What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?


Our counselors answered:

What are the best ways to prepare for the SAT and which study methods are worth paying for?

John Carpenter
Founder AskJohnAboutCollege.com

The Best Test Prep is Often FREE (or at least CHEAP)...

Three things come to keep in mind. One is to work through every problem on your old PSAT test booklet, and then use the College Board resources online to see where you need help. The second is to create a Twitter account and start following test prep tweets. I recently discovered a couple of brilliant resources: @PWNtheSAT and @The_YUNiversity. The third is to check out the apps available on your smart phone. Again, lots of options for math and vocabulary and even test prep itself. Also, check out Debbie Stier's site http://perfectscoreproject.com It's one mother's quest to take the SAT until she gets all 800s!  

Jolyn Brand
Owner & CEO Brand College Consulting

"Retired tests" are the only way to KNOW the test ...

‘Retired’ tests are actual tests that were used in the past and are now available online. Students should duplicate the setting as much as possible- time the test and take it all in one setting. Retired SATs are available from the www.collegeboard.com store. The SAT and ACT now both allow students to choose which test sitting and scores are sent to colleges so there is little risk to taking the tests several times. Students can raise the scores by studying using free online help. Students who need to raise the scores significantly should seek out test prep programs or private tutors.

Scott Hamilton
Founder Future Stars College Counseling Center

Summer SAT prep...

The type of prep to do over the summer depends on what you have done up to this point and the grade you will enter next year. For a junior, it is best to use the summer to self prep. Two resources that I recommend are www.number2.com (free online test prep) and the book Princeton Review Cracking the SAT. For a senior, if they have not done so already, an SAT preparation class can do the trick (ask around locally for recommendations). If a class was taken earlier in junior year then drilling on what was learned is what is likely needed. A good source for practice tests is the book The Official SAT Study Guide by College Board.

George Mills
Vice President for Enrollment University of Puget Sound

Challenging courses prepare one best for the ACT or SAT...

The best preparation for the SAT or the ACT is to take challenging courses over the entirety of your high school experience. During your sophomore year the PSAT, offered by the College Board, or PLAN, offered by the American College Testing Program, can be helpful in pointing out areas of strength and areas which need more work.  When planning to take either test the best preparation should involve taking practice tests. These are available on line or through bookstores. Take the tests, grade them and work on areas where your scores are not as strong as you would like.

Jill Madenberg
Independent Educational Consultant Private Practice

Commit to the preparation of choice...

Whether you elect to take a class, hire a tutor or review study books yourself, the single best way to prepare for the SAT is to commit to the preparation of choice.  So many students sign up for a class or pledge to work on their own but they do not follow through nor do they provide themselves with test-taking conditions to prepare.  It's worth it to pay for the right class or instruction if you are committed to the assignments and homework.  Plan to study for 6-8 weeks leading up to the exam and really focus on the SAT.  Summer is a great time to study if you plan to take an early test in the fall. 

Todd Johnson
Founder College Admissions Partners

Prepare for the SAT by practicing the test...

I recommend that students buy the official test guide from the College Board which has 10 actual old tests. Take those practice tests and when you grade your test, pay particular attention to those questions you get wrong. Try to understand the concept behind the question. While the questions are different on each test, the concepts stay the same. If you can understand the concepts you are getting wrong, when you take the actual test, you will hopefully get those concepts right.

Patricia Young
Independent Counselor College Advising Services


There are simple, inexpensive ways to prepare for the SATs during these lazy, unscheduled days of summer. First off, begin to read the Editorial/Commentary page of your family's daily newspaper faithfully.  Not only will you force yourself to concentrate on each published piece, but you will also learn something about the larger world. It's a discipline to focus on each written piece and will help with your concentration during the SAT's. Another inexpensive way to prepare is to go to your public library to check out test preparation materials. If you cannot borrow or beg others' preparation materials, you can always go online to Amazon to order used-books.  Lastly, write, write, and write about anything. 

Jane Gabin
College Counselor New York City

Critical reading is critical SAT prep, so READ!...

For the critical reading section of the SAT, there is absolutely no substitute for habitual reading.  Students who make a practice of steady reading -- newspapers, biographies, mysteries, non-fiction, science fiction, short stories -- invariably do better on this portion of the exam than students who only cram for the test.  This is not something than can be left for the last minute.   Reading should be fun, relaxing, and a treat—if you do some reading on a daily basis (and look up unfamiliar words) you will see a difference in your score.

Whitney Bruce
Independent College Counselor Accpeted.com

Any review method will help if you use it...

There are a variety of methods to review for the SAT and ACT exams, and studies have shown that even familiarity with the test can lead to higher scores.  You can prepare for standardized tests with computer programs, websites, review books, short or long-term courses, or private tutors.  For many students, the greatest barrier to preparation is their own busy schedule.  It's easy to find other commitments that take a priority over studying for the test.  Regardless of the preparation method you choose, schedule the time for your preparation and stick with it!

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Beat the SAT or ACT: Don’t let them beat you...

Do as many free diagnostic tests as possible (outside of your home) to simulate the real SAT experience. Taking the tests more than once benefits many students as senior year is when students’ scores peak.  Classes and private tutors can help; many tutors work with small groups to save costs. For those whose critical reading scores need to rise: read, read, read. The Scarlet Letter is the best book around to develop your SAT vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. For those for whom testing is a challenge: go to fairtest.org to find great colleges that do not require test scores.