How to Practice for the SAT
When it comes to test prep, and most other endeavors, practice is the key to success. Whether it’s a piece of music, a curveball, or a recipe, we usually don’t get things right on the first try. It’s the same with the SAT: Improvement is only achieved with practice.
So what’s the best way to practice for the SAT maximum results? The suggestions below will show you how to make the most of your SAT study time and guide you in developing the optimal test prep plan. But remember: What works for you is what’s most important. So experiment with all the tips, continue with those that work best, and make them your own. You can improve your test scores if you study the right way.
Here are ten ways to optimize your SAT prep efforts:
- We recommend taking at least two full-length tests in preparation for the real thing. Choose from the eight official practice tests created by the College Board, the group that publishes the SAT. They are available for free at www.collegeboard.org. Print the tests out and do them on paper. If you took all eight tests, that would be more than 24 hours of practice! You would deserve a medal just for your effort, but you’d also be very well prepared.
- Set a goal for what score you want to achieve in each section and overall. Then track your progress toward that goal. Always score your practice sections and keep an accurate record — there’s no reason to fib here. Make notes of what went well and what didn’t. Try to pinpoint which strategies worked and where you got derailed.
- Treat practice tests like they’re the real thing. Each time you sit down to a test, visualize that you are in the testing center on the big day and go through the same routine: use sharpened #2 pencils, fill in a bubble sheet, set a timer (and stick to the assigned times), and use the calculator you plan on using for the actual test. Don’t listen to music! It won’t be allowed on test day.
- When your timer sounds for the end of a section, make a note of how far you got, then set down your pencil and take a few deep breaths. After a moment, finish the items you didn’t have time for and revisit any you were unsure of earlier in the section. You want each practice section to be complete even if it takes you longer than the allotted time. When checking the answers, give yourself an “in-time” score and an “overtime” (or total) score. You’re trying to figure out if it’s content or timing that you most need to work on.
- Set mini-goals for timing within each section — kind of like timing laps on a racetrack — to make sure you are keeping up the necessary pace. Divide the total section time by how many passages or questions there are, and write interim time goals at various spots in the section before you begin.
- When grading yourself, separate test items you missed into three categories: 1) did not know how to answer or solve, 2) made a careless mistake, and 3) did not have time. This will help you determine what you need to work on: academic topics, attention to detail, or time management. If you can study enough to eliminate the mistakes in category 1, then with practice and self-discipline, you really do have the potential to get a great score.
- Be very honest with yourself about which sections, questions, or problems are your weakest link and study those areas first. This is critical. Whether it’s trig identities, algebra word problems, or geometry formulas; inferences, main ideas, or vocabulary in context; semicolons, verb tense, or the difference between “who” and “whom,” we all have our blind spots. To earn a top score, we have to identify these and then work on them.
- Sign up for the College Board’s Daily Practice App to answer one question a day on your smartphone. It’s a great way to kill time on the train or bus. That extra bit of practice will feel painless and just might make the difference on test day.
- Sign up for an SAT Practice Schedule on Khan Academy. You can set a plan, do practice problems, and listen to videos explaining concepts. Your teachers may have already directed you here, so hopefully you’re familiar with the site but not so sick of it that you can’t keep making use of the excellent resources Khan Academy provides.
- Eventually you might get bored with taking practice SATs, so get creative with how you build your skills. Do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble with a friend who has a good vocabulary, and most importantly, read! You could pick up a complex literary novel, read articles from scientific magazines online, or start your day with editorials from a respected newspaper. Don’t forget to look up words you don’t know along the way.
If you give an honest effort toward implementing these strategies, you’ll feel confident and prepared to meet your potential on test day!