If y ou want to score well on the SAT, the best thing you can do is to create an SAT study plan. Your SAT prep schedule should be tailored to your particular needs, so don’t just copy a study plan from the internet.
Take the rest of your life into consideration. You’re already going to school for most of the day, but if you have other obligations outside of school, studying for the SAT will be even harder. Don’t try studying for the SAT in a month, especially in that case, since you’ll end up doing a lot of cramming, and you’ll run the risk of wearing yourself out by the time your test day comes around.
Instead, create a realistic SAT prep schedule that lets you continue living your life while you brush up on the concepts and strategies you’ll need to ace the test. Create good study habits and make sure you stick to your plans. Don’t be afraid to update your schedule if necessary until you reach your goal.
Diagnose Your Weaknesses in Advance
Before you create your SAT study plan, you’ll need to target your weaknesses on the test. If you don’t diagnose your weaknesses first, you may end up wasting a lot of time by studying topics you already understand well. In other words, diagnosing your weaknesses will help you study more efficiently.
To make an effective diagnosis of the areas that need improvement, take one of the free practice tests on the College Board’s website under timed conditions that replicate the real test as close as you can. After you finish, grade your work and write down in a notebook the questions that you got wrong. This notebook is where you’ll be tracking all of your mistakes in order to see if a pattern develops.
After you take the first diagnostic test, take another one, but this time give yourself unlimited time. If you score higher on this test, this tells you that your main problem is pacing. If your scores are relatively the same, you’ll need to take a closer look at the problems themselves to understand your mistakes.
Finding Patterns in Your Mistakes
Once you’ve taken both diagnostic tests, write down all of the questions that you answered incorrectly in your mistake notebook. Yes, this will take time, especially if you copy down entire questions. However, putting in this extra bit of work will help you more clearly see the parts of the answers that tripped you up.
Ask yourself these questions as you go:
- Are there any similarities among these questions? What are they?
- Have I been making the same careless mistake multiple times?
- Is the language of the questions tripping me up, or do I lack a skill required to answer correctly?
If you find that there are similarities among the questions, write them down. These similarities will tell you where to focus your studying energy, whether it's on certain skills, sections or strategies. If you’re just making careless errors, this tells you that you may need to slow down or modify your pacing.
Figure Out How Much Time You Need to Study
Now that you know all of the topics you need to study, write them out as positive statements and actionable goals like: I will learn how to recognize errors in subject-verb agreement, or I will memorize the quadratic equation. Use these goals to organize a focused list of subjects for which you will find study materials later.
If this strategy seems too focused for you, don’t worry. You should continue to take diagnostic tests along the way to make sure you’re still improving. You can also begin your SAT study plan with a broader approach and then narrow your focus as you feel more confident with the test as a whole.
The time you need to study depends on how much material you want to cover as well as how much time you have on any given day to devote to studying. Try not to cram too much material into a short span of time, as studying over longer periods is more conducive to learning. Instead, plan to take at least a few months to cover the material. Give yourself more time if you need to cover more material.
Start Using a Planner
If you’re still struggling to figure out how much time you’ll have each week to devote to studying, buy a daily planner and start using it. Put every part of your life into the planner, not just your daily obligations. After a while, your available time will start to reveal itself.
Most students tend to have extra time after school or at night. However, if you work after school or you have other obligations, finding time can be tricky. If your schedule seems too packed to fit in studying for the SAT, you may need to sacrifice one of your other obligations.
Don’t cut back on the things that make your life enjoyable, though, as you’ll be less likely to commit to studying if you don’t have any balance between your school work and downtime. Your brain needs sleep and other forms of relaxation in order to keep up with rigorous studying. Cut out unnecessary activities instead, like watching TV or wiling away hours on social media.
Sign Up for the Test
Before you can finalize your SAT study plan, you’ll need to sign up for the test. This will give you a definitive end date and a concrete goal to work toward while you study.
If you don’t sign up for the test ahead of time, you might not be able to take the test again before applying for college. It will also be hard for you to focus if the SAT is an amorphous threat in the future instead of a real date in your planner.
Don’t sign up for a date that’s too soon either. Give yourself at least three months of study time before your test date. This will give you enough leeway to complete one practice test per month to make sure your score is improving.
Make an SAT Prep Schedule
Now that you have your test date in hand, it’s time to create your whole SAT prep schedule. You can do this as if you’re making a syllabus for yourself. Write everything out on paper, ideally in your daily planner, so that you can see the whole schedule without having to go searching for it. Include the score you want to achieve in a prominent place.
Next, plan out which days you’ll take the diagnostic practice tests. Space these out so that you give yourself enough time to study and improve between them. You can also reassess your study schedule at these times as your needs change.
Between the practice tests, map out areas of focus where you will study one topic at a time, perhaps one topic per week, until you feel confident that your abilities have improved. Start with your weakest areas and spend the most time on those. Progress toward topics about which you feel more confident but still need a refresher.
Find an SAT Prep Book That Works for You
Before you go out and buy an SAT prep book, scour the internet for quality materials, starting with the College Board’s website itself. Next, check your public library to see if they have any up-to-date SAT study guides. Be careful with the materials you choose, as not all of them are created equally. The SAT was updated in 2016, so many of the free materials you find may be obsolete.
Once you exhaust the free materials at your disposal, look for books that fit your needs. Skip "The College Board's Official SAT Study Guide" because most of the material in it is available for free online. Kallis’s "SAT Pattern Strategy" is the book recommended by most experts, but the "SAT Prep Black Book" (2nd edition) will help you understand your mistakes on the College Board’s official practice tests if you’re still having trouble understanding your weaknesses.
You can also find books that narrow in on specific sections of the SAT. "Dr. Steve Warner's 500 New SAT Math Problems" is the most comprehensive book for conquering the Math section, and "The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading" and "The Critical Reader: The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar" will set you up to succeed on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section.
Create Good Study Habits
Creating good study habits involves more than pledging to take time to study every day. Those hours you spend studying need to be focused. Designate a spot in your room at home or someplace else that’s calm and quiet and return to your studies at the same time each day. Repeating the time and place of your studies will help you create a positive habit, and gradually, studying will become less of a hassle.
While you’re studying, remove yourself from distractions. Put your phone in the other room, turn off your computer and listen to music or put in earplugs to cancel out any outside noise. Try writing everything on paper so you won’t be tempted to surf the internet or hang out on social media while you should be studying.
Writing on paper also has the added benefit of improving your memory. Believe it or not, you remember facts more clearly if you read them in a physical book than you do if you read them on a screen. Writing notes by hand has a similar impact.
Adjust Your Plan if Necessary
As you’re taking more practice tests, you may find that you need to shift your focus to different topics. Write down the questions you answered incorrectly in your mistakes notebook, and continue to keep track of the patterns that develop.
If you see a new pattern, create a new unit for yourself on your study plan. This might add more time. So, if your time is limited, you might have to cut back on another topic where you feel more confident.
Are You Studying for the SAT in a Month?
If you’re still set on studying for the SAT in a month, focus and efficiency are all the more important. You’ll need to sacrifice some of your free time to studying, but this cost will pay off in results.
Start with diagnostic testing. Narrow in on your weaknesses and create a condensed study plan that focuses only on your areas of highest concern. Take another practice test every week instead of every month.
You might not do well on the SAT if you’re studying under this kind of time crunch, but remember that you can always take the test again to bring up your score. Give yourself more time to study before taking the SAT again and form a comprehensive plan.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.