When Should You Start Studying for the SAT? It's Sooner than You Think!

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Ahhhh, the standarized test that your high school teachers keep nudging you about. As annoying as it may seem, the SATs could determine whether or not you'll land a huge scholarship or get into your college of choice, so it's important to take them seriously. Colleges can use SAT scores to serve as tiebreakers (when two applicants are similar in strength but one has a higher SAT score) or simply if you're capable of doing well at that university. Long story short, SATs matter. And for most, the studying process will be long and difficult, so it's important to start when applicable, so you have enough time to familiarize with it.

From a personal experience, the practice schedule for the SAT was long and intense, causing me to use much of my free time just to study for it. It requires dedication and LOTS of time, because even the smartest people can get mixed up  on this standarized test. The layout isn't taught at school, yet still required by most states because it gives many benefits when applying to colleges. Although it will not make up most of your application, it can certainly affect the college admissions' choices, depending on how high or low your score is. Each college has a certain scale of scores they're looking for, but higher is always better. For example, here are the stats of Yale's average SAT scores:


25% of students scored a 1410 while 75% of students scored a perfect 1600. They're pretty high, but that's to be expected of an Ivy league. It's important to know your preferred colleges' SAT average, because an above their average SAT score can give you a higher chance of admissions.

So when and how should you start studying though? This depends on you and when you plan on taking the SAT.

Although I can't give an exact amount of time, I can guarantee that the earlier you study, the better. I know many high schools require their students to take the PSAT 8/9/10/11, a pre-SAT type to prepare for your senior SAT, not to mention that many colleges give scholarships based off of how well you do on them. The tests are very similar, so studying for the SAT early on before them will land you a better score on them.

If you plan on taking it start of your school year (whether you're a freshman, sophmore, junior, or senior) it's a good idea to start 3-4 months before. Starting too early may result in you losing memory of the test, so sticking to a strict study schedule will allow you to focus on the studying. I know Collegeboard offers August SAT tests, so if you were to take it then, it would be a good idea to start late May to early June. Yes, that means summertime studying.

Summertime studying is highly encouraged for the SAT because you usually have time, the most crucial part of SAT studying. You'll be able to build a practice schedule, stick to it fairly easily due to not having school interferences, and have plenty of time to do so. Once you start studying in the summer, it's important to keep studying in the school year (if you plan on taking it later during the year), though it doesn't have to be as intense because you have to balance SAT with school and extracurriculars. Just make sure to not forget it completely, or else your summertime knowledge may be gone once test day arrives. Remember, the SAT tests how good you are at taking the SAT, not your INTELLIGENCE. By familiarizing yourself with the test early on, you'll know the format well and be able to focus on the questions.

In this article, I'll be sharing with you the format of the SAT, very helpful resources to use, and strategy tips and tricks to help you score better. I'll do an article about how to score well on each section (reading, writing, math) in the future because it's a long topic and I want the focus of this article to be introductions and general strategy :)


The SAT is composed of three main sections — Math, Evidence-Based Reading, and Writing. There is an optional 50-minute essay, and total testing time with the essay is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Each section covers a wide variety of concepts that I'll be displayed here:

Reading: reading comprehension and vocabulary in context. 65 minutes

There's a wide variety of questions found on the SAT reading, such as:

- the primary purpose of the passage

- what you can infer from the passage

- vocabulary in context ("the word follow in line 34 most nearly means...")

- evidence support questions 

And many more. Be able to skim a text and pick up what the key points of the passage are. The main ideas will usually be more than enough to answer all the questions. Here is an article that explains almost every type of question found on the SAT reading: What's Found on the SAT Reading?

Writing: grammar and usage. 35 minutes

There are three types of multiple-choice writing questions on the SAT.

The first type, improving sentences, asks you to select the correct version of a word (that's written clearly and gramatically correct) to replace the underlined word. If the word is already correct, there's an option for "No Change".

The second type, sentence errors, asks you whether a phrase is written correctly, or if there are better options. Once again, a "No Change" option will be available.

The third type, improving paragraphs, tests your ability to edit paragraphs to make them sound clear and precise. Often times there'll be questions like this:

There will also be questions asking you to rearrange sentences, such as asking whether or not sentence 1 would be better off in sentence 5's spot or etc. These types of questions all rely on your memory of grammatical rules, so for this section, it's important to know or relearn many grammar rules, such as parallelism, clauses, and so on. Here's an article that shows important grammar rules you should know: Grammar Rules to Know for the SAT

For the writing section of the SAT, the main idea is to use the fewest words you can. The clearest, most direct answer is usually the correct answer, as long and complicated answers make the passages sound choppy or unorganized. It also helps you to mumble the sentence in your head, because if it doesn't sound right or it sounds long and confusing, it's most likely incorrect.

Math: the heart of algebra, problem-solving, data analysis, introduction to advanced math. 2 sections. No calculator section- 25 minutes. Calculator section- 55 minutes.

