How High School Does and Doesn’t Prepare You For the SAT

On the back of The Official SAT Study Guide (Second Edition), the College Board claims that the SAT “measures what you already know.” They say, “If you take rigorous, challenging courses in high school, you’ll be ready for the test.” But are these statements truly accurate? Let’s talk about how your academic classes can and can’t help you prepare for the SAT.


General test-taking tip

We’re all used to taking timed tests. But a class period is usually a lot longer than a section on the SAT. Even though you’re used to managing your time for school exams, you may still want to practice this skill. Take as many practice tests as possible. Each time, try out different time management strategies to see what works best. For example, you could budget a certain amount of time for each problem. For the math section, you could start with the most difficult problems, which are at the end, if you find that your mind is fresher at the beginning of the section. Brainstorm and create an action plan based on previous experiences of taking tests in school.


Critical Reading

How high school CAN’T help

1. Reading during the SAT and reading my English homework are totally different experiences. I’ve never had to skim a passage that fast before! In school, all that matters is that we have a good understanding of the content of the book. The speed at which we read is irrelevant. However, the SAT is a whole different story. Time is incredibly important.

2. From my English classes, I’ve learned that there is often more than one right answer to questions about the literature. We always have the opportunity to bring up unique ideas and perspectives. But in the SAT, you can’t write down what you really wish to say. All you can do is fill in a bubble. You need to practice narrowing down the most correct answer, even if you don’t believe that it is truly correct.


How high school CAN help

1. Pay close attention to and thoroughly annotate your assigned reading. The SAT will test your understanding of various passages from books you might read in high school, so it helps if your brain is already used to analyzing these sorts of texts.

2. Throughout the first few years of high school, you will likely read books from many different periods of history. If your classes have focused on modern novels recently, you should pull out some of the books you read last year and the year before. Practice by reading and analyzing a few older works. Sometimes passages from previous centuries will show up on the SAT. It’s hard to understand the language after a quick skim if you aren’t used to seeing it.

3. And obviously, your vocabulary quizzes can help you with the vocabulary section of the SAT. Go over some old flashcards!



How high school CAN’T help

1. It can be hard to correct sentence structure because most students are not used to being in this position. We’re not teachers. We often write, but we infrequently edit the writing of others.

2. Writing the SAT essay is quite different from writing an essay in school. It’s strange not knowing a single thing about the prompt beforehand and having to draw examples out of nowhere. For class, you write essays about topics you’ve meticulously researched and formed ideas about during a period of a few weeks or more.


How high school CAN help

1. Again, vocabulary and grammar tests are always useful!

2. Frequent reading and writing will help you to recognize when other people’s writing sounds incorrect. You can use these skills in the sections where you need to fix the errors in both paragraphs and sentences. Thank god for English class!

3. Although writing the SAT essay seems like a daunting task, you can actually implement a lot of the knowledge you already possess while crafting it.

– I plan my in-class essays for a few minutes at the beginning of the

class period by jotting down some notes before I start writing. The same

technique was useful when I took the SAT. Composing the essay is much

easier when you already know what you will say and when.

– You can write about characters from books, events and people from history,

or even scientific concepts if you can work them in properly. You can use

basically any knowledge from school in the essay, as long as you can think

of a great way to relate it to the prompt.

 – Writing essays for school also helps you create good theses. This skill

carries over to the SAT essay, as a thesis is always required.


How high school CAN’T help

This section can be tricky because not all of us are in the same level of math. You could be tested on topics you have never learned. Therefore, you are at a disadvantage because you now need to spend extra time learning these concepts.


How high school CAN help

On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that you haven’t learned any of the material in the math section. In fact, chances are you’ve studied a lot of it. Look up a list of all the math topics that will probably show up on the SAT and review your school lessons about them. Try out old homework problems or test questions.



  • Nadira Berman

    As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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