How To Study For The Sat By Yourself

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How To Study For The Sat By Yourself

Every test requires some kind of preparation—even the SAT. Most students choose to prep entirely on their own for the SAT, which can have a lot of advantages (but also some potential drawbacks). So how does SAT self-study actually work? How can you ensure you get the most out of your SAT self study plan? Read on for our answers!

Why Might You Self-Study for the SAT? 3 Benefits

Most students preparing for the SAT go the route of SAT self-study rather than taking an SAT prep class, doing an online prep program, or hiring a tutor. This is because self-studying for the test has some key advantages that other options don’t have at all or have less of.

Here are the top three benefits of following an SAT self study plan.

#1: It’s Cheap

SAT self study is one of the cheapest prep options available—and can even be done for free if you know what resources to look for.

This is because you don’t have to spend tons of money on a tutor (one of the most expensive prep options) or pay a large upfront sum on a prep class, which typically runs in the range of $600-$3,000 for a complete program.

With SAT self-study, most students buy only what they need and use free, official materials as the main resources in their prep. They might spend some money on a highly reviewed SAT prep book or an hour of focused tutoring to help them target specific weaknesses, but that’s it.

#2: It’s Flexible

Unlike more rigid SAT prep options, which often must be done at a specific time on a specific day each week, SAT self-study allows you the flexibility needed to adjust your prep schedule accordingly depending on your commitments, energy, and motivation.

If you were to skip an in-person class, there’s no easy way to make up what you missed (unless they offer that same class at another time at no extra cost to you, which is unlikely).

But with SAT self study, you can rearrange your schedule as needed so that you’ll never have to worry about inconveniences such as wasting money, waking up early when you don’t want to, going somewhere you don’t feel like going, or skipping an important event or commitment in your personal life.

Basically, you can prep anytime and anywhere, making an SAT self study plan a great option for busy high school juniors and seniors.

#3: It’s Customizable

The final benefit of SAT self-study is that you can customize your schedule and what you study as much as you need to in order for you to do well on the exam and get the scores you want.

For example, if you’re already hitting your goal score for the Math section but not for the Reading and Writing sections, you could dedicate more of your prep time to practicing for these two sections rather than wasting too much of your time reviewing math concepts you already know (which you would likely end up doing in a more rigidly structured prep program or class).

In short, you get to make your own curriculum, which is great if you have very specific weaknesses you’d like to focus on or a strict budget you must stick to.

How to Get the Most Out Of SAT Self-Study: 7 Tips

To do well with SAT self study, you need to be willing to figure out your own weaknesses, make a schedule, and commit to your prep. Here are seven tips to help you get the most out of your SAT self-study plan.

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Tip 1: Make a Schedule

First things first, you’ll need to come up with an SAT self-study plan that works well for you. This is the basic framework you’ll follow over the course of however many weeks you’ll be prepping for. A planned schedule will not only give yourself a sense of consistency, but also ensure that you are getting done what you need to before test day.

To make your plan, you must first figure out your SAT baseline and goal scores. A baseline score is the score you start out with before any test prep; it’s where you’re currently scoring on the SAT. By contrast, a goal score is the score you must have to get admitted to all the colleges you’re applying to; it’s a good score for you personally.

To find your baseline score, take an official SAT practice test. Be sure that you time yourself using official time limits and take the test in a quiet room without any distractions. Once you finish, score your test using that test’s scoring chart to calculate your baseline score.

To set a goal score, follow the steps in our guide to what a good SAT score is

Once you have both scores, subtract your baseline score from your goal score to get the total number of points you need to improve by. Then, use the conversions below to figure out about how many hours you will need to study in total for the SAT:

  • 0-30 point improvement: 10 hours
  • 30-70 point improvement: 20 hours
  • 70-130 point improvement: 40 hours
  • 130-200 point improvement: 80 hours
  • 200-330 point improvement: 150 hours+

For example, say my goal score is 1320 and my baseline score is 1140. 1320 − 1140 = 180 points. This means that I would need to study for around 80 total hours to hit my goal score by test day.

Once you have the number of hours you’ll need to prep for, you can start to think about potential study schedules. It’s best to study no more than 10 hours a week—you don’t want to feel too overwhelmed or as if you’re cramming for the SAT.

Try to spread out your studying in a way that works well for you. Take into consideration things such as homework, final exams, AP tests, family vacations, extracurricular activities, and of course your SAT test date.

Tip 2: Start With Official Materials and Resources

Anyone doing SAT self study should prioritize College Board SAT study materials in their prep before running off and buying a prep book. These official resources are free after all, so if you’re trying to save money, you absolutely will want to look at these first.

The entirety of The Official SAT Study Guide is available in downloadable PDFs on the College Board website, so don’t bother buying the book on Amazon. In addition, the website offers sample SAT questions and 10 full-length practice tests

There’s also Khan Academy, a popular educational website that has joined forces with the College Board to provide students with free online SAT prep, including official questions.

