you’ll need to study correctly for it.

Based on my and my team’s experience with students taking the SATs, we’ve compiled a full guide with the best studying practices that you should follow to get the perfect score.

This guide is designed to help you navigate the preparation process, from building a strong foundation in the core subjects to mastering test-taking strategies. We aim to provide you with the tools and confidence needed to excel on test day and make your college application stand out.

How to Study for the SATs

1. Familiarize Yourself With The Format & Scoring

Understanding the format of the SAT is a crucial first step in your preparation journey. The SAT is composed of two different sections, and each section is designed to assess different skills. 

Knowing the structure will help you manage your time effectively and approach each part with confidence.

What's on the SAT?
Duration Content
Reading and Writing 1st Module 32 minutesBoth modules: Short reading passages followed by 54 multiple-choice questions
Reading and Writing 2nd Module32 minutesBoth modules: Short reading passages followed by 54 multiple-choice questions
Break10 minutes-
Math 1st Module35 minutes75% multiple-choice questions, 25% free-response questions
Math 2nd Module35 minutes75% multiple-choice questions, 25% free-response questions

The Reading and Writing section consists of short reading passages in different subject areas including history, the humanities, and science. These passages are usually about 25-150 words long, and they’re followed by 54 multiple-choice questions.

The Math section consists of both multiple-choice questions, as well as free response questions to test your fluency and ability to apply math concepts, skills and practices. About 75% of all questions are multiple choice, while the rest are student-produced free response questions.

Your total SAT score is a number between 400 and 1600 - this score is the total of your scores in both sections and in all 4 modules. Each section has a possible score range of 200-800 points.

The way the College Board scores your SAT is by first adding up the total number of questions you answered correctly (each question is worth 1 point), then converting your raw score from a 1-40 scale to section scores on a 200-800 range per section.

The SAT employs a ‘rights-only’ scoring approach, meaning there are no deductions for incorrect answers, and there is no penalty for guessing the answer in multiple choice questions!

2. Understand the Content of Each Section

Each section tests specific skills and knowledge areas, and understanding the content will help you target your studying to improve in the right areas.

The questions in the reading and writing section represent one of four content domains the test aims to assess:

  • Craft and Structure: Measures comprehension, analysis, and reasoning skills and knowledge and the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, and integrate information and ideas from texts and informational graphics (tables, bar graphs, and line graphs).
  • Information and Ideas: Measures the comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, synthesis, and reasoning skills and knowledge needed to understand and use high-utility words and phrases in context, evaluate texts rhetorically, and make connections between topically related texts.
  • Standard English Conventions: Measures the ability to revise texts to improve the effectiveness of written expression and to meet specific rhetorical goals.
  • Expression of Ideas: Measures the ability to edit text to conform to core conventions of Standard English sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

The math section tests your understanding of different areas of mathematics:

  • Algebra: measures the ability to analyze, solve, and create linear equations and inequalities as well as analyze and solve equations and systems of equations using multiple techniques.
  • Advanced Math: measures skills and knowledge central for progression to more advanced math courses, including demonstrating an understanding of absolute value, quadratic, exponential, polynomial, rational, radical, and other nonlinear equations.
  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis: measures the ability to apply quantitative reasoning about ratios, rates, and proportional relationships; understand and apply unit rate; and analyze and interpret variable data.
  • Geometry and Trigonometry: measure the ability to solve problems related to area and volume formulas, circles, lines, angles, and more.

Each section is split into two back-to-back separate modules, and your performance in the first module determines the difficulty of the second one. In each module, the questions are arranged from easiest to hardest.

