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How to Prepare for SAT? Practical tips to ace the SAT

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Millions of students prepare for the SAT every year to secure admission in their dream colleges. But acing the SAT exam is no easy game. For the uninitiated, SAT is an entrance test for students to secure admission in colleges. The test serves as a benchmark for the students’ academic abilities and is among the most pivotal points in a student’s academic life. Let’s understand a few SAT basics before we get to the main subject of this article - how to prepare for the SAT?

A SAT exam sheet
An SAT exam score can indicate a student's academic abilities in college applications

What does the SAT stand for?

When the SAT was first introduced in 1926, it was called Scholastic Aptitude Test. Later, it was changed to the Scholastic Assessment Test. But the SAT is now an empty acronym with no particular full form to it. The SAT is conducted by the College Board which is a non-profit organization.

How long does the SAT take?

The SAT consists of three sections namely Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math. The reading and writing section must be completed in 100 minutes with 65 minutes allotted for reading and 35 minutes allotted for writing. The mathematics section must be finished within 80 minutes. There are two subsections within the math section. One subsection permits the use of calculators whereas the other needs to be solved without a calculator.

What subjects are on the SAT?

The reading section entails MCQs based on passages. The topics range from literature and historical documents to social and natural sciences. The writing section deals with passages based on career, humanities, science and social studies.

Topics in the math section include the heart of algebra, problem solving and data analysis and passport to advanced math.

What is a good SAT score?

You can score anywhere between 200 and 800 for each of the compulsory sections (reading and writing and math). The highest total score for both sections is 1600. The lowest score is 400. Students should aim for a SAT score of 1400 and above to get into top competitive colleges.

How many times can you take the SAT?

There are no restrictions on the number of attempts. You can keep trying till you get the perfect score.

Now that you are acquainted with the basics of the SAT exam, it is time to get to the heart of the matter. Let’s dive straight into a few insightful tips to ace the SAT exam.

How to prepare for the SAT?

Preparing for the SAT exam need not be so hard and confusing. Listed below are a few actionable tips that will come in handy during SAT preparation.

1. Start early

It is always better to get good scores at the very first attempt and this requires advance preparation from your end. Students are recommended to pick a test date that will give them at least 3 months to prepare. 3 months is a good time to practice and master the SAT exam pattern. You can complete the registration process through the College Board website. When you start early, you have the luxury to understand the nuances and nitty gritty of the SAT exam without dealing with stress and anxiety that usually happens when you start preparing at the eleventh hour. SAT preparation will be an enjoyable learning process if you give yourself ample time.

2. Identify your skills early on

An SAT diagnostic test will help you identify your skills. This will give you a fair idea of where you stand in terms of SAT preparation. A low score does not mean you are incapable of scoring good marks during the actual exam. This diagnostic test is recommended just to get an unbiased insight into what skills you possess and what needs to be improved.

While you may feel confident about certain skills, a test will reveal whether you are actually able to score well in those areas. A student may feel confident about his/her grammar skills, but the test scores may reflect a different reality. A diagnostic test will help you understand your real strengths and weaknesses. This will also help you devise a proper study plan that will effectively address your weaknesses.

3. Work on your weaknesses

Once you start preparations in full swing, you will get a better understanding of the sections that demand extra attention. You may find some sections easy and some extremely difficult. You can go easy on sections where you have an upper hand and devote more time to sections where you aren’t scoring well. It is important to work on your weaknesses consistently as nothing will happen overnight. Track your progress daily as this will motivate you to work harder. Whenever you are faced with a difficult concept or question, relax and work through it instead of getting overwhelmed. The key is to distribute time optimally for practicing each section.

Test prep strategy
Identifying your weak areas is an efficient test prep strategy for a better score

4. Familiarize yourself with section-specific instructions

As mentioned before, there is time allotted for each section. There is a particular sequence for the questions and there are directions on how to attempt each section. Simply learning concepts without actually understanding the test instructions will make things difficult on the test day. Understand all the instructions before you appear for the test. The SAT exam is already difficult and trying to understand the instructions and applying it for the first time on the actual test day will make it worse.

5. Be a mental math expert

The math section has two subsections. While students can use a calculator for one subsection, the other section puts the student’s mental math skills to test. If you are not so good with numbers, you will have to put extra effort to ace this section. Mentally doing simple additions and multiplications will save a great deal of time. Solving every sum with pencil and paper will consume a lot of time which will affect your performance in other sections too. Make use of online math books to memorize multiplication tables and practice solving math problems mentally. Replace your old habit of writing down every single calculation and see the difference for yourself.

