Top 10 Ways to Prepare for the SAT

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You have to perform well on the SAT exam in order to have your pick of colleges, but where do you start? We’ll share our ten best study tips to help you in preparing for the SAT. Best of all, some of the tips are easier than you might think!

How to Prepare for the SAT: Top Study Tips

1. Read lots of nonfiction outside of class

The 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, 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 when preparing for the SAT. The reason is four of the five passages you’ll see will be nonfiction. High school reading curriculum tends to lean mostly towards fiction. To counterbalance that—and prepare for SAT reading in general—pick up a magazine (Time for the newbies, The New Yorker for the more ambitious) or a newspaper (The 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 (er, online magazines) now.

2. Learn how to do mental math

One of the two Math sections on the SAT will not allow you to use a calculator. However, you don’t have to get stuck doing equations with only a no. 2 pencil.

Prepare for SAT Math by using your brain as your “mental calculator.” You’ll save a lot of time on test day if you know the answer to, say, 3 × 13 right off the bat. Not sure where to start? Magoosh’s free, downloadable Math eBook has shortcuts and example problems to make mental math easier.

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3. Brush up on grammar

Almost half of the Verbal section is 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 of the easiest topics to improve on when preparing for the SAT.

4. Use the best SAT prep materials

There are lots of study materials out there. Not all are created equal; in fact some will hurt your score by providing you with questions that aren’t representative of the actual test. Take a look at some of the best study resources below or check out this comprehensive review of the best SAT prep courses.

5. Try some mixed sample tests

There are essentially three different parts to the SAT test: Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. 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 study sessions in which you do, say, 35 minutes of Math and 35 minutes of Writing and Language. This will mimic what you’ll do on test day,–switching from section to section.

Our free, full-length SAT practice test is a great way to prepare for SAT test day—you’ll be comfortable with the format, as well as switching between sections after a certain time limit.

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. This one-month SAT study schedule is a good way to structure your study time.

7. Figure out, and work on, your weaknesses

You’ll naturally be good at some things on the SAT, and 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. Take a diagnostic test to see which areas you need to work on when preparing for the SAT.

8. Sneak in 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; use these easy ideas!

9. Find an SAT study partner

Don’t go at it alone. Find a partner (or two!) and keep each other accountable when preparing for the SAT. Share strategies, resources, and SAT study tips. Test each other, compete against each other, and, most importantly, commiserate with each other. The SAT is a rite of passage, full of its ups and downs. It is best not to go at it alone.

10. Prepare for SAT test day by reviewing this checklist

Don’t be fooled by the title of this video—this is definitely not about cramming! Instead, use it to prepare for SAT test day, including what to bring to the test center and how much sleep you should get beforehand.

Bonus Video: How to Study for the SAT and Get a Perfect Score

Finally, if you’re wondering how to study for the SAT with a perfect score goal in mind, this video is for you. Even if you’re not aiming for a perfect score, Chris goes over some great SAT study tips for all students!

Good luck!

Need more help?

With Magoosh ACT, you can choose between a live cohorted class with an instructor (which includes all our lessons and practice questions) or access to the self-study option by itself.


  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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