So, you know that you have to perform well on the new SAT exam in order to have your pick of colleges — but where do you start? These ten best SAT study tips will help you get your SAT prep started. Some of the tips are easier than you might think!
1. Read lots of nonfiction outside of class
This new SAT is very heavy on reading. You’ll have five long, dense passages one after another in an hour. It’s not that the questions are difficult. Indeed, if you do the reading they are pretty straightforward. But it’s the reading part that is tough, because your brain will likely run out of energy sometime during the section (hopefully not during the first passage!).
To prevent this from happening do lots of nonfiction reading. The reason is four of the five passages you’ll see will be nonfiction. And the high school reading curriculum tends to lean mostly towards fiction. To counterbalance that—and prep your brain for the arduous nonfiction reading you’ll do during the test—pick up a magazine (Time for the newbies, The New Yorker for the more ambitious) or a newspaper (New York Times is excellent all around).
Since your “reading brain” won’t sprout overnight, this is an area in which you’ll want to get a jumpstart. So hit the books (I mean online magazines!) now.
2. Dust off that mental math
You might have heard that one of the two math sections on the new SAT will not allow you to use a calculator. This is, sadly, the case. However, don’t get stuck with only a no. 2 pencil. Use your brain—that is your “mental calculator”. You’ll save a lot of time multiplying relatively simple numbers like 3×13, 5×16, if you know the answer right off the bat. So, instead of singing in the shower or texting while waiting for the bus, do some mental math.
Okay, I get it, asking a high school kid—indeed anybody—to stop texting is like trying to stop a tsunami with your bare hand. But see if you can’t slip in some mental math.
3. Brush up on grammar
Almost half of the verbal section is now made up of grammar questions. While many have to do with “big picture” essay questions, others rely on basic grammar. You might dread the thought of learning grammar, but it is one the easiest parts of the SAT to improve on.
4. Use the best SAT prep materials
There are lots of study materials out there. Not all are equal; in fact some will hurt your score by providing you with questions that aren’t representative of the actual test. The best place for practice material is the College Board’s book: The Official SAT Study Guide (2016 Edition). For actual strategies, though, this blog has lots of excellent material. Some of the usual test prep suspects will also have a decent grammar review section. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend their questions. (You can find great questions right here, actually; take a look at Magoosh’s SAT Writing and Language Practice, SAT Reading Practice, and SAT Math Practice, as well as our new SAT practice test!)
5. Try some mixed practice tests
There are essentially three different parts to test (math, reading, and grammar), though the test lumps reading and grammar into the verbal section. Often when students prep they think, hey, I’ll just do a bunch of math tonight. Studies have shown that it is much more beneficial to do practice sessions in which you do, say, 45 minutes math and 45 minutes verbal. This will mimic what you’ll do test day—switching from section to section roughly every 45 minutes.
6. Don’t cram!
Cramming is a bad idea. While you are doing it, it feels like you are retaining so much information. But within a week much of that information vanishes (cramming is much like trying to build a skyscraper from a deck of cards.) Instead, you should make sure to prep at least a few times a week and review what you’ve learned. You’ll find it is easier for you to learn when you are re-exposed to information you recently attempted to learn.
And there is no need to do more than three hours total prep on a day; you’ll start to get diminishing returns. You’ll also want to take a break in between all that studying to let the information sink in. So break up studying throughout the week, and break it up throughout the day.
7. Figure out, and work on, your weaknesses
You’ll naturally be good at some things on the tests. Sure, it’s good to maintain that edge by practicing those concepts from time to time. But it is better to figure out where you struggle. Say it’s reading. Well, first look at #1 from this blog post and then try to determine if there is some other aspect of reading that you need to work at. Focus improving in this area, but not all in one go (see #6).
8. Sneak in some SAT prep during “dead time”
Many of us have certain parts of the day where we are just, well, sort of hanging out. Maybe we’re waiting for a friend, the bus, or an annoying commercial break to end. Well, don’t be a victim of waiting; have a smartphone nearby and learn some grammar online. Have some notecards on the power of 2 handy. Have a Magoosh window open on your laptop.
9. Use the Internet
Speaking of webbie stuff, the Internet abounds with free SAT advice and tips (this blog is just one of them). Check out other blogs, too, to see what they have to offer. A great place, though, is the College Board website itself. You’ll get the following for free: practice questions, important test updates, and general SAT study tips.
10. Find an SAT study partner
Don’t go at it alone. Find a partner (or two!). Keep each other accountable. Share strategies and SAT study tips. Test each other, compete against each other, and, most importantly, commiserate with each. The SAT is a rite of passage, full of its ups and downs. It is best not to go at it alone.