How I Studied for the SAT in a Week
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- How Will the SAT Impact Your College Chances?
- My SAT Experience
- How to Study for the SAT in a Week
- Final Tips and Strategies
If you’re here, I’m assuming you’re a stressed-out high school student worrying about the SAT. Don’t fret, you’re not alone. Over 2 million high schoolers take the SAT each year (and most probably experience the same stress).
It is generally recommended that students spend months studying for the SAT. Unfortunately, not every student is able to dedicate hours upon hours studying for the SAT week after week. Adding SAT studying to schoolwork, extracurriculars, and socializing can overwhelm a student’s an already busy schedule.
While I do recommend preparing for the SAT far in advance and mastering each section, I understand that sometimes you just don’t have the time. This post covers my personal experience with last-minute, rushed SAT studying, and how I managed to study for it within one week.
How Will the SAT Impact Your College Chances?
Most universities and colleges (with the exception of COVID years) use the SAT and ACT as a predictor of an applicant’s potential for success in college. In fact, selective schools use test scores and GPA as an automatic application filter, so if yours doesn’t make the cut, your full application may not even be considered!
Luckily, our free Chancing Engine can help you assess how your scores might affect your chances of acceptance to your dream schools. Our algorithm will make a thorough prediction of your odds, taking into account your stats, extracurriculars, and background. It’ll also explain how you stack up to other applicants, and make suggestions to boost your profile.
My SAT Experience
To begin, let me give you a brief overview of my academic background. I was a (mostly) straight-A honors and AP student throughout high school. I took classes like Honors Algebra, Honors Pre-Calculus, and AP Lang. Also, I had always been a good test taker, so keep that in mind as I tell my story.
I was fortunate enough to spend the summer before my junior year at an SAT test prep program. I took a few full practice tests at this program and scored very well on some. Thus, I had high expectations of myself going into the real SAT in August of my junior year.
The first time I took the SAT, I ended up scoring 1460. This is a fantastic score, yet I knew that I could do—and had done—better. I would like to give a disclaimer that everyone’s definition of a “good” score varies, so please do not compare yourself to my scores and reactions to them.
When my senior year and the time for college applications came around, I started using chancing engines to evaluate my chances of getting into my dream schools. I decided I would feel a lot more confident in my chances if I retook the SAT and boosted my score. So, exactly a year after my first attempt, I decided to take the SAT again.
The decision to retake was last minute, so I didn’t have weeks or months to prepare. I figured, why treat the SAT differently than any other test I’ve taken? For me, what had always worked was taking a large number of practice questions in a day or two before a test, and learning from my mistakes on each. So, the second time around, I followed my usual test-taking strategies—just on a larger scale. I took a practice test every day for the 8 days leading up to the actual SAT. Miraculously, my strategy worked. The second time I took the SAT, I scored a 1580 (790 reading, 790 math).
If you’re anything like me and learn from a lot of practice and catching your mistakes, feel free to draw inspiration from my methods. However, it’s important to spend a prolonged period of time studying for the SAT. Understanding the various sections and common problems, approaches, is extremely useful. I went into this week already familiar with the SAT’s content and how to solve the questions. I absolutely do not recommend having your only preparation take place in the week before your SAT.
How To Study for the SAT in a Week
Assess your Strengths and Weaknesses
Start by taking a practice test to obtain your baseline score and analyze which sections are your strongest/weakest. Focus on studying the sections you struggle with, and even the types of questions you are challenged by, to help improve your overall score. Personally, if I noticed there were parts of the test I was less confident in and kept getting wrong, I would dedicate time outside of the practice tests I was taking to study them.
However, this doesn’t mean you should ignore the sections you’re better at. Practicing all the questions equally will improve your performance on the weaker sections, but also make you faster and more confident in the sections you’re strong in. Being more assured in your score on one section will make the harder parts of another section less worrisome.