Tip 3: Use Only Highly-Rated Prep Books

If you’re going to follow an SAT self-study plan, then it’s best to get at least one highly-rated SAT prep book to use as a guide and to provide you with the bulk of the content review you’ll need for the exam. Books can also give you helpful test-taking tips and study strategies.

Not all SAT prep books are created equal, though, so you’ll need to steer clear of poorly reviewed ones and any that are out of date.

Generally speaking, the best SAT prep books will have the following features:

  • Thorough content review of all major topics on the SAT or a particular SAT section
  • Proven test-taking tips and strategies
  • Realistic, high-quality practice questions and tests
  • Detailed answer explanations

Our expert guide introduces our picks for the best SAT books to use in your prep.

Tip 4: Track Your Progress With Practice Tests

Once you get going with your SAT self-study plan, you’ll want to set aside a bit of time every two weeks or so for an official (or, if you run out of these, a very realistic and accurate) full-length SAT practice test to check your progress toward earning your goal score.

Doing this will let you determine whether you’re doing better in the areas you struggle with the most and how you can make further improvements.

You can also use each practice test to pinpoint any patterns in your mistakes. For example, maybe you keep getting basic algebra questions wrong due to careless errors. Figuring out where you’ve been going wrong in your tests will help you determine your personal weaknesses and let you come up with a plan to better attack them, which brings me to my next tip …

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Tip 5: Focus on Your Weaknesses

Part of the appeal of self-studying for the SAT is that you get to be in charge of what you study. In other words, you can customize your prep so that you’re zeroing in on the content, sections, question types, and strategies that are hardest for you.

While a prep class or online prep program would normally require you to study a broad swath of test topics—even those you’re good at and don’t actually need to review—an SAT self-study plan gives you the flexibility to adapt your plan as you go so that you’re only studying what you really need to.

And what exactly should you study? Your weaknesses.

The main way to determine what your biggest SAT weaknesses are is to look for patterns in your mistakes on practice tests (as we discussed above). You should also ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there any specific content areas (e.g., linear equations in Math or sentence combinations in Writing) that you just don’t understand or keep getting wrong on practice tests?
  • Are you doing OK with time management on every SAT section? Or are you constantly running out of time and having to guess?
  • Do you use tried-and-true test-taking strategies, such as the process of elimination, to help you make educated guesses on difficult questions?

Your answers to these questions should help you pinpoint what you need to bring more attention to in your SAT prep.

Tip 6: Get Help as Needed

Even though SAT self study is all about studying, well, by yourself, it’s OK (and sometimes necessary!) to get a little outside help for specific issues you might be having in your studies. These problems could be anything from gaps in your overall content knowledge to preparation strategies and test-taking anxiety.

If you really can’t teach yourself what you need to know to do well on the exam—or have tried but feel you’ll do better with some guidance—consider reaching out to a teacher at your high school or hiring an SAT tutor, just for a few hours, to go over the areas you’re struggling with.

Don’t worry about money: you can still keep costs low and keep most of your plan self-contained, even if you have to get a little help from someone else.

Tip 7: Find Ways to Stay Motivated

Last but not least, a good SAT self study plan is nothing without motivation. This is by far one of the most important (and most often overlooked) aspects of self-study. You could have all the best SAT resources in the world, but if you don’t commit to studying by the schedule you made for yourself, you’re not going to see any improvement in your scores.

While part of the allure of self-study is that you can be flexible with your schedule (and we certainly encourage this if you find that you don’t need to spend as much time on certain topics or sections), you should be willing to stick to your plan the vast majority of the time.

No one is there to hold you accountable (except yourself!), so you’ll need to find the willpower within yourself to make an SAT self-study plan truly effective.

how to self study for sat

Self-Study the SAT in 5 Steps

Obviously, self-studying the SAT has more nuances than five steps. However, we want to give you the five main steps that will help you on your way to effectively self-studying the SAT.

1) Register for the SAT

Have you registered for the SAT yet? If not, go ahead and register for the SAT right now. College Board will prompt you to create an account first if you do not have one already.

Registering for the SAT will give you a deadline. You will have multiple test dates and locations to choose from. Choose a test date that will at least give you three months to prepare for the test as this is the optimal timeframe for self-studying the SAT. Due to lockdown, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare if you choose the August or new September test date. Make sure that your (tentative) choice of test center is nearby to reduce your commute on the day of the test.

2) Acquaint Yourself with the SAT exam pattern

Before you start self-studying the SAT, familiarize yourself with the structure and content of the SAT. Here’s a quick summary:

  • The SAT has two sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math
  • Both sections are equally weighted or in other words, each section is worth 800 points.
  • There are two subsections in each section. EBRW has the Reading and Writing sections while Math has the No-Calculator and the Calculator section.
  • The lowest score one can receive in a section is 200. This means your total score can range anywhere from 400 to 1600 points.
  • The SAT comes with an optional essay section that is scored separately out of 24 points. While this section is optional, most universities recommend taking the SAT with Essay regardless of your intended major.
  • The order of the sections, timings, and number of questions follow in the chart below:
  • The SAT is all multiple-choice with four options except in the math sections which have “grid-ins” or student-produced responses where you must grid in your calculated answer. There is no penalty for incorrect answers.

