SAT Study Plan to Improve Your Score on Your Own + SAT Prep Book Recommendations

Matt Larriva
Jun 20, 2022
Home » Blog » SAT Study Plan to Improve Your Score on Your Own + SAT Prep Book Recommendations

You want—no, you need—to take the SAT, to get into your dream college, to get that scholarship, but you don’t know how to go about getting the score that you need, much less develop the perfect SAT study plan.  Tutoring is either too time consuming or too expensive, so you have decided to forge ahead and try to improve your SAT score on your own.

But where to begin?

Before we really get started, let’s double check all those assumptions you just made.  Nothing would be more detrimental to your application than spending a lot of time and effort on something you don’t actually need or on the wrong things entirely.

Then we’ll cover everything you need to know to develop the perfect SAT prep schedule including an example 3 month SAT study plan, our best recommendations for SAT prep books, and introduce you to a 10-minute a day microlearning system that actually works.

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First, are you sure you need to take the SAT test?

We also covered this topic in greater detail in our article “Does ‘Test-Optional’ Mean Optional for Me?” but briefly:

If you know you are only applying to test-blind schools such as a UC school, or if you are only applying to test-optional schools which do not have a history of highly valuing test scores, then you do not need to test.  

If you know you are only applying to test blind/optional schools, your score is lower than the average accepted score, and attempting to raise your score would be difficult, time consuming, and take time away from other parts of your application (it would take time away from keeping up your GPA or from your impressive extracurriculars), then you do not need to test.

Everyone else should test.

Especially now that many colleges (MIT for example) are reinstating their SAT/ACT testing requirements, it is important to plan on taking the SAT test at least once.  You do not want your application to be automatically disqualified just because you took your time finalizing your college list and mistakenly thought all the schools on your list would be test optional.

Secondly, should you take the SAT or the ACT?

Don’t set your mind on taking the SAT without considering the ACT just because the ACT is unfamiliar to you.

All colleges nowadays will accept both the SAT and ACT and place equal weight on both tests, so it is in your best interest to take the test best suited to you.

should i take the act vs sat test

Again, we go into more detail in our article “ACT vs SAT: Which Test Should You Take?” but briefly:

The best way to know for sure which test is best is to take a full practice test for each and compare your scores.

In general, students who excel in Math or struggle with working quickly, tend to do better on the SAT, and students who excel in Reading tend to do better on the ACT.

Finally, are you sure you want to prep alone?

It is absolutely possible to raise your score alone, but it may be faster and a more efficient use of your time to use professional assistance. 

Of course, tutoring is generally the fastest way to increase your score, but tutoring is not your only option. 

SAT prep books can help students conquer their study plan. Plus, there are plenty of online resources such as instructional videos and test prep apps, one of which we will discuss at the end of this article.

student working sat study plan with online tutor
Working with a tutor to develop your SAT study plan is fast and efficient, but it’s not the only way to prep.

How to design your SAT study plan: Self-study edition

The key to improving your SAT score is consistency

Tutoring, apps, etc, they all have one thing in common: they force you to be consistent with your SAT study plan and test prep preparations. This is true of any amount of prep whether you decide on a 3 month SAT study plan or a 3 week prep schedule.

When prepping on your own, the greatest hurdle for you to overcome is building that consistency into your study plan.  

To succeed then, it is crucial for you to make a schedule and then stick to it.

Step One: Take a Diagnostic SAT practice test

First, you will want to take a diagnostic test.  You cannot know how much you will need to prepare for the test if you do not first know how you are currently performing.  

The College Board has multiple free tests available for you to take on their website

Be realistic when taking a SAT Practice Test

When taking your diagnostic test, be sure to take the test in conditions as close as possible to those you will experience on test day: 

  • Begin taking the test around 8:00 or 8:30 AM
  • Take the test in a library or other location with a testing atmosphere.  
    • Avoid taking the test in your room, in a place where you feel comfortable, or in a 100% distraction free environment.  The test will not feel comfortable, nor will it be completely free of distractions, so if you take your practice test in such an environment, you could end up with an inaccurate starting score.
  • Take the test all in one sitting, with appropriate timing and breaks
    • You can time yourself using the timing listed on the first page of each section of the test.  Take a 10 minute break after Reading and a 5 minute break after Math No Calculator.
    • You can also follow an online proctoring guide, such as this one.
  • Only used approved gear
    • Turn your phone off, put it away, and do not under any circumstances use it as a calculator. 
      • Be sure to only use your calculator (make sure it is an approved calculator) during the Calculator section.
    • Use a number 2 pencil, not a pen. 
perfet 3 month sat study plan: Begin taking the test around 8:00 or 8:30 AM Take the test in a library or other location with a testing atmosphere.   Avoid taking the test in your room, in a place where you feel comfortable, or in a 100% distraction free environment.  The test will not feel comfortable, nor will it be completely free of distractions, so if you take your practice test in such an environment, you could end up with an inaccurate starting score. Take the test all in one sitting, with appropriate timing and breaks You can time yourself using the timing listed on the first page of each section of the test.  Take a 10 minute break after Reading and a 5 minute break after Math No Calculator. You can also follow an online proctoring guide, such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W69Q3M9thY&t=18s Only used approved gear Turn your phone off, put it away, and do not under any circumstances use it as a calculator.  Be sure to only use your calculator (make sure it is an approved calculator) during the Calculator section. Use a number 2 pencil, not a pen. 

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Step 2: Determine your target SAT score

After you know where you are scoring at currently, you figure out what your target score will be.  

You will need to know what colleges or what caliber of colleges you want to apply to.  Then, you will need to look into the average accepted SAT score for each college on your list.

The following resources can help you determine the admissions requirements for these elite and/or Ivy League schools:

Step 3: Determine how long you need to study to achieve your target SAT score

If you want a thorough breakdown of how much time you should expect to spend preparing for the SAT, read our article “How Long Will it Take my SAT/ACT Score to Improve.”  

But in brief, when preparing alone, you should plan on an average improvement of 50 points per month

So, for example, if you need to gain 200 points, you should plan to prep for 4 months.

student enacting her 3 month sat study plan
This guide will show you how to determine exactly how much time you personally should plan to spend studying for the SAT test.

Step 4: Get the materials and books you need for successful SAT prep

Since you are planning to prepare alone, what materials you use is ultimately up to:

  • you
  • your budget
  • and what you need to focus on

If your Reading and Writing score is where you want it, then you probably want to focus on books which teach Math. 

Similarly, if you are prepping alone because tutoring and other services are outside of your budget, then you need to be sure that you are getting the books you really need and which offer you the most bang for your buck.

Make These SAT Prep Books Part of Your Study Plan

Here, I will outline a few different books you can incorporate into your SAT study plan and what situations I would recommend using them in.

If you are trying to improve your overall SAT score while limiting the number of books you need to buy:

The Princeton Review’s SAT Premium Prep and/or The Princeton Review’s SAT Prep are excellent options for this. 

Both offer an overview of all the material on the test along with 4-paper and 5-electronic practice tests (in the premium version) and 4-paper and 2-electronic practice tests (in the regular version).  It is an especially good option if you have not done any previous prep for the SAT.

Other similar options include:

To focus on taking practice tests rather than reviewing skills:

If you know that what you need to work on is test timing, test-taking stamina, or just experience taking the test, rather than any practice or review with the material on the test, then these books are more in line with your needs: The Princeton Review’s 10 Tests for the SAT and/or Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT.

If you are specifically looking for practice tests which most people find more difficult than the actual test, then Barron’s 7 SAT Practice Tests is an excellent choice.

Don’t forget that the College Board offers (at the time of writing this) 10 free full length practice tests on their website for both print and online testing.

You can download the College Board’s SAT practice tests here: https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/sat/practice-preparation/practice-tests.

Downloadable Full-Length Practice Tests to use in 3 month sat study plan
The College Board offers free, downloadable practice SAT tests on their website.

Supplementary SAT prep books which focus on a specific subject:

You can use these books on their own if you know exactly what areas you need to work on, or in conjunction with the more generalized books mentioned above, such as the Princeton Review’s Premium Prep

Alternatively, you can seek out these books after completing one of the generalized books above so that you can continue to work on the areas that give you difficulty.

For Reading and Writing:

For Mathematics:

Dr. Steve Warner’s 28 SAT Math Lessons:

What to do if you prefer auditory learning vs reading

Most of these book recommendations are meant for those who have not begun SAT prep or have not prepped extensively yet.  If you have already worked through a considerable number of these or similar prep books, then learning from a book is probably not the right way for you to learn.  

Regardless of whether you are simply a more auditory learner or find that these books fail to hold your attention, you should look into alternative resources, such as video guides and apps.  If these fail to help as well, you will likely want to look into tutoring (there are less expensive options available) or into test-optional options.

Microlearning works: we’ve proven it.

The average student who studies for 8 hours will gain 90 points on the SAT. Power Play students gain 200 points in the same amount of time.

How it works:

  • Increases knowledge retention by up to 20%
  • Boosts confidence and reduces test-day anxiety
  • Maximizes engagement and daily improvement
  • Provides a healthier way to study than cramming
custom sat study plan by power play

Microlearning works: we’ve proven it.

The average student who studies for 8 hours will gain 90 points on the SAT. Power Play students gain 200 points in the same amount of time.

How it works:

  • Increases knowledge retention by up to 20%
  • Boosts confidence and reduces test-day anxiety
  • Maximizes engagement and daily improvement
  • Provides a healthier way to study than cramming

Step 5: Build a Personalized SAT Study Plan

By this point, you should know:

  • what your starting score is
  • what your target score is
  • and about how long you have to prepare for the test 

Use what you know here along with the table of contents in the SAT prep books you choose to get to guide your planning process.

If you know you are going to be preparing for an extended period of time, be sure to include regular review periods.  Your progress will be less significant if you only charge ahead to new material and never pause to make sure you can actually remember the material you have already learned.  About a week of review for every three to four weeks of new material is a reasonable target.

Get SAT prep off your To Do List: Discover How Top Students Like You Get Killer SAT Scores

You should also make sure to schedule a practice test about once a month to track your progress and make sure you are on track to reach your score goals within the timeframe you have planned. For example, if you built a personalized 3 month SAT study plan with the goal of testing at the end of those 3 months, taking a practice test each month will allow you to ensure you are on track to achieve your desired point gains and make adjustments as needed.

Try to spread out what subjects you focus on. 

If you spend three straight weeks working on Reading when you find it extremely difficult, you will likely find yourself getting burned out more quickly.  Alternating between Reading and something you find slightly easier, such as Math or Grammar, can let you “rest” while continuing to practice.

Don’t forget that you know yourself and your study habits best.  If any of these points seem like they might not work for you, you can modify them to best suit what works for you.

To help you get a sense for how to prepare a self-study plan, here is how I would break up the Princeton Review’s SAT Premium Prep book over a preparation period of three months (12-weeks):

3 Month SAT Study Plan

Week 1: Focus on English (Standard English Conventions)

◾ Ch 1, 2, 7 and 8
◾ Test 1 English Section

Week 2: Focus on Math (Heart of Algebra)

◾ Ch 11, 12, 13, and 14
◾ Test 1 Math Section (No Calculator and Calculator)

Week 3: Focus on Reading (Fundamental Strategy)

◾ Ch 3 and 4
◾ Test 1 Reading Section

Week 4: Review

◾ Test 2 (all) (self-proctored, single sitting, like the diagnostic test)
◾ Review Test 1 and Test 2
◾ Review any areas of weakness identified in the test
◾ Focus on the topics you have gone over in the past three weeks (ie: Even if most of your errors are in Geometry, focus on the errors made in Heart of Algebra, since that is what you have actually studied so far)

Week 5: English (Expression of Ideas)

◾ Ch 9
◾ Test 3 (This does not need to be completed in a single sitting, but each section should still be completed as a single unit and with appropriate timing.)

Week 6: Math (Passport to Advanced Math)

◾ Ch 15 and 16
◾ Test 4 (same conditions as Test 3)

Week 7: Reading (advanced strategies)

◾ Ch 5 and 6
◾ Test 5 (Use the same conditions as Test 3. Also, this is an online test.  If your actual SAT will be a paper version, be sure to print the PDF out.)

Week 8: Review

◾ Test 6 (self-proctored, single sitting, like the diagnostic test)
◾ Review Tests 3 through 6 as your did for Tests 1 through 2

Week 9: English (Punctuation)

◾ Ch 10
◾ Test 7 (same conditions as Test 3)

Week 10: Math (Additional Topics)

◾ Ch 17 and 18
◾ Test 8 (same conditions as Test 3)

Week 11: Review

◾ Read Princeton Part V: Taking the SAT
◾ If you plan to take the SAT with Essay: read Part VII: How to Crack the Essay
◾ Test 9 (self-proctored, single sitting, like the diagnostic test)
◾ Review Tests 7 through 9 as your did for Tests 1 through 2
◾ Complete additional practice in areas where you are still struggling

Week 12: Final Review

◾ Use additional books and/or the CollegeBoard’s official practice tests to continue practicing where necessary.

Resources to help you prepare for the SAT test

I now want to take a minute to discuss our powerful test prep app: Power Play

Yes, this is technically an ad, but more than that, the Power Play app is a microcosm of everything we have been discussing in this article. Plus, it has resources you can use either in place of developing a prep plan on your own or as a supplement to it, giving you even more powerful results.

Above, I stressed consistency in your test prep, and consistency is the fundamental principle which the Power Play app has been designed around.  It asks you to commit to a minimum of ten minutes per day.  This is a 100% achievable goal even with a student’s busy schedule and is something you can bring into your daily practice outside of the app.

How the Power Play system improves SAT scores

We also discussed developing a clear understanding of your baseline and your target before beginning prep.  Just so, before letting you get started, Power Play asks you for information on what your current SAT performance is (or if you have no prior experience at all), what your goals are, and when you plan to take the SAT. 

From this it offers recommendations on how intense your preparations should be and factors your goals into your Readiness Score. Your Readiness Score is prepared by the app and lets you know how prepared you are for the SAT. It also lets you know if you are on track to be prepared for it in time.

Get SAT prep off your to-do list

The average student who studies for 8 hours will gain 90 points on the SAT. Power Play students gain 200 points in the same amount of time.

Get Your 200+ Score Increase Now ➡

Get SAT prep off your to-do list

power play sat test prep app preview

The average student who studies for 8 hours will gain 90 points on the SAT. Power Play students gain 200 points in the same amount of time.

Get Your 200+ Score Increase Now ➡

The test prep app prepares your materials for you with its built in suit of questions organized by test section and topic. 

The Power Play customized SAT study plan

Furthermore, it lets you customize what you want to focus on.  Just as I recommended using targeted workbooks instead of overall material if you don’t need overall review, the Power Play app lets you choose which sections you want to focus on right from the beginning.

So, as you can see, the advice that I have put forward in this article is not just pretty words. 

For years, Powerful Prep has been using these techniques to plan our students’ prep and in developing our Power Play app.  If you want some assistance in developing your prep schedule or in kickstarting your motivation to begin prep, consider checking out the Power Play app. 

Accountability is part of the perfect SAT Study Plan

Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to prepare alone.  The key to your success while doing so is to have a plan and to hold yourself accountable to that plan.

Have clear goals.  Know how many points you need to gain and over how long of a period you want to work on the SAT.  Decide on your test date early and use it as a deadline to motivate you.

Buy books based on your needs, and don’t feel pressured to buy every book under the sun.  If you have already worked through a few different prep books, then look for alternatives such as online videos or classes, apps, and tutoring.

Make your plan, but allow it to be flexible.  You want to hold yourself accountable, but you don’t want a lackluster score just because you took less time than you needed in an effort to stay on schedule.

Finally, if you need additional advice or help for your situation, you can contact us for a free consultation.

Or you can check out our other articles, such as our discussions on:

Get an elite SAT/ACT test score in 10-minutes per day.

The average student who studies for 8 hours will gain 90 points on the SAT. Power Play students gain 200 points in the same amount of time.

Power Play is a 10-minute microlearning system that helps students like you increase knowledge retention, reduce learner anxiety, and ace the SAT and ACT tests.

Guaranteed improvement in just 8 weeks.