How to Prepare for the SAT

Written by Thomas Clark

Preparing for the SAT might seem daunting, but with the right approach, it can be a manageable and rewarding part of your college admissions journey. This guide is designed to equip you with effective strategies and practical SAT tips to confidently tackle the test.

While you might already be familiar with the SAT’s structure, our focus here is on optimising your preparation. From tailored study plans to last-minute tips, we'll help you understand not just how to study, but how to study smart. 

How long should I study for the SAT?

One of the first things to decide is how long you should study for the SAT. Through our work with many students, we have seen a clear link between preparation time and success.

A long-term preparation strategy is undeniably important. We recommend that most students spend at least 3 to 6 months preparing.

By beginning your studies well in advance, you give yourself ample time to familiarize yourself with the test format, identify areas of strength and weakness, and implement targeted strategies for improvement. A long-term preparation strategy allows for gradual, sustained progress, leading to greater confidence and readiness on test day.

Later in this guide, you will find some recommendations if your assessments are sooner than this.

Creating a personalised SAT revision plan

One size does not fit all when it comes to SAT preparation. It's essential to create a personalized study schedule tailored to you and your circumstances that you can stick to consistently. The golden rule of successful study plans is that they have to be achievable.

We recommend taking the following approach:

1. Take a practice test. This will allow you to determine your starting point and identify the areas that need the most improvement.

2. Make a list of the topics and skills that you think need the most work and assign a number of hours of studying that you believe will be required to improve this area.

3. Look at your weekly schedule and write down the times you can reliably devote to your preparation. Do not include times you are unsure if you will be available.

A good rule of thumb is that with 3-6 months to prepare, 10 hours of preparation per week should be sufficient and achievable. Some students may need as little as 5 hours, others may need closer to 20.

4. Assign the areas for improvement you identified to the available slots in your weekly schedule, prioritising your weakest areas. Schedule in your 'fun' activities and hobbies as well to maintain a sustainable work-life balance.

5. Plan when you will take practice assessments to track your progress. Aim to take one every 2 weeks.

6. Begin following your SAT preparation plan.

7. Each time you take a practice assessment, go back to the start of this list and reassess your revision plan, tweaking it based on the progress you have made as necessary. Pay attention to topics that require a disproportionate amount of time to answer questions on and make changes to your plan accordingly.

Common challenges during SAT preparation

This may be the first time you have taken a test seriously and developed a focused long-term plan for tackling it, it is to be expected that you will encounter some challenges along the way. Below we have listed some common challenges, with our advice on how to address each of them.


“There aren’t enough hours in the week”

In Step 4, you may have to make some difficult decisions. Look at the preparation time you believe is required, the number of weeks you have left to prepare, and the time you are able to devote to your preparation each week. Do you have enough preparation time available? If not, you may need to think about restructuring your schedule in the run up to the assessment.

While this may be challenging and involve sacrifices, it is important to remember that these sacrifices are temporary and also crucial to maximising your life chances and future happiness.


“I can’t stick to my preparation plan”

If you find that you cannot stick to your plan, it is important not to blame yourself and instead reassess your schedule. Oftentimes, the best approach is to plan to do less, rather than more.

You can try treating your study plan as a “minimum study plan” – the absolute minimum amount of preparation you must do without fail - but if/when you have additional time you will do more.

For this to work, the minimum revision time you plan needs to be easily achievable, the idea being that when you are able to stick to that plan and make progress, you are likely to feel motivated to do more.


“Life gets in the way of my revision”

While consistency is paramount, it's also essential to maintain flexibility in your study schedule. Life can be unpredictable, and unexpected commitments may arise.

Be prepared to adapt your study plan as needed, while still striving to maintain regular study habits whenever possible. It may help to find a number of places that you use solely for revision. These places could be your favourite cafes, desks at your school library, a designated area at home, or any quiet space with minimal distractions that will be reliably available during your specified hours scheduled for preparation.


“I can’t stop procrastinating”

Procrastination is very often caused by fear and anxiety about the task at hand. If you find that you are looking for “busy work” or time-wasting activities in order to avoid your revision, it is likely that you view the task as overwhelming. If this is the case, it may be worth trying to cut down your revision plan, start making progress and build it back up once you have gained confidence.

It may also be the case that your procrastination has specific triggers; the most common of these is mobile phones. We suggest always putting your phone in another room or even leaving it at home if you travel somewhere to work when revising. If you have to bring it with you, put it on airplane mode or off and make sure it is out of sight until you have completed your study session. This will eliminate the risk of you spending your valuable preparation time on social media.

Effective study techniques for the SAT

So you have a solid study schedule worked out, what should you actually be doing in the time you have devoted to your preparation? Through our work with many students preparing for SAT, we have found that Active Learning Strategies are typically the most effective.

In short, active learning strategies, as the name implies, involves engaging with the material actively rather than simply passively reading through study material. This is not an exhaustive list, but we have found the following techniques effective:


Active recall

This technique involves creating (or finding/buying) study materials like flashcards that can be used to attempt to recall information based on a prompt. Apps like Anki or Quizlet can also be used for this.


