7 Proven Strategies to Rock the SAT

As we continue in our ACT vs SAT series, we started thinking about test prep strategies and what the best ones really are. Let’s face it, ACT and SAT test scores are an important component for Winning the College Game. A great test score can tip admissions scales in your favor, earn in-state tuition at an out-of-state school, or help you win a large scholarship…making your expensive dream school an affordable reality!

There are a lot of methods out there; books to read, prep courses to take, but which ones really matter? A lot of organizations and companies seem to have a “magic formula” but, what methods really make the difference?

The truth is, there isn’t a magical formula or a perfect way to study for the SAT, but with these proven strategies, you can rock the SAT!

Before tackling the best prep strategies, it’s essential for you to answer a crucial questions: Is the SAT the right test for me?  Remember there is an alternative. Since colleges and universities have no bias for either test, it only makes sense to pick the best test for you. If you haven’t already, we would highly encourage you think through this important question. To help you work through this, we have an entire post comparing the two tests and to help you find the best test match. You can read that here.

Once you’ve decided on the right test, and if it happens to be the SAT, then here’s some tips to set you up for success!

Start Early

As is the theme of a lot of things you read around here, planning ahead and starting early is a key ingredient of success when taking the SAT. Here’s our test timeline recommendation:

-Determine which test to take by the end of sophomore year.

-Create a test prep game plan complete with strategies and 3 – 4 convenient test dates.

-Begin prep and plan to take the SAT once early in your Junior year.

-Continue preparation and take the SAT 1-2 times during the Spring of your Junior year.

-Leave the option open to take it again at the beginning of your senior year if necessary.

It’s crucial to plan ahead to be able to determine the right test for you, register for those tests and to have enough time to take them multiple times. You should also keep in mind some of your ideal college choices and what their SAT ranges / policies look like so you have a realistic target. Which brings us to the second of our proven strategies to rock the SAT. 

Start with the End in Mind

Using your baseline score, identify a realistic goal. A reasonable improvement range is 100 – 150 points for the SAT or 3 to 5 composite points for the ACT, assuming you are just getting started. If you have already done a considerable amount of prep and taken the test 3 or more times, additional improvements can vary significantly based the method, manner, time and individual.

Identify How You Learn Best

If you want to maximize your results, we strongly encourage you to identify and consider your primary learning modalities (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) when creating your plan. While we are capable of learn through all 3 modalities, most of us tend to learn most efficiently through our primary modality. Identifying your primary and secondary modalities preferences can make the learning process significantly enjoyable and successful. Here’s a great article on Learning Modalities and Why They are Important.

Choose the Best Prep Strategy for You

There are three main strategies when preparing for the SAT: Self-Study, Group Prep, and Private Tutoring. Within each of these types are multiple options. Self-study could include using books, flash cards, apps, websites or other resources on you own. Group Prep can vary based upon size, timing, location, and the way the information is taught. Private Tutoring is most commonly provided one-on-one in a manner customized to meet the unique needs of an individual.

While all strategies require time and effort, financial investment and return on investment can vary significantly. When choosing the best strategies for you, it’s essential to consider how you learn best, level of commitment, and financial resources. When choosing a strategy, we often remind students and families to avoid the old adage of being “penny wise and pound foolish.” While private tutoring often requires greater financial investment, its common to see significantly better outcomes than other methods or strategies and an exponentially better return on your investment of both time and money. For example, if a student needs 150 – 200 points to qualify for in-state tuition, generally valued at between $15,000 – $25,000 annually, private tutoring, would yield an average return on investment of over 13,000% annually. How many times would you like to invest $1500 at that whopping rate of return?

Mock Tests

These are not to be confused with the PSAT, abbreviated versions or hybrid tests. To really practice and prepare for the real thing, you need to do the real thing! That means possibly getting a proctor and sticking to the actual time that you’ll be required to abide by when taking the real test. The most important factor is to create a real test environment to practice in.

Just like anything, you have to be careful with the source of the information you’re getting and the same is true with the type of practice tests you obtain. We recommend only using authentic past SAT tests. These can be found through College Board.

Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s nothing wrong with taking multiple mock tests. Assuming you have invested the time necessary to learn and master the foundational information and concepts, taking several full length standardized SAT tests is the most predictable way to grow your test taking muscle.  Keep in mind, emmulating test conditions is key here, especially when it comes to time constraints.

Fail Forward to Success

Like so many things in life, our greatest opportunity for learning and growth comes from making mistakes. Perspective and awareness is key. Rather than trying to perfect every topic or section, focus on the areas where you can improve your score the most. Invest the time to both the what AND the why you missed questions so that you may learn and avoid repeating similar mistakes again. Remember failure is not permanent, it’s an invitation to grow and expand!

The SAT can seem daunting, but with these proven strategies, you’ll rock it!