The math section is tricky. The concepts are you either know it or you don't, kind of like writing. In order to do well on this section, you must study math concepts that you've learned in school, and possibly more if you haven't taken basic geometry or trigonometry/pre-calc. I wouldn't advise you to learn everything on a list of math concepts you've found on google because many times they won't show up. What you can do, though, is to study the basic ideas of each math type. For example, trigonometry/pre-calc has many sin, cosine, and tangent problems, so be able to identify the basics of that.

The last but optional section of the SAT is the essay portion. There are three parts of the essay that are scored out of 8: analysis, writing, and reading. An 8 on each section means you have mastered that concept, and a 1 means you have completely missed the point. You have 50 minutes to read a passage, analyze the author's argument, and write an essay. I've only 


It's VERY important to use the right resources. Type in SAT resources on google and hundreds will pop up, so which ones should you use? In my personal experiences, there are really only three resources worth using: 

1. The Official SAT Study Guide

2. Princeton Review: Cracking the SAT

3. Khan Academy

When it comes to the SAT, practice is key to improving, and the only way to test practice is to use practice tests. Collegeboard is the official website when it comes to the SAT, so the tests in the practice books tend to be very, if not, identical to the ones you'll find on the SAT. In fact, it's almost necessary to purchase one of these books, because not only will they give you more experience with the test, it's a great book to teach you content, practice strategies, and everything else with the practice tests. Not to mention if you plan on self-studying, getting one of these practice books will be crucial for doing well.

Another book that I've found that is the most SIMILAR content-wise to the official Collegeboard books are the Princeton review books. Though not certified by Collegeboard, the tests, the tips, almost everything about it is similar, which works in your favor by allowing you to see more similar practice tests that aren't anywhere else (Collegeboard tends to reuse some tests in past books). By purchasing an additional Princeton Review book, you're giving yourself more practice and experience with the test. 

My third but final resource is the one and only, Khan Academy. This website has always been hyped up due to it being free and having millions of students on there, but it's that hyped up for a reason. The website has a section specifically dedicated to the SAT. The practice tab allows you to focus on the many math, writing, and reading skills the SAT offers, and if you decide to use the calendar they provide, they'll make up a schedule for you to do SAT practice based off of how much time you have each day. On certain days, they'll assign full practice tests as well. What I've found most useful on Khanacademy is the "Tips and Strategies" section, which goes in-depth on each section, some basics you'll need to know, and many, many more. I'd advise you to look at, if not, everything in that section, as there are some VERY helpful tips on how to efficiently study for the SATs. Here are some steps to set up your Khan Academy SAT practice:

1. Make an account

Go to their website and sign up for your account. Once you're in, go into the SAT section of Khan Academy.

2. Take the diagnostic quizzes to determine where you are

By taking these, they'll know where you are regarding SAT prep, and they'll show personalized skill sets based on your results. If you have already taken PSAT, upload your scores by allowing Collegeboard to send Khan Academy your scores. By doing this, Khan Academy will personalize your skill sets based on your PSAT scores. 

My favorite things regarding the Khan Academy SAT prep is definitely the math and writing prep. They split them up very well, focusing on many basic concepts covered on the SAT, such as linear equations, quadratics, and basic trig for the math sections, and punctuation, incomplete sentences, and parallel structure for grammar. This makes training your weaknesses a lot easier, and it'll show you specifically what concepts you need to focus on.

                                       Part of the SAT grammar prep, where it focuses on individual skills

Keep in mind though. The tests on Khanacademy are tests found in the Collegeboard offical practice tests, so you may or may not have seen them already. The tests on Khan Academy are split up into Practice test 1-8, although if you type them into google, you'll find the same tests on Collegeboard. I will say, though, that the answer explanations on Khan Academy are different than those found on Collegeboard (type in Practice test _ answers and it'll pop up), and I 100% prefer the Collegeboard explanations over Khan Academy, as they're more in depth on why the others are wrong, so if you are checking explanations, be sure to look at those found on Collegeboard.


These are my top 3 choices for SAT prep, and although there are more books out there, I can highly recommend these resources as basic necessities for SAT prep. Try one of them, and if you feel you need more practice, invest in other resources, or even a tutor. Although I've never had one, I've heard of people who've done well with them, because tutors motivate, plan, and cater to your SAT needs, although they DO NOT guarantee success, not to mention they can be costly. That is up to your decision though.

That does it for our resources page, so now we'll head into the longer section on actual tips and tricks for each section of the SAT!

The Actual Practicing

1. Strategy

Although this can be different for each person, today I'll be sharing my SAT practice strategy. For me, just doing the tests straight up, check the answers and explanations in the back of the book was enough for me. This strategy is especially helpful for the math sections, because the more math problems you do, the more associated you'll be with the math section, not to mention that this strategy is what most self-studying people will do. I like this method because it's straight forward and a good, direct way to start studying the SAT as a newbie. The MVP of this strategy is the answer explanations, as they tell you why you were wrong, what strategy to use, and things to look for. Don't skip out reading and taking note of what you got wrong!