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

3. Create a Study Plan

The earlier you start taking practice tests, the better. At the latest, start studying and assessing your strengths and weaknesses six months before you plan to take the exam. ​

  • Dedicate at least one hour each day to focused test prep. Ensure this time is free from distractions by turning off your phone and creating a quiet study environment.
  • To maximize efficiency and minimize stress, consider focusing on one specific section of the SAT each study session. This approach allows you to dive deep into the content without feeling overwhelmed, improving retention and mastery.
  • Establish clear, achievable goals for your study plan. Start with your ultimate goal, such as achieving a high score to gain admission to your dream college. Understanding your motivation will keep you focused and determined throughout your preparation journey.
  • For each study session, set smaller, short-term goals that are specific and measurable. For example, identifying and correcting mistakes in fraction-related math problems can be a productive goal for a session. Setting and achieving these smaller goals will provide a sense of accomplishment and progress, reinforcing your commitment to achieving your overall SAT goal.
Example SAT Study Plan Template
1Practice Test 1Take Crimson's practice test to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Identify areas that need improvement.
MathReview concepts and practice problems.
ReadingPractice with sample passages and questions.
2WritingReview grammar rules and practice with sample questions.
MathReview concepts and practice problems.
3ReadingPractice with sample passages and questions.
WritingReview grammar rules and practice with sample questions.
4Practice Test 2 Identify areas that still need improvement.
Focus on weakest areasReview concepts and practice problems.

While mathematical concepts can be brushed up with good repetitive practice, it may be less straightforward when it comes to language.

For the Reading component, one must develop a strong vocabulary and a sound understanding of grammar rules that underpin the English language. Contrary to the mechanical nature of preparation for Math, building a solid vocabulary will take time, from reading more widely, learning new words daily, etc.

Books on grammar can be borrowed or purchased online and physically - alternatively, you may consult your English tutor at school or get someone well-versed in the English language to guide you.

4. Take Practice Tests

Practice tests are invaluable tools in your SAT preparation arsenal. Here’s why they're crucial:

  • Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses: Practice tests help pinpoint areas where you excel and areas where you need improvement. Analyzing your performance on each section reveals patterns in your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might consistently score well in Reading but struggle with certain types of Math questions. This insight allows you to adjust your study focus to maximize improvement in weaker areas.
  • Simulating Real Exam Conditions: To get the most accurate assessment of your readiness, simulate the actual testing environment as closely as possible. Take practice tests under conditions that mimic the SAT testing center—use a quiet space, adhere strictly to time limits for each section, and avoid interruptions. This approach not only prepares you mentally and physically for the length and intensity of the SAT but also helps in developing the endurance needed to stay focused throughout the exam.
  • Applying Test-Taking Strategies: Practice tests provide opportunities to refine your test-taking strategies. Experiment with different approaches to questions, such as skipping difficult ones and returning to them later, or using process of elimination for multiple-choice questions. Developing and honing these strategies during practice tests ensures you’re prepared to use them confidently on test day.
  • Reviewing and Learning from Mistakes: After completing a practice test, thoroughly review your answers and understand why you got certain questions wrong. Look for patterns in your mistakes—whether they stem from content gaps, misunderstanding of instructions, or careless errors. Use this feedback to adjust your study plan, focusing on areas that need more practice and reinforcing concepts you struggle with.

Use recent practice tests for the digital SATs:

5. Work With Expert Tutors

Collaborating with expert tutors can significantly enhance your SAT preparation experience. Here’s how:

  • Personalized Guidance: Expert tutors bring specialized knowledge and experience to tailor your SAT preparation plan according to your strengths, weaknesses, and learning style. They assess your initial skills through diagnostic tests and customize a study schedule that targets your specific areas of improvement.
  • Targeted Strategies: Tutors offer insights into effective test-taking strategies that are crucial for optimizing your SAT performance. They teach you how to approach different question types, manage time effectively during each section, and reduce test anxiety through strategic preparation techniques.
  • Expert Insights and Resources: Tutors offer access to a wealth of resources, including study materials, practice tests, and advanced learning tools that may not be readily available through self-study alone. They stay updated on the latest SAT trends and changes, ensuring that you receive current and relevant information to prepare effectively.
  • Continuous Improvement: By working with expert tutors, you engage in a continuous cycle of learning and improvement. Tutors can clarify complex concepts, answer your questions in real-time, and provide additional explanations to deepen your understanding of challenging topics. They help you adapt your study strategies based on evolving needs and progress.

Some of the best teachers in the world tutor with us. Book a free consultation and work with our expert tutors to get the perfect score.

6. Take Multiple Tests

Taking the SAT two or more times can be a strategic approach to improving your overall score and increasing your chances of admission to your desired colleges. 

