Making an SAT Study Plan
Written by tutor Jeff S.
When it comes to SAT preparation, the adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” best sums up the need for thorough SAT study planning. The plan should address a test taker’s college goals and financial assistance needs, academic strengths and weaknesses, learning style, and psychological principles of learning. This article covers each of these, providing tips on how to incorporate them into a personalized SAT study plan.
College Goals and Financial Assistance Needs
College planning is essential to creating a comprehensive SAT study plan. Test takers should know the SAT scores that meet the admissions criteria of their college or university of choice before creating their plan. Additionally, students should determine whether or not their major(s) of study have their own SAT score requirements, which may be stricter than the college or universities’. These “cut off” scores provide test takers with an SAT plan goal.
Financial issues are also a consideration. Some grants and scholarships have minimum SAT score requirements that may differ from the college or university minimum. Research the SAT score requirements for the college or university, major area of study, and grants or scholarships for later SAT study planning.
Academic Strengths and Weaknesses
Next, test takers should assess their academic strengths and weaknesses relative to the SAT by taking the Pre-SAT (PSAT) test. PSAT scores are the single best predictor of a student’s future SAT scores. These scores indicate the score the test taker would earn on the SAT if they had taken it the day of their PSAT test. Some high school counselors state that taking the PSAT is more important than researching the college or university of choice!
Test takers should include regular SAT practice tests in their study plan once they’ve taken the PSAT. These scores will help assess improvements made along the way. Practice tests should, therefore, be taken seriously. Time each section and follow the directions carefully so that the practice environment is as close to the actual SAT testing environment as possible.
Everyone has their own learning style. For example, some people are hands-on learners and learn much more quickly if a teacher or tutor explains the steps while the learner does them independently (kinesthetic learning style). Test takers should determine their personal learning style if they don’t already know it. The best way to do this is by taking one of the free online learning style tests that are widely available. Learning-styles-online.com is one great source. Visit to take their free learning styles inventory questionnaire.
Test takers should tailor their SAT study activities to their learning style. For example, “interpersonal” learners should study in small groups. Learning-styles-online.com has a comprehensive learning styles overview page that describes the learning styles and lists recommended study activities for each.
Psychological Principals of Learning
Much psychological research has been done on human learning. Below is a list of five, psychology-related recommendations that will help test takers study for the SAT test.
- Keep Study Sessions Short. Psychologists recommend 5-10 minute breaks every 45 minutes as the optimum study session length. Leave the study area during these breaks. Doing this “resets” attention span to fight mental fatigue. Return to studying promptly at the end of the break.
- Tell Others About Your Study Plan. Social psychology teaches us that people are more likely to stick to their plans if someone else knows about them. This gives us an unspoken element of accountability. When someone else knows we’re planning to study, we might tell ourselves, “I already told my best friend I’m studying for the SAT. They’ll be disappointed in me if I don’t.” This provides motivation to study – even if we don’t particularly feel like it.
- Review Before Going to Bed and First Thing in the Morning. Psychologists studying optimal learning times found that studying right before going to sleep and reviewing again first thing in the morning are best. While we sleep, our brains process what we’ve learned throughout the day. It continues working with the information and eliminates redundant information to make room for the next day’s experiences. Review just before going to bed and again as soon as you wake up. You will be amazed at how quickly you will commit the material to your long-term memory!
- Follow a Balanced Diet. Biopsychology studies tell us that our memories are simply chemical reactions in our brains. A complex mix of chemicals (like sodium) and neurotransmitters (like serotonin) interact with neurons to store information. Proper daily nutrition – including proper hydration – ensures that these chemicals remain at proper levels for optimum learning. Test takers should consult their doctor and other professionals to plan a proper diet for their height, weight, age, and activity levels.
- Study Your Worst Subjects First. Studies consistently show that people want to think the best of themselves and avoid contrary situations. This tendency leads us to avoid situations that make us feel guilty or inferior. This can lead us to study our best SAT subjects and avoid the others. To counter this, use a calendar and plan to study the subjects you scored lowest on your PSAT and SAT practice tests first. (Then tell someone else about it!) This ensures that, if you need to, you can allow yourself more time to study your worst subjects before taking the SAT.
SAT study planning is essential to earning scores needed for college(s) of choice, major of study, and financial aid purposes. The Pre-SAT (PSAT) test and/ or SAT practice tests are useful for discovering academic strengths and weaknesses. This will help test takers devote plenty of time to their worst subjects. Learning style assessments are also a recommended first step. Psychological principles of social and bio psychological principles can also be useful in creating a comprehensive SAT study plan. Some of these include taking a 5 to 10 minute break every 45 minutes and telling others about their study plans.