You've looked at the explanations. Now what? In order to improve, you must know WHAT you need to improve on. Is it reading comprehension? Reading more carefully? Or do you not know how to do certain concepts?

When grading your answers and reading your explanations, understand what you got wrong and WHY. Don't make the mistake of you shrugging it off and thinking, "I was just going to fast. I'll get it right next time." Even if it seems like a dumb mistake, keep track of it, or do what I did, and jot down why I got it wrong. This is especially helpful for the reading section, as there are many different question forms to confuse you. For me, my weaknesses were going too fast, not interpreting the passage well enough, and getting mixed up with other answer choices. Afterward, I would read the things I wrote down and remember to pay close attention to those types of questions the next time I took a practice test.

The more you do this, the more you'll see a pattern of your mistakes, and if you know the pattern, you'll gradually get less wrong as you know what to specifically work on. 

The last part of the strategy is time management. Although 3 hours 45 minutes may seem like a long time for staring at a test booklet, many people feel that's barely enough time. Lots of questions crammed into a fairly short time period can result in people getting stressed over hard questions, so it's important to learn how to manage your time on the SAT. Your goal at the end of each section is to have enough time to double-check or go to your questions you haven't answered. This can be especially helpful for people who usually change their answers a second time, like me, because the second time you read over them you realize details you didn't see the previous time. 

1. Skip hard questions

What? As in not answer them at all? If you want to stop running out of time, then it might be better for you to skip the questions that are taking up too much of your time. This can be detrimental to your overall score on that section because you spent too much time on a question that wasn't worth it. All questions on the SAT are scored the same, so it's better to answer 3 easy questions rather than answering that 1 science question you finally were able to get. Know when too much time is too much for a question, although it depends on which section. 

Reading: aim for less than 45 seconds

Writing: aim for less than 30 seconds

Math: aim for less than a minute

2. For the SAT reading section, it's not about how fast you can read. It's about how much you can comprehend from it.

What does this have to do with time? Much of your time can be wasted from you having to go back to the passage and rereading, so it's important to spend that time the first time by reading the passage well.

3. Bring a watch

When I was taking the SAT, there was one tiny clock in the back, so after every passage, I would squint my eyes and spend a good 30 seconds trying to see what it said. This can be easily fixed by bringing a watch. There are times you'll spend more time on one section than the other, so it's important to keep track of the time and know-how you'll have to adjust your time. I would advise you to check only after each passage, not every few questions, as that can shift your attention.

4. Practice taking the whole SAT at home with full time.

It takes stamina to power through the entire SAT. As boring as it may seem (and it may seem like a waste of 4 hours), you can simulate the actual testing conditions and you can get used to what it'll feel like. What? Won't it feel like any other standardized test that we were forced to take back in elementary or middle school? Nope. Not at all. You'll most likely be taking the SAT on a Saturday morning, and the first section, reading, will most likely drain your energy due to it being the longest section. 

That concludes our strategy part of this article, so now we'll head into my personal experience for studying with the SAT. My schedule was hectic, to say the least. I was practicing about 1-2 hours a day on Khanacademy, not really paying attention to what I really had to do, so when August rolled around and I was to take the SAT as a freshman, I got a disappointing 1340 (at least to me), 660 on reading and 680 in math. I knew I could've done so much better, as my friends and family members were getting 1480+, so I decided to work harder to get a higher SAT score. Wait why? As a freshman?!

For me, studying for the SAT's were a crucial part of me getting into my high school of choice, IMSA, or Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. As a boarding school, it has a college application like process where you write essays, list extracurriculars, and send in SAT scores to see if you qualify to be a student there. Voted by Niche.com as the #1 ranked public high school in America, the competition was tough, meaning I had to score better than 1340 in order to get in. I was studying in the summer before my 9th-grade summer, but I realized this wasn't enough. If you receive a disappointing score first time, then you MUST figure out what you did wrong.

I had gotten 14 problems wrong on reading, 7 on writing, and 12 on math, so I basically had to redo my entire study schedule. My practice schedule was hectic and unorganized, due to it being the school year, so I ended up spending more time on the SAT than I did on schoolwork, a consequence of me not studying as well during the summer. I began jotting down notes, buying the latest Collegeboard and Princeton Review books, and with the tips that I've listed in this article, I was able to score a miraculous 1490 on the 2018 December SAT (740 in reading and 750 in math).

After submitting my application and finding out 3 months later that I had gotten in was such a relief, although I do plan on retaking the SAT in my sophomore year. My goal for next time? Anything below 8 on reading, 0 wrong on writing, and 0 wrong on math. By aiming for these specifics, I'm able to set forth a clear goal and force myself to work towards that goal. I hope this article was able to tell you a bit about the SAT and how you can do well on strategy (if you/re already experienced with it). 

Joyce Li

Hello! My name is Joyce, and as a curent high schooler, I enjoy writing about academics, culture varieties, and many other topics, and when I'm not busy writing, I enjuy playing volleyball, cooking, and watcing an absurd amount of anime :D. Thanks for stopping by!