Curious about how to study for the SAT? Want to know the best ways to study for this challenging test? Your SAT score can have a big impact on your college acceptance rates, so acing this test is important. Knowing how to study for the SAT most effectively and efficiently can save you a lot of stress and heartache down the road. Whether you’re still deciding between the SAT vs ACT or whether you should take the SAT at all, we can help guide you on what it takes to prepare for the SAT. In this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to study for the SAT, from pre-study planning to study strategies to test day prep. 

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Article Contents
9 min read

How to Study for the SAT: Pre-Study Prep How to Study for the SAT: Test Content and Structure How to Study for the SAT: Step-by-Step Guide How to Study for the SAT: Tips for Efficient Studying How to Study for the SAT: Getting Ready for Test Day FAQs

How to Study for the SAT: Pre-Study Prep

The secret to how to study for the SAT effectively and efficiently starts with your pre-study prep and planning. How you start studying for the SAT, when you start studying for the SAT and what tools you use to help your studying are all as important as using the right test strategies and mastering the test content.

We’ll start with some pre-study SAT prep tips and what you need to do before you start diving into your SAT study schedule.

#1 Start Early

We cannot emphasize this point enough: start as early as possible! It’s better to give yourself plenty of time to get organized and ready to start studying than to try and cram for the SAT. We recommend at least 3 months of studying for the SAT, although you can certainly adjust this timeframe to your needs. This 3-month schedule doesn’t include the time you’ll need to gather any study tools you need, or search for an SAT tutor if you decide to use one and start looking at colleges. Starting early also gives you space to retake the SAT if you’re not happy with your first score, and still keep to your college application timeline. Although you can take the SAT as many times as you wish, there are only so many test dates in a given year.

There is more to studying for the SAT than hitting the books, so starting as early as you can will give you a lot more breathing room.

#2 Gather SAT Study Materials

Putting together your SAT study materials may take some time. There are hundreds of free and paid resources out there, including prep books, videos, prep courses and tutoring services, not to mention your course notes, official SAT practice tests and study materials. It’s worth taking some time to sift through some of the available resources to gather what works for you—for instance, you might prefer watching videos to reading a prep book. This way, you won’t be using up valuable study time searching for study materials that work best for you, since they’ll already be on hand.

#3 Set an SAT Test Date

There are only so many SAT test dates offered every year, and depending on when your college applications are due and how much time you need to study, you’ll want to decide on and register for your ideal test date early. Setting the date early gives you a concrete SAT schedule to work with, and it gives you some time to change your test date if you need to.

#4 Set an SAT Study Goal

Some students like to set a study goal ahead of time, or you may have a set SAT score you want to achieve. This may be because your goal is to get into Ivy League colleges, or you need a minimum SAT score to get into a competitive school. Maybe you have a score range you want to aim for and need to calculate how much study time is needed to have the best chance of hitting that range. Either way, setting a goal to work towards can be a nice motivation for you when you start studying.

#5 Create Your SAT Study Schedule

Lastly, create an SAT schedule for yourself and write everything down! Write down your test date, weekly goals, what topics or concepts you’ll be studying each week, and how much studying time you can devote each day. Make a detailed calendar of your studying time either alone or with a tutor’s help, and map out your entire studying period for the SAT up to your test date. This will help keep you organized and on track, and give you a “big picture” view of how you’re going to study for the SAT.

#6 Search for Studying Help

This is a totally optional step in your pre-studying for the SAT, but it can be immensely useful. It’s better to make arrangements for an SAT tutor, or some other type of college application help such as a Ivy League application consultant, ahead of time since it may take time to find the right one.

How to Study for the SAT: Test Content and Structure

To better understand how to study for the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) effectively, first you need to know how the test is structured and what’s on it.

The SAT is comprised of three “tests” or core sections: the Reading Test, the Writing and Language Test, and the Math Test.

