Can you get a good score on the SAT if you’re taking it for the first time and studied for only a month?

Matt Larriva
Oct 13, 2020

That depends on what your starting score is and on what you consider “good.” There are too many factors to be able to answer this with any sense of certainty–what if you’re a straight-A student who just needs to review a few grammar concepts; what if you’re someone who has serious test anxiety that requires a year of treatment; what if you’re getting 800 on the math but tanking the reading because English is not your first language?

What I can tell you is how to make sure you have the highest likelihood of the largest improvement in the time you have.

  1. Map out the material you need to learn. If you’re taking the SAT, look at the Collegeboard’s explanation of what’s on the test. If you’re taking the ACT, I recommend reviewing this document. Then I would buy a test prep book or take a class or contact a private tutor. Your decision here depends on how self-disciplined you are, how much time and energy you want to put into the process, and how well you self-teach. I recommend hiring a test prep professional, and I usually phrase it like this–you can legally serve as your own attorney, but that doesn’t mean you should. Regardless of which path you choose, remember to follow these rules:
  2. Deliberate practice. Basically if you’re enjoying any part of test prep, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Both players below probably think they’re practicing, but one will achieve a better outcome.

This is true of test prep as well. Most people want to practice the sections they’re good at. Don’t do this. Instead, practice the sections you’re bad at, and do so by resaearching why you’re not getting those problems correct. That brings me to point 2:

  1. Take practice tests sparingly. Most people love to take practice tests. And why not? It feels like you’re being very productive, the requirements are well defined. And, if you score highly, you get to stop practicing. This is ineffective and is known as testing in quality. Imagine you were trying to run a factory that produced cars, and the factory was producing broken cars too often. Do you think you would fix this problem best by
    1. Testing every car that came off the factory line, waiting to see an improvement
    2. Walking back through every step of production to identify the problem

Obviously the second. This is true of test prep too. You don’t necessarily get better by testing. You get better by studying why you’re getting problems wrong, practicing those until you do them well, and then applying your knowledge in a practice test setting. But do not start here. Practice tests take up a lot of time, and they’re designed to evaluate what you know, not teach you what you don’t.

  1. When it’s time, take practice tests in realistic settings. Most students take practice tests 1) at the wrong time of day 2) with unrealistic timing settings 3) in a comfortable environment 4) in a familiar environment. Each of these things unrealistically boosts one’s score.

Students who take tests at 4PM on a Saturday, with ample bathroom breaks, stopping the clock to have a snack, while returning to the quiet comfort of their rooms to finish the exam are about as close to reality as we are to the sun.

Here’s how to close the gap:

Take your practice tests at 730AM on a Saturday or Sunday (see how you function very early in the morning)

Take your practice test outside the home in a non-quiet, unfamiliar environment (I recommend Starbucks because they’re open early, not quiet, and have chairs and desks similar to high school setups.

Take your test straight through. Do not stop mid-section to check your phone. Give yourself only one five-minute break.

Follow those steps, practice daily, and you’ll see your score improve dramatically. If you want an extra boost, then contact a strong private tutoring company to help you through the process. May I recommend, Powerful Prep.