Prior to any process, you should be equipped with the fundamentals for success. Before starting (or restarting), SAT prep, go first through this vital checklist and make sure you have the following (especially the last one):
1) Understanding of Past Performance
To know where you’re going, know where you’ve been.
- Take a practice test to catalyze the process, diagnose your weaknesses, and give you a score to work on. When you analyze your performance, extract some key lessons: determine which skills to work on, which strengths to take advantage of, and which strategies to practice first.
- If you’ve already taken the test and are attempting it again, identify where you went wrong in terms of studying and strategy (also see #5).
2) Concrete Goals
Having a target score (or score range) for each section is a sign of readiness, as long as you’re realistic.
- If you got 500 on Reading Comprehension, 750 is not a feasible goal; it’s unhealthy. Gunning for a 250-point jump puts you in danger of being overwhelmed when studying.
- Even worse, you’d feel discouraged if you got “only” a 570 on a practice test. That’s a 70-point jump and increases your percentile by over 20%. This is a significant accomplishment that you should feel good about.
- To achieve any goal, you have to break it into sensible steps that you can ACTUALLY and EASILY execute. When you complete a step, then you can move on to the next one and see how much further you can go.
- While universities don’t have official score requirements, you can look up the average ranges of admitted applicants. Do your research so you have an idea of what to target—within reason.
3) Clear-Cut Timeline
You need a yardstick by which to measure progress and a secure base from which to operate. Once you know your test date, get out your calendar and work backwards to create a realistic weekly timeline.
- Map out exactly which sections you’ll work on and when you’ll be working on them. Which areas of the test will you concentrate on the most? Which days of the week will you study? How long is each study session? How often will you take practice tests?
- You always deviate from your game plan and make ad hoc changes. Overall, you still need a timeline to fall back on and keep you moving forward.
4) Appropriate Workload
Does your current workload afford you the time and energy to reach your highest possible score?
- Think carefully about what’s already on your plate and where an SAT timeline would fit. Consider your class schedule, other major exams (AP or SAT II), and extracurriculars.
- Also bear in mind that you are human, you have a life, and you do in fact need to sleep.
- Let’s say every semester is already jam-packed, or you don’t have the luxury of choosing when to study (i.e. you’re testing on the last possible date before college deadlines). In that case, creating & adhering to a timeline is even more important. Work becomes more manageable when done consistently.
A test is more than a mental exercise; there’s an emotional component that usually goes ignored, even though it determines our behavior. Commitment means sticking to your routine, even when your mood fluctuates and your energy takes a dip.
- Stay optimistic, but also expect some hurdles and disappointments along the way. I’m telling you now: they WILL happen, so use them to your advantage. The whole point of prep is to make mistakes and troubleshoot before game day, so decide NOW that you will treat obstacles as opportunities to improve your strategy.
- On test anxiety: You may be one of those students who studies, but panics once the timer begins. This is a salient problem and is not just limited to the SAT; people taking graduate and professional exams also get jittery and insecure. The answer? Strategy. To feel confident on test day, you need to know the test design inside-out and practice the appropriate strategies repeatedly. Acknowledge right now that you’re doing a LOT of practice problems and taking a LOT of practice tests because the payoff is worth it.
- If you’re retaking the SAT, look closely at your last test and take a restorative approach: One that helps you understand what happened, fix that conflict for next time. Ask yourself some crucial questions to restore your confidence and ensure a healthy restart: What were you thinking at the time you took the test? At the time, what were you wishing you had done? Since test day, what have you been thinking about and how has it affected you? What about all this has been the hardest? What do you think needs to be done to make things right?
- Which study resources would you find most supportive? Which people (teachers, friends, study partners) will help you feel your best?
It helps to have help.
These 5 principles don’t just apply to tests—they are paramount to any goal. Before embarking on a process, recognize and respect the commitment.