Here’s a quick overview of what each section contains:

How long is the SAT? You’ll have a total of 180 minutes (3 hours) to answer 154 multiple choice questions. Note that some of the math section questions will ask you to write in the answer instead of selecting a multiple choice. On all SAT questions, there’s no point penalty for choosing the wrong answer, so it’s better to make your best guess instead of leaving a question blank if you’re unsure.

Each section is timed separately, and you need to complete each section in order within the specified time limit. On test day, the exam proctor will let you know when a section’s time limit is up and when it’s time to move onto the next section.

The breakdown of each section looks like this:

The SAT no longer requires an optional essay, but colleges still ask for one! Check out these examples and tips for college essays!

Digital SAT Content and Structure

The College Board, which administers the SAT, is in the process of rolling out a digital version of the SAT. Instead of writing your test on paper, you’ll have the option in future test cycles of taking the test on your own laptop through a testing software called Bluebook.

The content of the digital SAT is not much different, as it tests students on the same skills and subjects as the paper test. However, there are slight differences. For example, the Reading and Writing Test of the digital SAT features much shorter text passages, ranging from 25-150 words. The digital SAT Math Test also allows the use of a calculator throughout.

The digital SAT is a shorter test, taking only 2 hours and 15 minutes. It includes two sections: the Reading and Writing Test, and the Math Test. Each test is divided into 2 modules. Module 1 is comprised of a mixture of easy, intermediate and more difficult questions. Module 2 is adapted based on how well you scored in Module 1, to be either more challenging or slightly easier.

  • Reading & Writing Module 1 (fixed) -- 32 minutes; 27 questions
  • Reading & Writing Module 2 (adaptive) -- 32 minutes; 27 questions
  • Math Module 1 (fixed) -- 35 minutes; 22 questions
  • Math Module 2 (adaptive) -- 35 minutes; 22 questions

In the next section, we’ll cover how to study for the SAT step-by-step, including in-depth study tips on how to prepare for each of these different sections on the test!

How to Study for the SAT: Step-by-Step Guide

Next, we’ll take you step-by-step through how to study for the SAT and strategies that can help you ace it! Some of these tips will help you throughout the test, and other strategies are for specific sections, but

1. Take practice tests

Practice tests are the best way to prepare yourself to take the real SAT, since it will mimic the test more closely than any set of practice questions. You should take a diagnostic practice test at the very start of your studying for the SAT, to gauge where you’re at and what parts of the test were challenging for you. You can use this information to your advantage when studying, giving yourself more time to learn difficult subjects. Include regular practice tests throughout your studying time, including a final practice test in the final week or two before your exam.

Taking practice tests will also develop your “test stamina”. The SAT is a 3-hour long exam, and this can be a mental and physical challenge. If you’ve already sat through a few practice tests, you’ll be more used to the mental drain and physical strain when you take the real test, and it can help you avoid mental blocks or burnout.

The College Board has many free study resources and official practice tests you can take, including the PSAT.

2. Work on your time management

The SAT has a fairly intense time limit for its different sections, and this can cause some anxiety. Luckily, you can improve your time management for the SAT with practice. Use timed and untimed practice tests to identify the sections which take you the longest or any places you are going overtime. If you are a slow reader, this can be improved with regular reading practice. If you find you’re taking a little too long on the math problems, practice solving for the answer with and without a calculator or find calculator shortcuts so you can use it more effectively.

3. Read, read, read!

Regular reading is critical to acing the SAT for a number of reasons. The reading and writing sections of the test will ask you to use your critical thinking or textual analysis skills to identify key points in a passage or evaluate an author’s argument. You’ll also be asked how you would improve an argument or sentence, or you’ll need to fix a grammatically incorrect sentence. The vocabulary used on the SAT will be a little more advanced, too, so it’s a good idea to expand your understanding of complex language.

All of these skills are best improved with SAT reading practice of a variety of texts. Every week, read essays, editorials or works of fiction covering a variety of topics to broaden your understanding of language, grammar, vocabulary and different subjects. Reading aloud, or summarizing texts can be useful in better understanding them. Or you can practice rewriting sentences you think are ineffective.