Block Out Time in Advance
There are 8 official practice tests on Collegeboard’s website. I decided to take a practice test each day of the 8 days leading up to my actual SAT. That way, I would feel like it was just any other day of me taking a practice test.
Make sure everyone knows you’re not to be disturbed. You want to recreate the testing environment to the best of your ability. Use the do not disturb setting on your electronic devices, let your household members know to not interrupt you, and tell your friends that you’re not going to be available to hang out that week (trust me, it will pay off!).
Additionally, set accurate timers for every section: 65 minutes for Reading, 35 for Writing and Language, 25 for Math (No Calculator), and 55 for Math (Calculator). Also give yourself the 10-minute break between the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test, as well as the 5-minute break between the two Math Tests.
Carefully Review Every Wrong Answer
After I completed a practice test, I would carefully go through every single answer I got wrong and why. Taking so many tests back to back, I was able to pick up on a pattern. Firstly, which questions I was weakest in. Secondly, what types of questions the SAT asks.
The SAT covers the same topics each time it is taken, so you will find the same “types” of questions each time. There is a correct way to approach each of these “types” of questions—the key is to practice the questions enough to master that approach. The same grammar rules, math concepts, and reading skills are tested each time. The content of the question might change, but what skill or logic it asks of the test taker doesn’t change.
Carefully reviewing the answer key will help you notice the pattern of questions and the line of reasoning they ask you to use. Then, taking the test over and over again will train you to use that line of reasoning. So, don’t just mark what questions you got wrong, note the reasoning behind the right answer, and keep that in mind the next time you take the test.
Have Consistent Habits
The key to me being so successful was sticking to my plan. I took a practice test every single day for 8 days straight, so the 9th day (the day of my actual SAT) was much less intimidating. I was completely confident in my strengths, what would be on the test, and how long each section would take me.
One of the easiest, but most helpful things, I did for the day of the actual test was to have a consistent ritual to get myself into good mind space. Think of it as a Pavlovian response. Essentially, if done enough, a specific action can elicit a corresponding behavioral response. For me, the action was putting my hair up in the same style every time I started the test. Eventually, my brain correlated putting my hair up with deep focus.
This also took off the pressure of being in a different environment. Cold, quiet testing rooms and strict procedures make taking the SAT a scary and nerve-wracking experience, which can impact performance. Luckily, putting my hair up was a reminder that I had done this many (8 times to be exact) before, therefore boosting my confidence and helping me feel like it was just another practice test. That little reminder went a long way in easing my stress and allowing me to focus on the test.
Adopt whatever ritual is best for you—rolling your neck, taking a few deep breaths, counting back from ten, etc.
Final Tips and Strategies
Draw inspiration from your best studying methods
The key to my performance was doing what I knew worked best for me. I always did my best on a test when I did a bunch of practice questions right beforehand. The easiest and fastest way for me to study was by taking practice exams, learning from my mistakes, and then doing it again. I also liked having the information fresh in my mind, which is why I was comfortable studying during a time people might call last minute.
Keep in mind that what worked for me might not necessarily work for you. Draw inspiration from times you’ve studied very successfully for a test and then incorporate whatever strategies you used into your SAT studying plan.
Take advantage of the breaks
The breaks are there for a reason. Take advantage of them. During the breaks, don’t worry about what you did wrong on the last section; instead, get into a good, confident headspace to tackle the next one. I would stretch, let my hair down, give myself internal pep talks, and walk around during the 10 and 5-minute breaks. It helped to clear and reset my mind.
Answer every question, but not right away
This one should hopefully be obvious, but answer every question! You have a 25% chance of getting it right, compared to a 0% chance if you don’t answer it.
However, I would recommend marking the questions you’re unsure about and revisiting them once you’ve finished a section. If a question is taking you too long, simply move past it. Practicing so much and nailing down my timing before I took my SAT meant I had time left over to revisit the questions I marked as unsure.
So, practice, practice, practice! That way, you’ll always have time to answer questions and will only guess out of necessity, not a lack of time.