Many students find that their scores increase with each attempt as they become more familiar with the test format and more comfortable with the testing environment. Each subsequent test allows you to apply what you've learned from previous experiences, refine your strategies, and focus on areas that need improvement.

The main benefit of taking multiple tests is superscoring. Many colleges and universities offer this policy in their admissions, where they consider your highest section scores across all SAT test dates. 

If you score higher on the Math section in one test sitting and higher on the Reading and Writing section in another, colleges that superscore will combine these highest section scores to create a new, higher composite score. 

For example, let’s say on your first attempt, you scored 600 in the Math section and 700 in the Reading and Writing section. On your second attempt, you improved your Math score to 650 but your Reading and Writing section score dropped to 680.

With superscoring, colleges would take your highest Math score (650) from the second test and your highest Reading and Writing score (700) from the first test, resulting in a superscore of 1350 (650 + 700).

This practice can significantly boost your overall SAT score, making you a more competitive applicant.

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

7. Manage Stress and Test Anxiety  

Understanding Test Anxiety:

Test anxiety is a common phenomenon that affects many students. It manifests as a combination of emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms that can significantly impact performance. Here are some common indicators of test anxiety:

  • Cognitive Symptoms:
    • Difficulty reading and understanding the questions on a test.
    • Performing poorly on a test despite knowing the material.
    • A persistent fear of failing the exam, even before taking it.
    • Remembering the correct answers only after the exam is over.
  • Physical Symptoms:
    • A knot in the stomach or nausea, often described as “butterflies in the stomach.”
    • Wet and trembling hands.
    • Sweating.
    • Tension in the shoulders and/or back of the neck.
    • Dry mouth.
    • A pounding heart.

Managing Test Anxiety Before the Exam:

Effective preparation and self-care are key to managing test anxiety before it becomes overwhelming. Here are some strategies:

  • Time Management: Create a study schedule that allocates sufficient time for each subject, avoiding last-minute cramming.
  • Organize Materials: Ensure all necessary materials and resources are readily available and organized.
  • Tutoring: Seek help from tutors to reinforce understanding of difficult topics.
  • Homework and Study Groups: Regularly complete homework and participate in study groups to stay engaged and reinforce learning.
  • Arrive Early: Getting to the exam location early can help you settle down and get comfortable with the environment.
  • Healthy Eating: Eat a balanced diet, especially on the day of the exam, to maintain energy levels and concentration.
  • Rest: Ensure you get plenty of sleep the night before the exam to avoid fatigue.
  • Positive Self-Talk: Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations about your preparation and abilities.
  • Avoid Pre-Exam Discussions: Don’t engage in last-minute discussions about the exam with peers, as this can increase anxiety.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Engage in relaxing activities or exercises an hour before the exam to calm your mind and body.

“Don't panic when students start handing in their papers. There's no reward for being the first done. ”

- Lisa Kahan, Senior Strategy Consultant at Crimson

Managing Test Anxiety During the Exam:

Staying calm and focused during the exam is crucial for optimal performance. Here are some tips:

  • Breathing Exercises: Practice deep breathing to calm your nerves and reduce physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Positive Thoughts: Continuously replace negative thoughts with positive ones to maintain confidence.
  • Read Directions Carefully: Make sure you understand the instructions for each section to avoid mistakes.
  • Time Management: Budget your time effectively to ensure you have enough time to answer all questions.
  • Physical Adjustments: Change positions or stretch slightly to relieve tension and stay relaxed.
  • Skip and Return: If you go blank on a question, move on to the next one and return later if time permits.
  • Essay Questions: If you go blank on an essay question, start writing about any part of the topic; this can trigger relevant thoughts and answers.
  • Avoid Panic: Don’t worry about other students finishing before you. Focus on your own pace and accuracy.
Blog Banner
Blog Banner

Final Thoughts

Preparing for the SAT is a journey that requires dedication, strategic planning, and effective study habits. By studying correctly, you can significantly improve your chances of achieving a high score. Remember, the goal is not just to study hard but to study smart. Stay focused, stay positive, and trust in your preparation.

If you need help with the college application process, including the SATs, our expert team of strategists are here to help. Book a free online consultation and let's take it from there!

What Makes Crimson Different