Note: This post has been updated to reflect the scoring changes in the SAT beginning in March 2016.
Some would say a weekend; some would say a lifetime. Clearly, the truth is somewhere in between, and the answer really depends on you. Are you the busy type, but have lofty goals? Then studying an entire summer is probably necessary (and more, if you don’t do as well as planned). Not looking to rock the Ivy League, but hoping for a decent in-state school? Maybe a month is all you’ll need.
But don’t spend just a weekend. Whereas a month can make a big difference in your score, depending on the materials and whether you have a teacher, a weekend isn’t going to make much of a difference on your score (and all-nighters are never fun).
On the flip side, don’t fritter your life away, attending SAT schools every weekend, year after year (colleges do want well-rounded students). Of course, most students do not fall into this category, but if you are a super-achiever keep this advice is mind.
Ultimately, how long you study for the SAT has a lot to do with your current score and the average score of the school you hope to go to. Figure that out first, and then you’ll have a better sense of just how much time you’ll need.
The 70-150 Point Plan = One Month
Life is busy, and you just don’t have time to dedicate it all to one thing. But as long as you can give SAT prep a month of your time, you can—with hard work and a good teacher—expect to improve about 30 to 70 points in both Math and Reading/Writing, or up to around 150 points overall.
The 150-250 Point Increase = Three Month (one summer!)
With the right materials and a good teacher, a summer is ample time for you to raise your score by as much as 250 points (assuming you are not starting off with a score of over 1350). You will need to take practice tests every week and go through them with a really good teacher/tutor. That person will also help determine your weak points.
If you are unable to get a teacher/tutor, you can still see such a point increase. It’ll just be a little tougher; you’ll have to be more disciplined and attuned to the errors you tend to make.
The 250-350 Point Club
First off, I’m here to tell you that such a score increase is possible. Secondly, the higher your baseline score (the score you start out at), the less likely it is to see such an increase. So yeah, if you are already scoring 1400, then it is impossible to increase by 300 points.
But for students scoring in the 900-1200 range, a 300-point increase is possible, given lots of hard work and, of course, time. You will need to become an avid reader, a math machine, and a grammar nazi (or at least think like one). But these are all learnable skills, with the right guidance and materials. You will probably need more than a summer; in fact, you might find yourself working back-to-back summers. But that’s okay, if you are in between your sophomore and junior years. With the determination, you can do it.
The 1350+ Plan
Let’s say you are already starting at the 1350- or 1400-level. Increasing 100 or more points is going to be tough. But you are probably already a strong student. You might only need about 6 weeks, but that will have to be an intense 6 weeks (you will be dreaming in fourth-degree polynomials and Reading passage quotes). Going through multiple practice tests a week with an SAT tutor may be necessary. With an entire summer, and the right instruction, you should be able to break the 1500-point threshold.