A Guide on Creating an SAT/ACT Study Plan

Student Life

If you're taking the SAT or ACT in March and looking for a quick and effective schedule to prepare for the test, you've come to the right place! I took the SAT for the first time in December after around three months of preparation, and got a 1520. My journey with the SAT has helped me understand what is important while studying for it, and I hope that these insights will be valuable to you. With this guide, you can easily create a plan to study for the SAT/ACT and achieve the score you want!

Step 1: Take a practice test

If you haven't taken a practice test yet, I strongly suggest you do so immediately. Stick to the exact timings as followed on the actual test either by setting timers or using a mock proctor YouTube video like the one below.

This channel also has mock proctor videos for the ACT and the PSAT if you're taking either of those tests. If you're taking the test in 2021, you'll probably have to wear a mask throughout, so take practice tests with a mask on to simulate test conditions.

Once you've taken the test, you need to review it. There are many test review guides on the internet (like this one by Prep Scholar) that can help you thoroughly understand your mistakes and make sure you won't repeat them. If you're taking the SAT/ACT at a later date, perhaps in May or August, you can even create a spreadsheet and catalog your mistakes. Then, you can identify the types of questions you commonly get wrong and focus on those specific areas when you're studying.

Step 2: Identify weak areas

Now that you've taken a practice test and reviewed it, you should have a good idea of your ability, specifically which sections you're doing better at than others, and which sections you're finding most difficult. For example, if the math section wasn't that challenging for you, but the reading section was, you should tailor your study plan to the reading section and focus a little less on math. This doesn't mean you should ignore math completely, but simply that you should dedicate less time to it compared to reading.

It's not enough to simply know your weak sections; you need to go further and understand which types of questions you find the hardest. For example, the paired passages in the reading section might have stumped you, but you did great in the fiction passage. By knowing the specifics, you can focus on your weakest areas in the weeks or days before your SAT/ACT to improve your score.

Now that you know what sections and passages you're finding more difficult than others, go deeper! Try to identify the types of questions you're making mistakes in. To understand this further, I would definitely recommend Erica Meltzer's 'The Critical Reader' as she talks about the different question types in detail and also tells you how to solve them, but if you're short on time, you can just use online guides to understand your mistakes. You might be getting inference questions wrong, but you might also find big picture questions very easy. Knowing this will ensure that you don't waste time on questions you already know how to tackle and instead help you focus on the questions you need more practice with.

Step 3: Set a weekly/Daily goal

This depends on how much time you have left for the SAT/ACT, but you should ideally have a goal of a certain number of hours each week dedicated to the SAT/ACT, and certain topics that you want to work on that week. This will be based on your initial review and understanding of your weak areas, so you can set goals for those areas first. For example, if you're having a hard time with the history passages in the reading section, you can make one of the goals of week 1 to practice solving history passages and understanding the tactics to use on these passages.

The more quantitative the goals are, the better. This way, you can't really cheat yourself out of accomplishing your goals, and you know exactly how much time you need, and what exactly you need to do to accomplish them.

Step 4: SAT/ACT Resources to use for studying

Now that you know what your goals are, you need to figure out how you're going to accomplish them. This step will be different for everyone, depending on what resources you already have. If you're short on time or on a budget, you should look into using free resources online (such as Khan Academy) to study for the SAT/ACT, but if you have time and are willing to spend on books and subscriptions, you should definitely go for it, but make sure to research the products you want to buy beforehand, so you know they'll actually be useful.

I also recommend taking practice tests regularly, maybe even every ten days, and if you only have ten days left for the SAT/ACT, then try and take two/three tests before the test. There's no point taking the tests and not reviewing them, so if you find that you don't have time to take more than one test, that's okay, just make sure to review it thoroughly.

College Board offers 8 free SAT practice tests that you can use, which you can find online and print out, or you can even complete them on Khan Academy. If you need more practice tests, however, you can find tests that have been administered in the last few years on Reddit. I don't know much about ACT resources to tell you about them, but I'm sure you can find many online.

There are many recommended books to aid you in your SAT/ACT studying, and if you already have some of them, you should definitely include them in your schedule. Allocate time each week to work on specific chapters and exercises that focus on your weak areas to get the most benefit!

Step 5: Allocate time during the week for SAT/ACT studying

Now that you have your weekly/daily goals planned out, you can start planning out your time to accomplish them! The first thing you should do is check your schedule and identify what days you're relatively free to work on SAT/ACT. You should keep your ideal study times in mind while planning your study sessions. If you find working in the morning easier, you should definitely allocate an hour or two every morning to work on that week/day's SAT/ACT goal.

Make sure to spend this time productively, and stay motivated by remembering your goal score and why you're doing this.

I hope this guide was useful for you to create a schedule to study for the SAT/ACT. I'm sorry that this is more tailored to the SAT, but I'm sure many of these tips will be useful for ACT takers as well. Now, take a practice test, review it, and make your study schedule. You can do this! Get out there and achieve your dream SAT/ACT score!

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Megha Puskur
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Megha is a first-year IB student who spends most of her time writing fiction and reading science journals. She is currently working on a fantasy novel, and when she isn't writing, you will most likely find her buried in a book or researching some new scientific development. She loves trying new things, leading her to pursue various hobbies such as playing the piano, cooking, baking, designing, photography, etc.