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.