The SAT is not like your regular midterm; you can’t just cram for the test. At the same time, you don’t want the SAT to intrude in your life so much that other stuff intrudes. That statement of course is very relative, since for some three hours is an unpardonable intrusion. On the flip side, there are those who will take SAT prep classes for years.
There is no magic number, but I’d say learning the test over the summer—whether at home or in a prep school—and taking the test in October is a good way to go about it. Even if you don’t do well, you can retake the test. The second time around you will already have a solid foundation. You may only need about four weeks to ramp for test day. In that time, you should take at least three practice tests. The good news is Magoosh has plenty of different study schedules, whether you are the all-summer-long student or the weekend crammer (again, we wouldn’t recommend the second).
So that’s the big picture. But what about the day to day? Well, the key is not to just go through problem after problem, hoping that with each question you have “under your belt” your score will creep up a point increment. You have to be aware of your thinking process, especially when it leads to mistakes. For instance, don’t just take a practice test and figure out which ones you missed. Actually, try to think back to the moment you were in the question, when you made that final choice not to choose, say (A), the answer, but (C). Understand what makes (A) correct and (C), your original answer incorrect. By thinking back to that moment when you selected the wrong answer, you’ll be better able to avoid mistakes in the future.
You’ll also want to make sure to have a good balance between reading up on strategy and actually doing questions. Some students will read an entire book worth of strategy before even doing a single question. Conversely, others will just dive into the questions without reading up on test prep techniques. At least when you are starting off, spend about 30 minutes reading strategy, then actually go apply that knowledge on relevant question types. Of course always reread the strategy to make sure you got it right in the first place.
Finally, be consistent. Don’t just study once a week, thinking that you’re going to see any noticeable improvements. You’ll want to study at least 3 times a week in the beginning, and leading up to the test, almost every day. Don’t worry, even 30 minutes a day will go very far.
The key is the consistency in studying and the consistency of how you study. If you scores aren’t improving over the course of a month, revisit your approach and see if there is anyway you should tweak it. Remember, a lack of a score increase is not because of you; it is because of your approach. If you simply have to memorize more words to ace the Critical Reading section, then hit the books. Whatever your goal may be, it is within reach.