Effective Study Habits for the SAT

Figuring out how to effectively study for the SAT can be quite a confusing process. There are so many options to choose from: self-study, free online SAT prep classes, small-group classes, private classes, and, of course, in-person classes held at an SAT test center.

Ultimately, the most effective type of SAT prep is going to be the type that helps you truly master the material. Free online SAT prep classes can be an excellent starting place, with a segue into more personalized SAT tutoring as you narrow down exactly what material you specifically need help with learning. The goal is to get to a mastery level, which means achieving a 90% proficiency (or higher) in each SAT content area.

Regardless of where and how you decide to study for the SAT (either online or in-person), here are some important study habits to keep in mind when trying to raise your score:

  1. Minimize Distractions

It can be tempting to want to study with a friend, but the chances are slim to none that the areas of the SAT that you are trying to focus on and gain mastery in are the exact same content areas that your friend is also trying to focus on. And, unless your friend is a certified tutor in the content areas in which you need improvement, having them sit beside you and talk to you while you try to study isn’t going to help improve your score. Rather, they are going to serve as a distraction. Other common distractions include loud noises and easy access to your cell phone. We recommend finding a quiet place to study where you won’t be interrupted. Ideally, leave your phone outside the room or place it on “Do Not Disturb” and leave it out of reach.

  1. Make It A Habit

How many times have you said you were going to do something (e.g. start a new exercise routine, learn a new language, practice an instrument), but then never followed through? Studying for the SAT can easily become something you tell yourself that you’re going to do, but then never actually get around to doing. The way to approach SAT studying is simple: make it a non-negotiable habit. What that means is make studying a part of your routine that you do not skip under any circumstances. Many students who struggle to make studying for the SAT a habit find it helpful to work with a tutor, as there will be 1 – 2 dedicated days/times a week reserved for reviewing the SAT. You’re less likely to skip studying if you’ve got a tutor holding you accountable and expecting you to show up to your session. If you place on studying on your own, consider setting aside 30 minutes each day (or every other day) to prepare for the test. Just like brushing your teeth, studying for the SAT should become a habit that is part of your routine.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Nobody is “naturally” good at taking the SAT; it takes time and effort to learn the content of the test, its structure, and its timing. The only way you will learn is by practicing SAT test problems until you get them right. Importantly, it’s not enough to get one problem right one time. You want to be able to solve that problem–and variations on that problem and the content the problem is testing–over and over again. For example, if it’s a math problem focused on solving a linear equation: (1) Can you recognize the linear equation formula? (2) Can you recognize when a linear equation is being presented within a word problem and the formula isn’t readily apparent? (3) Can you recognize the separate aspects of the linear equation formula: y, m, x, and b? (4) Are you able to solve not just the easy problems about linear equations, but the harder ones as well?

In short, you want to make sure that you are mastering SAT content, not just studying it. In this example, “mastery” implies that you would be able to get a question about linear equations right 90-100% of the time, regardless of how the question is presented within the math section. For concepts that you are struggling with, it might be impossible to achieve this mastery level on your own, as to reach this mastery level you need to understand the content that is being tested “inside and out”. If you are consistently missing the same types of problems and/or scoring below a mastery level, turning to an expert-level tutor for help can be beneficial.

  1. Get Help When You Need It

If you find yourself stuck on a certain type of problem, or not achieving that 90% mastery level no matter how hard you try, it is time to reach out to someone who can help you. The SAT is a tricky test, and strategies for doing well on the SAT are going to be very different that the strategies you have been employing in high school to do well in your classes. Working one-on-one with a professional SAT tutor can make a huge difference in your score, particularly if you are aiming for the 85th percentile or higher (a 1300+). To get to that percentile, you need to essentially become an expert at taking the SAT and utilizing test strategies to boost your score. The best way to become an SAT expert? Be tutored by one. They will teach you their own tips and tricks, as well as help you review concepts that you haven’t quite mastered yet on your own, both of which will ensure that you walk into your test center on test day feeling confident and prepared to get a great score!