The SAT, a standardized test administered by the College Board, has long stood as a pivotal gateway to college admissions, serving as a critical benchmark for academic readiness and potential. With its significance rooted in assessing critical reading, math, and writing skills, the SAT has traditionally been a key component of the college admission process, influencing admissions decisions and scholarship opportunities.

In recent years, many colleges instituted “test optional” admissions policies that gave students the option of not submitting their SAT scores as part of their college application. However, in early 2024 several prestigious universities announced plans to begin requiring SAT scores again, underscoring the exam’s continued importance in preparing for college.

Understanding the SAT Format and Content

The SAT is designed to evaluate a student's readiness for college, focusing on the core areas of math and reading/writing. Each section is structured to test specific skills:

  • Math: This section tests algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, and advanced math concepts.
  • Reading and Writing: This section assesses comprehension skills through passages drawn from literature, historical documents, social sciences, and sciences, requiring students to interpret, synthesize, and use evidence from the texts.

Scoring for the SAT is based on a scale of 400 to 1600, divided evenly between the math and the combined reading/writing sections. Understanding the format and scoring system is crucial for effective preparation, as it guides the focus of study efforts and helps students set realistic goals based on the scoring scale. Familiarity with the test's structure also aids in managing time efficiently across different sections during the actual exam.

Developing a Study Plan

Crafting a tailored study plan is pivotal for SAT success. This plan serves as a roadmap, guiding your preparation efforts to ensure comprehensive coverage of all test areas. Here's how to create an effective study plan:

  1. Assess Your Timeline: Determine how much time you have until your SAT test date. Ideally, start preparing at least three to six months in advance to allow ample time for thorough review and practice.
  2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: Review practice tests to pinpoint areas needing improvement. This assessment enables you to allocate study time more efficiently, focusing on weaker subjects while maintaining strengths.
  3. Allocate Study Time Wisely: Divide your study time among the different sections of the SAT, with a heavier emphasis on areas where you need the most improvement. Incorporate regular, shorter study sessions into your weekly schedule to enhance retention and avoid burnout.
  4. Incorporate Diverse Resources: Utilize a mix of study materials, including official SAT practice tests, study guides, online courses, and tutoring if necessary. Diverse resources cater to different learning styles and help reinforce concepts through varied approaches.
  5. Schedule Regular Practice Tests: Simulate test-day conditions by taking full-length practice tests at regular intervals. This practice not only tracks your progress but also builds test-taking stamina and helps refine your time management skills.
  6. Review and Adjust: Regularly assess your study plan's effectiveness by reviewing your practice test scores and overall comfort with the test material. Be prepared to adjust your study plan as needed, dedicating more time to persistently challenging areas.
  7. Balance and Wellness: Ensure your study plan includes breaks and downtime. Balancing SAT prep with physical activity, hobbies, and social interactions is crucial for mental and emotional well-being.
A young student reviews SAT test prep material with an older tutor

Source: Pexels

A well-structured study plan not only fosters a disciplined approach to SAT preparation but also reduces stress by breaking down the process into manageable steps. Tailoring your study plan to fit your personal schedule and learning needs is key to maintaining motivation and achieving your target SAT score. In the bigger picture, the study skills you develop while preparing for the SAT now may come in handy down the road if you decide to take admission exams for graduate school.

Reviewing Fundamental Concepts

Here’s how to ensure you’re well prepared in the fundamental concepts of math, critical reading, and writing:

Math Basics: Begin with a thorough review of algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry. Use textbooks, online resources, and practice problems to strengthen your grasp of these subjects. Focus on understanding concepts rather than memorizing formulas.

Critical Reading Skills: The SAT reading section requires strong comprehension skills, the ability to analyze text, and the use of evidence to support answers. Improve these skills by reading widely across different genres, including fiction, non-fiction, and scientific articles. Practice summarizing passages, identifying main ideas, and understanding the use of evidence.

Grammar and Writing Fundamentals: For the writing section, brush up on grammar rules, usage, and proper punctuation. Understanding the basics of sentence structure, verb tense consistency, and the use of commas and semicolons can significantly improve your score. Resources like grammar guides and writing workshops can be invaluable components of your SAT study plan.

Vocabulary in Context: While memorizing vocabulary lists is less emphasized in the new SAT, understanding words in context is crucial. Enhance your vocabulary by reading and looking up unfamiliar words, paying attention to how they are used in different contexts.

The Day Before — and the Day of — the Test

Preparing for the SAT isn't just about understanding the importance of test taking strategies and long-term study habits; how you spend the day before and the day of the test can significantly impact your performance as well. Here's how to ensure you're at your best in the final stages of your test prep:

  1. Rest and Relaxation: Avoid cramming the night before. Your brain needs time to rest to perform optimally. Engage in relaxing activities instead, such as light reading or meditation.
  2. Review Key Concepts Only: If you must study, limit it to a brief review of key formulas or concepts. This is not the time for tackling new material or taking full practice tests.
  3. Get a Good Night's Sleep: Aim for at least eight hours of sleep. Being well-rested is crucial for focus and cognitive function.

Your hard work, dedication, and perseverance are key to turning your college aspirations into reality. Stay focused on your priorities, trust in your preparation, and remember that every question you answer and every practice test you complete brings you one step closer to achieving your best possible SAT score.


There are 98 questions in total: 44 in math and 54 in reading and writing.

You have 64 minutes to complete the reading and writing section and 70 minutes to finish the Math section, for a total of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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