The Do's and Don'ts of Building an SAT Study Schedule

The SAT is an extremely daunting test and everywhere you look there are different recommendations for the best way to get a great score. In reality, the best way to do that is to build a schedule that fits your personality and lifestyle and STICK TO IT! Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to building your SAT study schedule.

By: Soleil Kelly, Mathematics & Economics at Vanderbilt University, 2023


How long should I prepare for the SAT is a question that literally every US college-bound student asks themselves. And the answer is: it depends! Just like finding a college is not a one-method-fits-most kind of deal, neither is the road to having a complete application. No matter the timeline you choose, what is important is that you remain committed to whatever path you take so you can do your absolute best on the exam.


Let me start with a little anecdote, I only studied for 2 weeks for my SAT and managed to score in the top 99%. Do I recommend this to most people, no. But, did this method work for me, kind of. Over the course of those two weeks, I took over 20 practice exams and lugged an SAT prep book with me everywhere I went. Every free moment I had I devoted myself to studying for the exam. In hindsight, I wish I had taken the advice of my older brother and began studying for the test earlier. However, between juggling a heavy academic load with multiple AP classes, varsity sports, and a packed extra-curricular schedule, I and my procrastinating tendencies decided that this was the best route to take.


Now older (and presumably wiser), I would recommend devoting at least 2-3 months to SAT prep. This prep can look like a lot of different things, like a prep course at your high school or private tutoring (as we offer). However, whether you choose to spend 3 weeks or 3 months studying for the exam, there are a few do’s and don’ts :


  1. Do NOT take the exam if you have not studied.
    1. It is not only a waste of your time but also of the money of whoever paid for your SAT. The SAT is a very unique exam, unlike any that you have taken throughout your academic career. By studying (even if only for 10 hours) you are able to develop strategies and recognize patterns that will drastically improve your results.
  2. Do set expectations for yourself.
    1. In other words, stay consistent with your studying. The College Board recommends that a test taker should study for at 10-20 hours per week for 3 months to be adequately prepared. Though I do not think it is necessary to stick to their timeline of three months, I do think it is important to hold yourself to the schedule you put in place. For me, that looked like taking one practice test on school nights and 7 over the weekend. Putting that expectation in place for myself BEFORE I started studying AND holding myself accountable to it definitely contributed to my success on the exam.
  3. Do NOT study the night before the exam.
    1. I had a girls’ night with my mom the night before my SAT. By the night before your test day, you have already learned all the formulas and recognized all the strategies and patterns that could possibly help you improve your score. There is no reason to keep yourself up cramming for an SAT (or any big exam for that matter, cramming, in general, is bad) as it will probably do more harm than good.
  4. Do utilize all the resources available to you
    1. If your school offers a prep course, take it! Make a Khan Academy account! Ask upperclassmen if they have old prep books that you can borrow/buy! Discuss private tutoring with your parents! There are so many paths to be taken with studying, you do not know which one is best for you until you try them all. For some, the ease of an automated and free system (like Khan Academy) is ideal while others thrive in the structure that a private tutor provides. 
  5. Do take practice tests in a proper testing environment
    1. This means turn off your phone, put your computer on do not disturb, and let your housemates know that you will be busy. The SAT is three hours long which feels a lot longer than you think when you have to sit in the same place the whole time taking a test. Allow yourself to get used to that environment, even if it is only once or twice over the course of your studying.


As I said before, there is no perfect way to study for the SAT. You can study for a year, a month, or even just a week and end up with a good score. What matters is that you put in place a plan that works for your lifestyle and set feasible expectations and achievable goals for yourself. My official recommendation is that you study for at least 4 weeks and over those 4 weeks take at least 2 proper practice tests and study for at least 20 hours per week. I know 20 hours sounds like a lot, but that’s the price you pay for a shorter studying period. You can apply that model to any length of time, as long as you stay consistent and hold yourself accountable, I promise that you will reap the benefits of your hard work!


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