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

ACT/SAT Prep

Our counselors answered:

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

Jenn Cohen
Owner Jenn Cohen Tutoring

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

I get asked this question more often than any other, and it's very tough to answer! There is no one best approach for everyone, which is why talking to a pro is a good place to start. Some (rare) students are able to grab the College Board Official SAT Study Guide and prep themselves. For others, SAT courses can work very well, but be sure to look for those that use the College Board book as a text. It's the gold standard, so insist on it! Many students don't consider tutoring because they think it will be too expensive. The truth is that your test prep dollar can stretch much farther with a tutor. A student is getting the instructor's undivided attention so you can do much more in less time. It's the only way to get individualized instruction, and an investment now can pay off in better financial/aid and scholarships later.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

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

Paying for a private tutor will often yield a high return on investment. You will be admitted to more schools and earn more merit aid.

Stephenie Lee
President/Educational Consultant Lee Academia

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

Make a calendar and start early. The PSAT can be taken as early as freshman year. Students can start taking the SAT as early as sophomore year. Map out a plan by looking at the College Board's test dates, and then check your academic calendar and extracurricular schedule. Don't take the SAT the same week as your midterms. Next, plot out a week-by-week schedule where you review a lesson on a specific topic each week and do targeted practice in Math, Reading and Writing. Practice, practice, practice. Use real SAT questions to practice your weaker topics. Stage a dress rehearsal and keep taking the SAT. I suggest taking a monthly practice test in realistic, timed conditions on a Saturday morning. Don't take the practice test in a quiet room at home—go to somewhere where there is ambient noise so that you'll practice with distractions. This way, when you go to the real test center, it will seem more familiar. Students raise their scores by an average of only 40 points on the second test. But if you have a very large sample—say, 10 tests —there is a good likelihood that one of those tests will be an outlier—that a particular test will fall on the high end of the test range. The test is an approximation, affected by many factors: whether the students happen to get more questions on topics they handle better, whether they guess better, whether they are more seasoned test takers, whether they got enough sleep and food, and the general testing conditions. Apply only to schools that let you select which SAT scores you report. Under the new policy, some colleges may still require applicants to submit all test-taking attempts. If you take the SAT 15 times (which you shouldn't do), apply just to schools that let you hide your scores. There are many different study methods out there. Start early and choose a plan that works for you and stick with it. Study independently, study with a tutor, study with a test prep class... or mix it up. Just practice the SAT a few times before you take the actual one.

Andrew Belasco
CEO College Transitions LLC

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

It is important that students simulate the conditions they will encounter on test day. I advise my students to access/purchase several practice tests, set aside approximately four hours each Saturday morning on the weekends leading up to test day, and as much as possible, attempt to complete each section of the practice test in the amount allotted to actual test-takers. This approach to preparation requires a significant investment of time, but it also pays big dividends in the form of higher test scores and better admission prospects. It also saves families money. I genuinely believe with little money (to spend on test prep materials) and a lot of drive, students can maximize their "SAT potential." That being said, there are a lot of students who benefit from a class or private tutor. For example, students lacking sufficient motivation or who struggle with a particular section often increase their scores after receiving assistance from a test prep professional. Ultimately, students need to honestly assess their willingness and ability to prepare. If students suspect they'll benefit from additional help, they should pursue affordable options (online course or classroom course) before opting for more intensive (and expensive) interventions, like private tutoring, for example.

Zahir Robb
College Counselor The Right Fit College

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

The best way to study for the SAT is to practice. You can find full length practice tests through the college board website or in their SAT practice book. Take a few timed tests and you will see a difference in your scores. Furthermore, take the PSAT every chance you get. Be careful with expensive prep programs as a number may not deliver on what they promise. I would start with some prep at home and see how you are progressing. Review problems you missed on the PSAT using My College Quickstart and take it from there.