This post has been updated for the New SAT that was launched in March 2016! So our answer here is fresh, fresh, fresh! 🙂
When should I start studying for the SAT? It’s a commonly asked question—but not one with a clear-cut answer. The SAT is a test of knowledge, and a lot of it is composed of content that you are already familiar with—content that you’ve learned over the entirety of your academic career. This is particularly true with the new SAT, which tries to mirror its content to the same material you’ve been learning in school.
In other words, the knowledge you gain from school in itself is very helpful in preparing for the SAT. Grammar rules, essay tips, Geometry and Algebra II skills…much of it is very applicable to the SAT!
Studying, then, often means brushing up on these skills, becoming familiar with the types of questions that appear on the SAT, and learning test-taking strategies.
When to start studying for the SAT, based on your age
When you should study for the SAT, and how long you should study, all depends on your current situation and readiness. The quickest and easiest marker of when you should start SAT prep is your age. Which situation are you in right now?
If you’re an underclassmen, then you have plenty of time to study for the SAT. Typically, it is recommended that you study for the SAT the summer before your junior year. This is because junior year gets very busy very fast, and senior year will be a mess of college apps and other genres of chaos.
If you study the summer before junior year, then you can take it early in the school year and get it over with.
There are even students who begin studying the summer before sophomore year. The PSAT is an excellent gauge of where you are and how much you have to improve. Sign up for a PSAT your sophomore year. An added bonus of studying intensely the summer before your junior year is that you can take the PSAT a second time—and possibly qualify for the PSAT/NMSQT scholarship if your score is high enough. Pretty cool. (Did you know that the PSAT exam has changed? Learn more.)
Though preparation is always ideal, keep in mind that “the earlier the better” is not necessarily true in this case. If you start studying too early, you may run out of steam early as well. You may lose concentration, and your studying may be so spread out and dilute, so to speak, that it won’t be nearly as effective as a more condensed time frame.
During Junior Year
If you didn’t have time to study during the summer, there are lots of people who study during the school year, as well. This is a bit more difficult because junior year is a stressful year (seriously!), but it can still be done. Split up your time wisely, and dedicate some time every day for SAT review, and use winter and spring breaks for more intensive review.
Summer Before Senior Year
It’s usually more ideal to devote a different summer to SAT just because the one before senior year is normally very busy. If you haven’t taken the SAT at this point, you definitely should start studying. Studying during the first semester of senior year is possible, but not ideal. SATs piled onto college apps piled onto a first semester workload would be enough to cause spontaneous, stress-induced combustion.
With all of that said, age, however, isn’t always an accurate gauge of when to start studying. Probably the most important factor to consider is this: how far away are you from your goal?
When should you start studying for your SAT, based on your goal
Some people are fine with an average SAT score, while others want a near-perfect one. It all depends on your future goals and how much work you’re willing to put in! If you’re aiming for a non-competitive state university, for example, you might be fine with a 1200. If you want to attend an Ivy League, a 1500+ score would be more suitable.
To find out where you are now, try taking a practice SAT test. You can take the official College Board PSAT, an online practice test, one from an SAT prep book, or one mandated by your high school. In any case, the purpose is to get a sense of how far you are from your goal. Once you know your score as of now, you can create an SAT study plan.
Need Lots of Work (300+ points from goal)
If you are hundreds and hundreds of points from your goal, you’ll most likely want more than just a summer to study. It’s difficult to raise your score from 1000 to 1400, for example, but it’s most certainly possible; and, with some hard work, you can make it happen. At this stage, you’ll have to cover a lot of basic material (i.e. vocab words, formulas, grammar rules…), so studying a little each day six months to a year in advance isn’t a bad idea. Then again, these time frames are very relative to how intensively you’re studying. One very intensive summer study program could also boost your score considerably…you would just be a lot more rushed!
Need Moderate Work (100-300 points from goal)
This is a little bit more manageable and can be done over a summer. Again, the summer before junior year is the most ideal. Alternatively, this study plan could also be fulfilled during the school year over the course of a few months. If you’re at this point, you probably need to cover a bit more of the basics and brush up on details.
Almost There (100 points or less from goal)
If you’re less than 100 points from your goal score, you might only need to study one or two months in advance! Especially if you’re already in the 1400s or 1500s, you’ll be polishing up your skills and brushing up on smaller, more specific details. In certain ways, however, the last hundred points are the hardest to achieve! If you’re aiming for a very high score, just a few incorrect questions can throw you off considerably. Some of it is just a matter of luck, so if you’re at this stage, don’t become too frustrated! You can get there.
There really is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but with a bit of research, you can start studying at the time which is most suitable to you. And remember: technically, you’ve been studying for this test for your whole life. You just didn’t know it! The SAT can be immensely stressful and frustrating, but in the end, it’s just a test.
So, mark those calendars, study, and give it a run for its money!
Photo Credit: The Times
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About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. LinkedIn
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