How to Prepare for the SAT

#1 Get Access to Real SAT Tests 

First and foremost, if you are going to study for the SAT, you need access to authentic test questions (from The College Board). Thats your starting point and the best way to get a feel for the quirky, unique questions on the test. There are a number of books from major publishing companies that contain lots of questions that won’t prepare you well for the SAT. 


Get access to the real College Board tests here. Since you’ll be taking the test with a pencil and booklet, print them out. Alternatively, you can purchase the College Board’s Official Guide to the SAT. 


Take any one of the practice tests and score yourself (the tests come with score guides). Mark the questions you got wrong but don’t check the answer explanations, yet. 


#2 Go Over the Problems you got Wrong

The next step is essential: you need to go through the problems you got wrong and see if you can figure them out on your own. Only after taking a serious shot at answering the question right, should you then take a look at the answer explanations.


Unfortunately, the explanations that the College Board provides can be unnecessarily labyrinthian. I recommend looking at YouTube videos. Search the test number, section, and problem number. Quantum SAT provides great, straightforward explanations for the math problems. 


The next step is tough for many students to do on their own: you need to identify which topics you need a refresher on. In some cases, you’ll be learning a new academic topic from scratch. Look at every word in the question and be honest with yourself: do you know what this means? If not, google it to start with.


For example, on the math section, do you know what an integer is? Do you remember every aspect of a linear equation and the formulas you need? Do you remember the vertex form of a quadratic? You’ll want to know all of this and more. Its important to identify your weaknesses and learn the underlying material. Theres no shortcut here. 


On the Writing and Language Section you’ll want to be clear on grammar rules: when to use a semi-colon, what a misplaced modifier is, etc. Again, you can google a lot of these things, but I can point you to a couple great books. 


#3 Keep Studying the Underlying Academic Material and Ruthlessly Go over Mistakes on Practice Tests


The best way to learn the material onto SAT is to keep zeroing in on your mistakes and figuring out any way possible to get that problem right again. That means studying the underlying material, analyzing different ways to do the problems, and figuring out how to eliminate and guess when you need to. It’s at this point that you can begin to learn a couple key strategies. 

Books (and online resources) I recommend for the SAT

Reading Section:

The Complete Guide to SAT Reading by Erica Metzler

Writing and Language Section:

The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar by Erica Metzler
Tutor Ted's Guide to the SAT (This book offers a shorter primer on the subject than Metzler's book and can act as a fantastic introduction to grammar topics before going deeper)

Math Section:

Quantum SAT online
The College Panda's SAT Math book (for those scoring around 600)
PWN the SAT: Math Guide (for more advanced students scoring 650-700 and looking to improve)
28 Math Lessons to Improve Your Score in One Month by Steve Warner (Also excellent for more advanced students aiming for 800 score)

#4 Build on your foundation with excellent strategies and tips 

I’m biased, of course, but a tutor can be of great value here. Each of the books I mentioned above has a primer on important strategies. Erica Metzler teaches a practice way of working through the passages efficiently and identifying patterns in wrong answer choices. Identify patterns in wrong answer choices carries over to the whole test. 


On the “grammar” section, you’ll want to learn when to cross out conjunctions or appositives to avoid getting led astray. Thats the tip of the iceberg.


On the math section, you’ll want to start with plugging in (different, but similar to ‘guess and check’ that many people learn). You can also work backwards from the answer choices themselves. Both Steve Warner (28 Math Lessons) and Mike McClenathan (PWN the SAT) provide clear primers on these foundational topics. And importantly, they cover when NOT to use these strategies or turn them into a crutch. 


#5 Find Practice Problems to Drill Your Weaknesses (and Build on Strengths).

You won’t want to overuse the practice tests from the College Board. You also don’t want to keep banging your head into the wall by repeatedly taking tests over and over without zeroing in on the areas you really need to work on. The books and online sources I provided can help you here. Effectively preparing for the SAT means studying intelligently and precisely. A brute force attack won’t work well. 


#6 Take Your First SAT and Expect To Take One More. 


This is a marathon, not a sprint, so you won’t want to cram the night before your test. Just relax, you know what you know at this point. Get a good nights sleep before the test and eat your favorite breakfast (ideally healthy). I recommend that you set your alarm clock to the exact time you’ll be taking the test for a week or two prior. You don’t want to be getting up earlier than usual. 


Get everything ready a couple days before: a couple pencils, your calculator, a photo ID, your admissions ticket, and a comfortable face covering (Covid). 


Breath deeply and find your stride by answering lots of easy questions (carefully skipping past hard ones at first but coming back to the ones you are comfortable with). You’ll build a good rhythm and will find that your nerves calm down. Good luck. 

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