3) Craft the Perfect Study Plan

To self-study the SAT, you must employ a method of discipline to ensure the utmost effectiveness. To do this, you need to plan out your studies. How should you go about crafting your self-study plan? The brief version includes taking a diagnostic test early in your study plan to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses regarding the SAT syllabus. You should also make time to learn the specific strategies of the SAT. Decide on a target score that you would like to reach.

Be realistic. Will you really commit the entirety of your weekend to self-studying the SAT when the days of the week no longer seem to have meaning? In lockdown, there are, unfortunately, many more interesting activities that may be calling your name (*cough* Netflix *cough*). It might be more feasible to spend an hour a day, two days a week. Remember, study smart not hard!

However, we want to be completely honest with you. There is no set formula to creating the perfect study plan. The perfect study plan can only be effective if you design it with yourself in mind. We can, on the other hand, give you tips to create an effective quarantine SAT study plan.

Check out Khan Academy’s sample study plans to get an idea of what sort of plan you would like to create. 

4) Build SAT Stamina

Self-Study the SAT

There are two ways to practice for the SAT. The first way to self-study the SAT is to focus on specific topics and question types in particular sections. This is a great method to hone your problem-solving skills and strategies as well as ensure that you have experience with solving each type of question on the SAT. By employing this method, you can practice areas in which you need improvement. You can also maintain your strengths using this method of self-studying.

Practicing SAT questions in a certain section is generally done in short bursts of time—similar to a 100-meter dash. We often compare the SAT to a marathon. It takes extensive, paced training to run a marathon and you need to slowly build the stamina to complete your race. This exact concept applies to the SAT. While you may be able to solve those math questions easily, you may find those same questions difficult under the time constraint of the SAT as well as after taking the EBRW section of the test. As a result, you must also employ the second way with the first one to effectively self-study the SAT. This means you should take a lot of official practice tests to build stamina for the test. Khan Academy has online versions of College Board’s Official SAT practice tests.

5) Relax Before Test Day!

Self-Study the SAT

Finally, make sure to stop studying the day before the test. Engage in good test-taking practices. Do not try to cram the day before. For your self-studying to be effective, you need not think about the SAT at all. Relax! Read a new book or listen to some of your favorite tracks. Continue to practice social distancing to keep yourself healthy and safe. Pack up all your pencils, calculator, and admission ticket. Have a good night’s sleep—at least 8 to 10 hours.

On the day of test, wake up early enough to have a large, balanced breakfast. Grab your supplies, take a deep breath, and go to your exam center. Calm down, you have done your studying! Go reap the fruits of your labor!

Resources for Self-Studying the SAT

To help you with studying, we have created a collection of resources that students have found helpful in recent years. Here are our recommended resources for self-studying the SAT.

Practice Questions and Tests

We have already stressed how important practice questions and tests are to your self-studying the SAT. The following are essential:

  • College Board’s official practice tests (print) should, of course, be the first resource you should obtain.
  • Khan Academy’s free SAT Practice program, with sample quizzes, mastery challenges, and practice tests, is the official, online SAT program College Board recommends.

The Best SAT Prep Books

To be honest, there is no best SAT prep book for a student to study from. The SAT prep books on this list have their individual strengths and weaknesses. In other words, certain books will work better for certain students over others.

As we explain in this guide, the best use of this list is to create an effective combination of two or more of the books. Read through our thorough analyses of the best SAT prep books and create the most effective combination for you. It’ll be a breeze!

Strategy Guides

There are a lot of strategy guides out there but few guides truly capture the formula of the SAT. Check out these guides below:

  • Reading through the tips and planning section of Khan Academy’s SAT Practice program will give you a good understanding of how to approach the SAT.
  • College Board offers some basic strategies as well.

Optimize Your Score

If you have been studying for the SAT for a while now but cannot seem to increase your score further, don’t worry! It is actually very common for students to hit a point block after achieving a certain score. If you are scoring 600+ or 700+ in a particular section, you are probably missing the same type of question each time. You can solve this by learning the nuances of that question type.

To learn those nuances, you’ll need an expert guide that will teach you how to ace the SAT. Here are the tips and strategies to follow to ace your SAT preparation.

For some section-specific strategies to optimize your score, try these:

Score Higher in the Reading Section
  • Here are six ways to increase your raw score in the Evidence-Based Reading section. Seriously, getting one extra question right in this section equals a 20-point increase in your composite score.
Score Higher in the Writing Section
  • This particular section has fewer questions but the questions are objectively easier and worth more. You cannot afford to lose any points in this section if you’re hoping for a high score.

Score Higher in the Math Section

  • In this guide, we go through eight methodologies to get that perfect score on the SAT math calculator and no-calculator section. If you’re stuck at a point threshold in the math section, have no fear! This helpful guide is here.

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