The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is the most widely-applied standardized test in the US. More than 2 million high school students took the exam in 2018. Of course, knowing that you’re not alone going into the SAT may not exactly put your mind at ease.
The SAT (or an equivalent standardized test like the ACT) plays a role in determining which colleges and programs you may be eligible to attend. As such, taking the SAT can be one of the most stressful, high-pressure moments of your entire school career.
Of course…it doesn’t have to be that way, though.
While the SAT is important, it’s not something you should stress yourself out over. If you come into the test fully prepared, you really have nothing to worry about. So, set yourself up for SAT success with these seven simple tips:
#1. Improve Your Mental Math
Some parts of the SAT math exam allow you to use a calculator. Others, however, do not. So, instead of spending time scribbling on scrap paper, learning to do mental math will be very helpful.
You’ll save a great deal of time if you can rattle off the answer to basic multiplication problems and other fundamental math. Even better, this is a skill that will serve you well long after you complete your SAT; you’re going to perform basic math throughout your life, and it will be helpful if you can do so without using a calculator.
This free, downloadable Math eBook from Magoosh offers some helpful shortcuts to help you pick up mental math skills in no time.
#2. Keep on Reading
A substantial portion of the SAT focuses on reading comprehension, or interpreting information based on what you read. Much of the material you can expect to find on the exam is nonfiction. Thus, it makes sense to practice by reading and analyzing nonfiction books.
If you’re unsure where to start, check out this list of nonfiction books popular with high schoolers. The list includes a wide variety of topics including some surprisingly-interesting looks at current events, history, pop culture, and much more.
Even better, many of these books are available for free at your local library. You can even download free eBook or audiobook versions of many of them using the Overdrive app. All you need to use the app is a library card.
#3. Take a Practice Test
The SAT is intimidating. However, it will be a lot less scary if you know what to expect when you go into it. That’s where a practice SAT can come in handy.
You can take a free online practice SAT right from home. However, in-person practice SATs are also performed in most school districts. While not as simple as taking the test online, these in-person practice tests may help prepare you for what to expect when you show up for the actual exam.
Also, the test is divided into three key sections: math, reading, and writing. Data suggests that it’s most helpful to practice using a format similar to that of an actual test. So, given that you’ll probably spend about 35 minutes on one section in the actual exam, then switch to another, it’s best to replicate that approach when taking practice exams.
#4. Practice Consistently
You can’t neglect studying all year, then pull an all-nighter right before the test and expect to do well. Evidence clearly shows that, when you cram for a test, you ultimately remember much less of the material.
While more study time is good, keep in mind that more than three hours per day can lead to diminishing returns. Instead, the best approach is to plug away a little bit every night in the weeks leading up to the SAT, even if it’s only for 30 minutes or so each day.
We tend to retain information much better when we’re focused and relaxed. Thus, the time you spend studying will be more productive; you’ll get more “bang” for your study time “buck.”
#5. Identify Your Weaknesses
None of us are geniuses in every subject matter. We all have our strengths…and our weaknesses. Rather than ignoring that fact, you should embrace it by finding where your strengths and weaknesses lie, then tailoring your study time based on that.
Do you have the vocabulary of a poet, but struggle in math? Then you should know to spend more time studying algebra than drilling your vocab list. Or, maybe you’re a whiz with numbers, but have trouble with reading comprehension and analysis? If that’s the case, you should spend more time studying your reading guides than working on math.
#6. Study with Friends
If you’re taking the SAT soon, odds are that some of your friends will be taking it at the same time. If so, this would be a great opportunity to partner up.
Studying with friends can make the work seem less like a chore. Also, you can play off one another’s strengths and help each other.
Remember, though: this only works if you hold one another accountable. Don’t let your study group be just another opportunity to socialize. Instead, you need to be dedicated and focused to accomplish your goals.
#7. Dot Your “i”s and Cross Your “t”s
The fundamentals of grammar and punctuation are a weak point for many students (and adults, too). We know that grammar rules can seem almost arbitrary at some points; there may not always seem like a reason for language to work the way it does. But, given that almost half of the questions in the verbal section of the SAT are made up of grammar questions, it’s worth putting some extra emphasis on this area of the test.
Learning the ins and outs of English grammar will help you in the future, too. You can convey your ideas more effectively if you’re able to construct a well-worded sentence.