SAT Prep: 5 Things to Expect
Many high school students are nervous when they begin preparing for the SAT. Often, they don’t know what to expect and feel intimidated by the test. After all, the SAT is the first high stakes test that most high schoolers take.
The good news is that with plenty of preparation, you can optimize your performance on the SAT. In this post, we’ll outline what to expect as you dive into SAT prep this year.
Expect to Start Early
The number one mistake students make in preparing for the SAT is starting too late. The SAT is not so much about content as it is about thought processes, so simply sitting down and trying to cram on knowledge in the weeks leading up to the test won’t get you very far.
Instead, you need to begin preparing for the SAT months in advance. If you’re taking the test for the first time as a second semester junior, we recommend that you begin your prep work during the middle of your first semester. Then, assuming that you decide to take the test again (which most students do), you should also expect to spend a significant amount of time preparing for the following SAT over the summer.
Because the SAT assesses your ability to think critically and to apply existing knowledge, most of your preparations will focus on test taking strategies and problem solving skills. Unless you have knowledge gaps like, for example, if you have yet to take Algebra II, then you can expect to spend most of your prep time learning about how to take the SAT, not learning the content knowledge on it. This is why preparing for the test takes so much time; it is unlike most other tests you’ve ever taken and you need to prepare for it uniquely.
Expect to Start Low
We have met some exceptionally bright students who go into the SAT full of confidence and come out with disappointing scores. This is because of the nature of the test, not because of any lack of knowledge. Many students are surprised by their scores and feel discouraged by them.
You can avoid this disappointment by taking realistic practice tests during your prep work. Expect your scores on these to start low and to increase incrementally. Use these scores to help set a target SAT score, one that will be challenging yet achievable for you. To learn more about setting target SAT scores, check out our post What Is a Good SAT Score in 2018?.
Expect to Use Many Different Study Resources
Sometimes, we meet students who have enrolled in and completed an SAT prep class or who have bought an SAT prep book and meticulously worked their way through it. While these are great ways to prepare for the SAT, your approach to SAT prep should be multilayered, not relying on any single prep tool.
Of course in order to really capitalize on your SAT prep, you’ll need to know what resources are out there. We recommend that you start with those available on the College Board website. Here, you’ll find a multitude of official practice questions, practice tests, and an overview of the test itself. Learn about the test format, test content, and all test instructions here.
You can also make use of other online resources. Khan Academy is an official partner of the College Board and produces free video tutorials for each section and question type on the SAT. At Khan Academy, you can learn both common content knowledge and specific test strategies.
Additionally, CollegeVine offers extensive study guides and SAT prep tips. Here are some of the topics we cover:
Finally, don’t overlook local prep resources. Does your library or school have an SAT study group? Are SAT classes offered at a local community center? Do you have teachers or other mentors who are willing to help? To optimize your SAT prep, you’ll want to draw from extensive and broad study materials and opportunities.
Expect to Learn From Your Mistakes
When you take SAT practice tests, it’s easy to rush through the scoring of them. After all, a full length practice test can take up to four hours, and then after all that hard work, you still have to grade the test in its entirety. While it’s tempting to gloss over this part, you can’t expect to learn from it if you don’t give it the appropriate attention.
When you grade your practice tests, you should be looking for patterns. Try to classify your mistakes. Were they based on content knowledge gaps? Did you misunderstand a question? Did you miss lots of questions of the same type? Are your mistakes clustered together at the end of sections? All of these patterns will reveal areas that you can actively work towards improving.
Once you identify the types of mistakes that you’re most likely to make, you can target these areas in your prep work. For example, if your mistakes are clustered towards the end of each section, you might need to work on time management. Review our post How to Pace Yourself on Every Section of the SAT to learn more.
Expect to Improve the Most Between Your First and Second SATs
Now for some good news—your SAT score is likely to improve and it’s most likely to do so most significantly between your first and second SAT tests. In fact, A College Board study found that the lower you score on your first SAT, the higher your score gains are likely to be the second time around. This is great news if you don’t achieve your target score on your first SAT.
This is like because many students go into the SAT feeling nervous. After all, no number of practice tests can fully prepare you for the actual test day. A number of factors, including test anxiety, unfamiliarity with the test, and outside distractions can negatively impact your score, particularly during your first SAT.
For some tips about maximizing your score improvements when retaking the SAT, see our posts:
Studying for the SAT can be overwhelming at times, but if you anticipate the test, make an SAT study plan, and allow plenty of time for content and strategy to soak in, you’ll be a step ahead on test day. For more tips on preparing for the SAT, download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
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