6. Be thorough with grammar

You might have gotten a fair idea of how important grammar is the moment you saw reading and writing as two of the main sections in the SAT. Your scores in the writing section relies heavily on your grammar and language skills. If you are not well versed in grammar, start devoting more time for brushing up on grammar. Study materials will help you understand the questions better and prepare accordingly. Reading is a good exercise, and you must pay close attention to the sentence structure, punctuation marks and other minute details from a test point of view instead of getting completely engrossed in the material at hand. This doesn’t mean reading has to be a stressful affair. Enjoy reading and at the same time make notes to improve your scores. Grammar is not hard to master if you practice enough.

7. Find an SAT study partner

Having one or more students who are equally invested in the same goal as your study partners will ensure that you stay motivated all the time. Being self-disciplined and self-motivated is always difficult. Having one or more study partners who are as serious as you are (or better, more serious) about the SAT exams will help you prepare with more energy and enthusiasm. You can test each other’s knowledge, help each other learn new concepts and engage in a healthy competition. It may get boring and monotonous when you have no one to share your doubts, concerns and even little achievements. Preparing for entrance examinations like the SAT is not a cakewalk and having a study partner will ease the stress and benefit you in many ways.

A study group for the SAT exam
Finding study partners can help students stay motivated during their test prep journey

8. Build a plan and stick to it

As they say - ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. Every student who intends to take the SAT exam should not dare to proceed without a plan. You need to have some kind of plan that will help you fetch higher SAT scores. Prepare a schedule. Decide how much time you will spend practicing every section. Consider the number of days you have for preparation and set realistic goals and deadlines. Don’t make a schedule that you know would be difficult to follow.

Allow time for breaks and relaxation in the schedule. The more realistic the plan is, the more likely you are to stick to it till the end. The goal is to follow the plan diligently till the test day and not make some impractical plans that are hard to implement. You can start by preparing plans for the week if plans for a full one month seem difficult.

9. Take at least two full practice tests

Practice tests will prepare you for every obstacle that you may encounter during the test day. Take one practice test at the beginning and another once you are done with your preparation. Cell phones are not allowed during the test and there is a time limit (3 hours) you need to strictly adhere to. Set aside 3 hours and take the practice test with utmost seriousness to understand how well you are prepared. While the first practice test may simply be to identify areas of improvement, the second practice test you take must be to assess yourself under test-like conditions. You can see if you are feeling drained during the test and get a first-hand experience of the stress that comes with it. If you never take a full 3-hour practice test, you will suddenly feel anxious on the test day even if you have studied well.

10. Know what to expect on test day

What will you be expected to do on the test day? Just go and write the test, right? No, that’s not what we are talking about. From waking up on time in the morning, getting ready, carrying your test admission ticket, photo ID and other essentials like pencils, erasers, calculators to reaching the test center on time, there is a lot to do on the test day. But a little planning can save you from last minute hassles. Plan the ideal route to the test center, keep all essentials ready a day before, set an alarm and avoid last minute revisions. Relax, sleep a little earlier and have a full healthy breakfast on the test day. Drink enough water and stay hydrated. Low scores are not always an outcome of poor preparation. It’s sometimes due to lack of sleep and poor health which you must avoid at all costs.

Final thoughts

You can effortlessly achieve a perfect above listed tips will serve as an effective guide to kickstart your SAT preparations. There is nothing that cannot be achieved with hard work and the question that may arise when preparing for the SAT is whether to join a SAT coaching class. You can decide what is best for you but joining a class facilitates access to industry experts who know the SAT exams inside out.

Studying alone without any professional assistance has its cons. If you opt to join a coaching institute, make sure it follows a flipped learning model. There are many institutes offering study materials in the form of videos with lifetime access. Such learning methods aren’t going to help for competitive exams like SAT. Enroll in an institute that offers a platform to learn, interact with peers and professional tutors instead of opting for passive learning methods that don’t do any good.

Prestige Institute is one of the most credible names for preparing students for entrance tests like SAT and ACT. Our flipped learning approach is specially designed for an interactive learning experience that boosts engagement and knowledge retention among students. With our limited access policy for study materials, students are compelled to finish learning within a specific time frame. Along with doubt clarification sessions with professional tutors, students are also made to participate in productive discussions with peers that paves way for a thorough preparation. Contact our team today to capitalize on the flipped learning approach and get one step closer to your dreams!


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