4. Practice math questions

The best way to study for the math section of the SAT is to use practice questions. Review the math subjects and concepts that are on the SAT, such as algebra and trigonometry. Complete regular practice questions or quizzes, both with your calculator and without when possible. It also helps to memorize common mathematical formulas and review concepts that you’re not as strong with.

How to Study for the SAT: Tips for Efficient Studying

Here are some additional tips on how to study for the SAT that you can use throughout your studying period. Maybe you’ve given yourself a longer study schedule and want to avoid wearing yourself out, or you have trouble staying focused and keeping on top of things. Maybe you’re just not someone who enjoys taking tests and studying is a chore for you! No matter what, here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re studying for the SAT.

How to Study for the SAT: Getting Ready for Test Day

How you prepare for the day of your test is the final step in how to study for the SAT. While it’s not so much studying for the test itself, it’s learning what to expect on the day of your test and preparing yourself ahead of time. Doing so, you can avoid a lot of test day stress and hiccups. You can check out what to bring to the SAT and what to expect on test day on the College Board website here.

Most importantly, on the day before your test, the final day of your SAT study period, don’t study at all! Give your brain a resting period and relax the day before your test. Do something you enjoy and avoid overstudying or cramming. Stress relief is most important at this point, so make sure you get a full night’s rest, eat a good breakfast and go over your plan for test day. You should have reliable transportation to your testing center, as well as a back up if you need it. Double check your SAT admission ticket, which has your testing center location and start time. Pack your bag or backpack with all the items you need to bring with you to your test.

After that, take a few deep breaths and put yourself in the right mental space to ace your SAT. And good luck!


1. How should I prepare for the SAT?

To prepare for the SAT, first determine how much time you’ll need to study, choose a test date and create your ideal study schedule. You should take an SAT practice test to determine where you’re at and what you need to do to reach your desired score. 

2. How long should I study for the SAT?

We recommend 3 months of studying for the SAT, though you should give yourself some pre-study time to prep, choose a test date and gather any study materials you need. Some students take longer than 3 months to study, and others take only 1 month to study for the SAT, depending on how confident you are in your testing skills.

3. Can I study for SAT by myself?

Absolutely. Not every student needs an SAT tutor to help them, and it’s certainly possible to self-study using free online resources and a good study schedule. If you are self-studying, it is up to you to take accountability, put in the hard work and keep yourself organized.

4. What is the best way to study for the SAT?

Practice tests are the best way to study for the SAT because they mimic the testing conditions, including the time constraints and structure of the test. Practice tests are essentially an SAT rehearsal, and they can take a lot of the mystery and anxiety out of the real test, since you’ll already be somewhat familiar with it.

5. What is a good SAT score?

Right now, a good SAT score is anything above the 50th percentile. A very good score would be above the 75th percentile. Your ideal score would be one that is considered average or above average at your target college, based on accepted students’ scores. Some colleges share this information on their website or publish the minimum SAT scores required for admission.

6. How many practice SAT tests should I take?

You should take a practice SAT test before you start studying as a diagnostic test, to identify which parts of the test are most difficult for you and where you have any knowledge gaps. You should take regular SAT practice tests during your studying (at least 2 or 3), including a final practice test the week before your test date.

7. What type of math is on the SAT?

The SAT includes a variety of math concepts including algebra, problem solving and data analysis, geometry and trigonometry, and complex equations such as polynomial and quadratic equations.

8. What are the best SAT study resources?

There are many excellent, and free, SAT study resources available to you. There are prep books, videos, prep courses, SAT tutors, studying apps and content guides, including your own course notes, you can use. All of these have merit, but you should use the study resources that work best for YOU, personally and help you learn best. If you are more of a visual learner, watch videos or create diagrams and images to go with your notes. If enjoy listening to recordings, record your notes and play it back for yourself.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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