Before we begin, remember choosing between taking the SAT and the ACT for your college applications is an important decision. If you are not sure about taking the SAT over the ACT, then take a look at our detailed comparison of the tests and guide on deciding whether the SAT or the ACT is better for you.
You’re still here! Congratulations on progressing in your college preparatory journey. But what’s the next step?
If you need help with how to prepare for or self-study the SAT, this is a comprehensive guide specially designed for you. To begin with, we’ll walk you through the process of effectively self-studying the SAT. Then, we’ll share some resources that students find helpful time and time again.
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. Make sure that your choice of test center is nearby as to reduce your commute on the day of the test.
2) Acquaint Yourself with the SAT
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 utmost effectiveness. To do this, you need to plan out your studying. 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 you spend the week working for school and other commitments? 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 SAT study plan.
4) Build SAT Stamina
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!
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. Go out to the mall or hang out with your friends at your local park. 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’s 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.
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.
Ready to start self-studying the SAT? Let us know what works for you when it comes to self-studying the SAT!