SAT Prep Simplified

SAT Prep, Simplified: A Test-Taker’s Guide to the Exam

Studying for the SAT should start, experts recommend, at least 3 months before you’re scheduled to sit for the exam. While getting a head start is definitely important, one of the keys to a stellar Superscore is familiarity with the test itself.

Below, you’ll find expert-sourced articles and advice about scores, recent changes to the SAT (including if you even need to take it in the first place), and detailed information you can use to supercharge your test prep.

Do You Have To Take The SAT?

Colleges made significant adjustments to their requirements across the board in 2020, from academics to admissions. In addition to conducting virtual campus tours and remote student interviews, many schools have also revisited their testing requirements.

In 2020, many students were unable to take the SAT, because testing locations nationally and internationally were forced to shut down.

The status of SAT test dates and locations is continually being assessed as we move into 2021, so it’s best to check with the College Board to in the know on cancellations, makeups, refunds, and more.


Read more: SAT Cancelled: Now What?

How to know if the SAT is required for your college applications

There are 4 types of SAT requirements you’ll encounter when applying to college in 2021:

1) Test-optional
2) Test-required
3) Test-flexible
4) Test-blind

Now that most American colleges and universities have changed their requirements for the SAT and other tests in some way, it’s best to check to determine if the schools you’re interested in attending require the SAT in the first place.


Read more: Do I Still Need to Take The SAT?

Should You Take The SAT or ACT?

Both the SAT and the ACT are designed to test your college readiness, but the tests have some big differences. Many students take both, but if you’re hoping to choose the right test, get informed about what makes each one unique.

Read more: SAT vs. ACT: 7 Differences to Help You Choose the Best Test

What’s Sections Are On The SAT?

The regular SAT test will take three hours, with two breaks built in. Here’s what to expect on test day:

  • SAT Reading Test: 52 multiple-choice questions in 65 minutes.
  • SAT Writing and Language Test: 44 multiple-choice questions in 35 minutes.
  • SAT No Calculator Math Test: 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 student-produced questions in 25 minutes.
  • SAT Calculator Math Test: 30 multiple-choice and 8 student-produced questions in 55 minutes.
  • SAT Essay Test (optional): 50 minutes to read a passage and then write an analytical essay. This test is scored separately and does not affect your overall score.

Changes to SAT subject tests

The College Board announced on January 19, 2021 that it will discontinue SAT subject exams. Officials said the pandemic has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

SAT subject tests covered topics such as math, literature, history, biology, chemistry, physics, and foreign languages.

Prepare for SAT Math

The College Board categorizes all the math on the SAT as being part of Heart of Algebra, Passport to Advanced Math, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, or Additional Topics (geometry, trigonometry, and imaginary numbers, etc.).

Math is the most common problem area for students taking the SAT. Although some SAT Math formulas are provided at the beginning of each test section, there are a few tips you’ll want to remember that aren’t on that list. We asked a professional SAT prep tutor for advice on taking the test, and preparing for the most daunting section.


Read more: 10 Score-Boosting SAT Math Tips

SAT Calculator section

The College Board allows almost any calculator on the Calculator section. The rules of thumb to follow are as long as your device:

1) Can’t access the internet
2) Doesn’t have a QWERTY keyboard
3) Doesn’t have to be plugged in, and
4) Doesn’t have printing capabilities

…then you can use it on the SAT. 

The most popular one by far in many US schools is the TI-84. Succeeding on the SAT means learning how to use a graphing calculator effectively.


Read more: 8 tips for Using the TI-84 Graphing Calculator on the SAT

Study With An Expert

Understanding the test and all its sections, determining your target score, and setting goals are all key parts of strong SAT test prep.

Ultimately, the SAT is a test of, well, how well you can take the SAT. That means the more you practice, the more you will settle more quickly on the right strategy.

Read more: 10 Expert Tips for a Perfect SAT Score

Hiring A Tutor for SAT Prep or Review

When it comes to trustworthy SAT prep, no online program or free resource will match the personalized experience of private tutoring.

If you’re looking for SAT studying tips so you can nail your target score, it’s good to focus on three areas: content, strategy, and timing. That’s where having access to an expert really pays off. A skilled SAT can direct your practice and teach you the study skills and time-management tips that will lead to your best possible score.


Get Your Highest SAT Score

Can you retake the SAT? Absolutely!

In fact, it’s a lot more common than you might think. You’re actually permitted by The College Board to take the SAT twelve times in total.

How is the SAT scored?

Rather than thinking of your SAT score as, say, a fraction of all the points possible, focus on your percentile – what percent of test-takers scored lower than you.

Most students aim to be in the 90th percentile or above.

If you didn’t get that perfect SAT score the first time you took the test, don’t worry: the majority of colleges are interested your Superscore – the composite score of your best Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and best Math scores. There’s really no risk in taking the SAT again—or even again and again, if you want.


Read more: So, You’re Retaking the SAT

Avoid common mistakes

Spending equal time on all parts of the test, forgetting to put the textbooks down once in a while, and using practice exams the wrong way are all common mistakes students (and parents) make when preparing for the SAT. Here are some concrete ways you can get the most of of your prep.


Learn Tutor-Recommended Tips

An expert SAT tutor unlocks your best chance of achieving a perfect score by helping you review and evaluate your skills, strengths, weaknesses, and goals, then teaching you to put your knowledge to great use.

While you may recognize your mistakes after looking at the answers in your own self-guided SAT prep, we asked a tutor to identify the strategies every student facing their SAT can benefit from learning.


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