Spaced repetition

This technique involves reviewing material at gradually increasing time intervals. This technique is more effective for long-term retention than cramming. When you review material, you should use active recall. The following is an example of a spaced repetition protocol:

Initial learning: The first time you encounter the material. This stage involves reading and fully understanding the content and preparing your active recall materials. When you write your note/flashcards, try to do this from memory, only looking at the source material when you have to.

First review (within 24 hours): After your initial learning session, review the material within the next 24 hours to reinforce your memory. This review should be relatively brief, focusing on key concepts and information.

Second review (within 1-3 days): Schedule your second review session within 1 to 3 days after the initial learning session. This review should be slightly more in-depth than the first, with a focus on solidifying your understanding and addressing any areas of confusion.

Subsequent reviews (increasing intervals): Continue to review the material at gradually increasing intervals over time. For example: Review again after 1 week > Review again after 1 month > Review again after 3 months.

Adjust intervals based on retention: Pay attention to how well you retain the material during each review session. If you find that you're still remembering the information well, you can extend the interval before the next review. If you're struggling to remember, shorten the interval.


Practice tests

Practice tests are a crucial component of your SAT preparation. They have two main functions: developing exam technique and identifying areas of weakness. Treat practice tests like the real exam, under timed conditions in a quite place without your notes.

After completing a practice test, analyse your results to identify patterns and areas for improvement. Pay attention to the types of questions you struggled with and the reasons behind any mistakes.

Adjust your study approach, accordingly, focusing on areas where you need the most improvement and incorporating targeted practice to address specific weaknesses.

Is one month enough time to prepare for the SAT?

If you aren’t starting your preparation 3-6 months in advance, don’t worry; all is not lost.

With less time, you won’t be able to cover as much of the course in depth. Instead, your focus should be directed more towards practice assessments and your weakest topics, as taking SAT exams is a skill that has to be developed to do well.

With one month to prepare, you should do 1 to 2 practice assessments per week and devote as much time as you can to revising your weakest topics. You may also consider incorporating open-book practice assessments into your preparation to add an active learning element to your assessment practice.

Essential SAT resources

In addition to the Full-Length Linear SAT Practice Tests provided by the College Board and Khan Academy’s Official Digital SAT® Prep, our SAT Book of Knowledge can help you familiarise yourself with the test structure, pacing, and the types of questions you can expect to encounter on test day and help you practice.

Your learning style and goals are unique, so approach each option with your own priorities and preferences as your primary considerations rather than being concerned by what your peers are using.

These study guides should be used in conjunction with flashcards and/or apps that you use for active recall.


Can I prepare for the SAT on my own?

The short answer is yes, but it depends on your learning style, motivation, and discipline. Self-study offers flexibility and autonomy, allowing you to tailor your study approach to suit your needs. However some students, even when following a guide such as this one, struggle to make and stick to an appropriate study plan.

This is when a structured courses may be very valuable. SAT tuition and courses provide bespoke guidance and accountability which can help some students maintain discipline.


How should I manage my test anxiety?

A major challenge for some students is dealing with test anxiety. The importance of this assessment means that some anxiety is unavoidable and can be productive as long as it does not go unchecked. Ultimately, whatever your score, life will continue, and this isn’t your only chance at success.

Effective preparation is also key. In knowing that you did your best given your circumstances, you can feel a sense of pride regardless of your score.

An important part of this preparation that will reduce anxiety is the practice test taking. Seeing results as you progress will positively reinforce your motivation, in turn reducing test anxiety.


Should I revise with my friends or family?

Revising with other people can be a great way to make studying more fun and can lend itself to active recall techniques. However, it is crucial to ensure that your study sessions remain focused. It may be that your best friend is not your best study partner if you cannot focus together.


What should I do on the day of my test?

We believe that you should try to approach your test day as you would any other and stick to your usual routines: try to go to sleep and wake up at your usual times, consume caffeine if you usually do and exercise as you usually would. You want your body and mind to function in a predictable way.

To minimise anxiety on the day, we suggest making sure at least a day in advance you know where you will need to be, at what time and how to get there.

Improve your SAT score with A-List

A-List has been a leader in US university pathways for almost 20 years.

All of our tutors are first-class graduates from leading US universities - including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth and University of California - they combine in depth subject knowledge with insight into what it takes to succeed in some of the world’s most demanding academic environments.

For each subject area, we train our students in a thorough grounding of foundational to advanced content, stretching them with material beyond past papers and drills to produce articulate, well-rounded thinkers.

To enquire about A-List SAT support services, contact our Client Services team at +44 (0)20 3004 8101 or, anytime during our office hours Monday - Friday, 9am - 6pm.

Discovery Session

Guiding Your Journey from Start to Finish

If you are new to US universities and the application process, we offer a free 15-minute session to guide you. Whether you are unsure about attending a US university, curious about your chances, or making a last-minute decision, our team are here to provide guidance and support.