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Strategy 28: Planning your SAT practice

Strategy 28: Planning your SAT practice

For more tips on how to study and manage your time, see these ideas from fellow students:
Diagnose your skills early on. Even if you don’t plan on studying during the months leading up to the SAT, we advise you to take a diagnostic on Khan Academy, or complete the PSAT/NMSQT, six months before the test. That way, you’ll have a good sense of how close you are to your SAT goal. If you have a lot of skills to learn, you might want to start studying earlier than you’d planned. Fariha suggests: “Figure out what areas you need to focus on the most, and keep practicing. Don’t get discouraged if at first it is difficult to understand or learn, the more you practice the easier it will get.”

Take at least two full practice tests. We recommend taking at least one fully-timed practice test toward the beginning of your studying, and one toward the end. We also recommend you take at least one practice test on paper, which is how the actual SAT is administered, so you can get comfortable with the format. Taking a full-length practice test provides a realistic sense of how long the test is and where you tend to get tired or mentally blocked. Yes, it’s at least three hours of hard work, but if your first full SAT is on Test Day, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised by how taxing all of that intense thinking can be. You can’t train for a marathon just by doing sprints! Gaeun says: “Full practice tests are invaluable. Taking at least two before the actual test helps you gain some sense of what it’s like to sit for four hours taking the SAT. Timing yourself strictly and accurately is essential when taking these tests.”

Familiarize yourself with the instructions for each test section. The sequence of the sections and the directions for each section will be the same for every SAT. Time that you spend trying to understand the instructions on Test Day is time wasted. Hannah says: “If I take the SAT again … I would want to better know what would be expected of me on the writing portion, by looking at some kind of rubric or other guide.”

Study outside the box. Mix up your SAT prep with some general skill building. Read and summarize long articles and scientific studies to prepare for the Reading Test. Read editorial articles or essays and pay attention to how the writer constructs his or her argument to prepare for the optional essay. These approaches may not be enough on their own, but there’s no more sure way to reinforce a skill and build your understanding than to apply what you know to the real world. Eric advises: “Don’t underestimate the power of reading books. Reading in bulk not only increases your world knowledge and cultural awareness, but it also helps exercise your brain to pick up on finer details and make extrapolations based on context. It will make the critical reading and writing sections more enjoyable and allow you to think clearer. Read often, read lots.”

Take a break the night before the test. We know this can be hard advice to follow—why would you waste any critical study time right before the SAT? But it’s important to make sure you’re rested and relaxed when you wake up for the test. Studying at the last minute can introduce extra stress, lower your confidence, and wear you out. Instead, we recommend you do something calm and enjoyable, like watching a favorite movie or playing soccer with friends, to take your mind off the test and put yourself in a good mood. David says: “Please, do not study the SATs the night before the exam! Our neurons need some rest too.”

Set yourself up for success on Test Day. What everyone says is true—a good night’s sleep can make all the difference. Make sure you go to bed early the night before the test and clock a full night of sleep (at least 8 hours). It may help to go to bed a little earlier every night the week before the test so an early bedtime on Friday feels natural. Wake up early on Saturday so you have plenty of time to warm up your brain before the SAT starts, and eat a full, healthy breakfast so you’re not distracted by hunger or discomfort during the test. And don’t forget to organize your supplies in advance! You’ll need No. 2 pencils and a calculator to take the test, and you will not be allowed into the test room without a valid photo ID and a printed copy of your SAT test registration. The more you do to feel prepared and rested before the SAT, the more you’ll be able to focus on success while taking the test. Rushi says: “Try to get as much sleep as possible before the exam. You’re most likely already prepared, and the extra sleep will help you think properly during the SAT.”

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