The SAT assesses college and career-readiness and is used by many college admissions committees as part of the admissions process . Along with the ACT, it is one of the two standardized tests that can weigh heavily on your college application, so you will need to start preparing for it well in advance.

Unlike a midterm or a final exam, your SAT prep should consist not only of reviewing content knowledge, but also of test-taking strategies and time management skills, in addition to the core skills and content likely to appear on the test. Standardized test taking is a skill in and of itself, so much of your SAT prep will focus on these unique skills.

Ideally, SAT preparations should begin months in advance with a well-defined study plan. You should think of your SAT prep in four distinct phases: long-term preparations, short-term preparations, night before the exam prep, and the day of the exam.

Long-term SAT Prep

Long term SAT preparations start several months in advance. Begin by reviewing the College Board SAT calendar and choosing a test date. When you know your test date, count back from it to see how many weeks you have left to prepare. You should aim for at least eight, but any amount of prep will be helpful, even if you have much less time.   

Next, figure out what you need to know for the test. This is an integral part of any study plan. You cannot begin studying before you have a solid idea of where you’re starting from. For more information about this approach, read CollegeVine’s What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?.

A great place to start is CollegeVine’s Free Diagnostic SAT Test. This test comes with a custom score report detailing what you should focus on next. Use it to help guide your study plan. With some direction, you’ll be able to spend extra time focusing on areas that need improvement, and less time reviewing areas that are already strong. 

Once you have a good idea of which content and question types you need to focus on, make a study plan. You should set goals for weekly study hours, or even daily study time if you think you will need that kind of structure. Make sure to also allow time in your schedule for your existing activities, schoolwork, and extracurriculars. An overly ambitious SAT prep plan will quickly become one that’s abandoned in favor of other required work. Instead, create a study schedule that does not interfere with your other activities, but still moves fast enough that you can cover everything necessary.

When you create your study schedule, leave the last week leading up to the test blank. That week will consist of short-term preparations and review. All of your content and test strategy prep should be completed a week before your test date.

For specific ideas about the content and strategy preparation that you should include on your study plan, see these CollegeVine SAT study guides:



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Short-Term SAT Prep

Short-term preparations for the SAT take place in the week leading up to your test date. You should create a separate review schedule for this week, and you should plan to spend slightly more time studying each day as you did in the weeks leading up to it. While your regular schoolwork and extracurriculars took precedence during the preceding weeks, this week your SAT prep should be the priority. While you can’t really cram for the test, you should take the time necessary to feel fully prepared, rested, and organized for test day.

Start by choosing an area of the test to review each day. This could include practice problems, test strategies, or core subject matter. If you can, spend about 45 minutes to an hour reviewing each day in the week leading up to the exam. 

Try to take care of any lingering commitments early during the week. If you know you have a school project due the following Monday or you’re organizing for a debate on Friday, take care of the prep work during the first half of the week so that you can spend the days leading up to the exam feeling focused and relaxed.

Set yourself up for success by gathering everything you’ll need for test day a few days ahead of time. Make sure you have batteries for your calculator, transportation arranged (and that you know where the test center is), a valid ID, and a printed test admissions ticket in advance. You don’t want to be running around like a headless chicken the night before your SAT (or even worse, the morning of!).

Finally, plan something fun to do after the test. Make arrangements to go to the movies, go out to lunch, or meet up with some friends. Having something else to look forward to can keep you thinking positively.

The Night Before Your SAT

Plan to have a relaxing schedule on the day before the exam. Most exams take place on Saturdays, so you will likely have school and any associated Friday extracurriculars the day before. Plan to arrive home early, eat a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a decent hour. Most test centers open at 7:45 AM (check your admissions ticket to confirm) so you will likely need to be up and moving early on test day.

The night before the exam, you should focus on staying calm and doing as much as possible ahead of time to make your morning go smoothly. Start by picking out your clothes for test day. These should be comfortable enough to sit for long periods, and dressing in layers is a good idea since you don’t know what the temperature will be in the exam room. Pack a snack and some water, plan something easy and nutritious to have for breakfast, and make sure that all your supplies are packed. For a complete overview of what should be in your bag, read CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring To My SAT?.

Once your bag is packed, eat a healthy dinner and do whatever you need to do to unwind. If exercising helps to clear your mind, now is a great time for it. If you like to lose yourself in a good book or soak in a warm bath, go ahead and treat yourself. Steer clear of anything that might be emotionally draining. Now isn’t the time to watch a horror movie or call your ex. You’ll need a clear mind to get a good night’s sleep and be focused on the test when you wake.

You may want to do some reviewing on the night before the test, but only do so if you think it will make you feel more mentally focused. Remember that you’ve studied everything up until now, and right now your main goal is to stay calm, so that you have a good frame of mind when it’s time to demonstrate your knowledge tomorrow.

The Day of Your SAT

Count backwards from the test time to calculate when you’ll need to wake up in order to allow plenty of extra time on test day. Make sure to allow yourself enough time to eat breakfast, and if you want to take a shower before the test, allow time for that in your morning schedule as well. Set two alarms and make sure that your parents or someone else in your home knows what time you’ll be getting up, just in case you manage to sleep through them.

Do yourself a favor and plan to be early to the test center. Calculate how much time it should take to drive to the test center and add at least 25% more time, just to be safe. Plan to arrive when the doors open (usually 7:45 AM, but check your admissions ticket). You don’t want to be the crazy person running up to the test center as the doors start to swing closed. Instead, arrive ahead of time and check in right away.

On your way to the test center, try to do something interesting that wakes up your mind without being test-related. You don’t want to be cramming last minute formulas into your head, but getting your mind moving and stretching before the test begins is a good idea. You could try counting backwards from 100 as quickly as possibly, listing a noun for each letter of the alphabet, or simply taking deep meditative breaths to clear your mind.

Some people also find that physical exercise jumpstarts their brains. If this is the case for you and you have time, ask to be dropped off at the far end of the parking lot or around the corner from the test center. Speed walk the rest of the way to get your blood pumping.

Once you’ve checked in at the test center, figure out where the bathrooms and water fountains are in relation to your testing room. Even if you don’t need them before the test, you might need to access these quickly during breaks so you should at least know where they’re located.

Try to stay calm and centered as the test begins. Know that you’ve done everything in your power to prepare for this and be confident in yourself.

As soon as the test is over, immediately write down any subject matter or types of questions that you had problems with so that you can review them later for future tests.

Although SAT tests are among the most important standardized tests a high school student takes, try not to get too stressed out over them. If you plan ahead, start studying well in advance, and create a comprehensive study plan, you will go into test day knowing that you’ve done everything possible to maximize your performance. Also, don’t forget to keep things in perspective. Ultimately, despite its importance to college admissions, the SAT is still just a test, and your performance on it does not indicate your worth.

If you still have questions about SAT strategies or you are interested in our full-service, customized SAT tutoring, head over to CollegeVine’s SAT Tutoring Program, where the brightest and most qualified tutors in the industry guide students to an average score increase of 140 points.

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Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist