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 get a good SAT score, 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 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.
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- First, are you sure you need to take the SAT test?
- Secondly, should you take the SAT or the ACT?
- Finally, are you sure you want to take on a SAT study plan alone?
- How To Get A Good SAT Score Step-by-Step
- Master crucial SAT strategies
- Step 5: Build a Personalized SAT Study Plan
- EXAMPLE: 3 Month SAT Study Plan
- Resources to help you prepare for the SAT test
- Accountability is a BIG part of the perfect SAT Study Plan
- Schedule a FREE Consultation
- Schedule a FREE Consultation
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.
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.
Finally, are you sure you want to take on a SAT study plan 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 immensely.
The key to getting a good 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.
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.
How To Get A Good SAT Score Step-by-Step
Step One: Take a Diagnostic SAT practice test
First, you will want to take a diagnostic test to determine your baseline score. 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 and you can download them right here for free:
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.
Also, use a number 2 pencil, not a pen.
Step 2: Determine your target SAT score
After you know what your baseline score is, 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.
For example, read How To Get Into The Ivy League to see the admissions requirements for elite schools.
Step 3: Determine how long you need to study to achieve a good 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.
Step 4: Get the materials you need
Since you are planning to prepare alone, what materials you use is ultimately up to:
- 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 study materials you really need and which offer you the most bang for your buck.
Make These Books Part of Your Study Plan
Here, I will outline a few different books you can incorporate into your SAT study schedule and what situations I would recommend using them in.
Additionally, check out our article, These Are The Best SAT Prep Books To Help You Achieve Higher Scores for a complete list of our most recommended SAT
If you are trying to improve your overall SAT score while limiting the number of materials you need to buy:
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 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.
Supplementary SAT prep books which focus on a specific subject:
You can use these study guides on their own if you know exactly what areas you need to work on. Or use them in conjunction with the more generalized books mentioned above, such as the Princeton Review’s Premium Prep.
Alternatively, you can seek out them 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:
Dr. Steve Warner’s 28 SAT Math Lessons:
- Beginner (for students scoring below 500)
- Intermediate (for students scoring between 500 and 600)
- Advanced (for students scoring above 600)
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 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.
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.
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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):
EXAMPLE: 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 SAT study 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.
The test prep app prepares your materials for you with its built in suit of questions organized by test section and topic.
How To Get a Good SAT Score Using The Power Play Technique
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 an 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 a BIG 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 study materials 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 with your situation, you can contact us for a free consultation.
Or you can check out our other articles, such as our discussions on:
- the differences between the SAT and the ACT
- how long you can expect prep to last
- and what test-optional really means (and how to know if it is right for you)
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Marc Gray, Client Success Manager
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Learn how our expertise can help your student get into their dream school using a customized test prep program.
Schedule a consultation using the calendar to the right.
Need answers now? Call us at 805-876-4687 now to discuss.
Schedule a FREE Consultation
Learn how our expertise can help your student get into their dream school using a customized test prep program.
Schedule a consultation using the calendar below. Need answers now? Call us at 805-876-4687 now to discuss.