If your SAT test day is coming up and you’re wondering if you are 100% prepared, you’ve come to the right place.
From tips on how to prepare for the content and format of the exam to making sure you have everything you need on test day, here’s the ultimate guide for last minute tips and quick SAT test prep!
Quick SAT Tips and Tricks
Complete a Practice Test
The best way to cram is to take SAT practice tests. Luckily, the CollegeBoard has released ten official practice tests that you can use for free at home.
When you take a practice test, make sure to mimic real test center conditions to the extent that you can. This means no phones, no unallowed breaks, and no distractions — time yourself just like the proctor would on the actual test day. Taking the test allows you to prepare for what you can expect on test day.
Completing practice tests on a personalized study schedule can also help you designate study time to finish tests, because you know how long one practice test should take you. Understanding how long it will take to complete one practice SAT exam means you can find ways to fit it into your schedule before your actual SAT test date.
Focus on the Areas That Need the Greatest Attention
After completing a practice exam, review your mistakes.
Focus on the areas that make up large parts of the test. For example, there will always be many questions testing linear equations on the exam, but a topic like complex numbers rarely shows up. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to review the topics that show up in many questions on the exam. This is particularly important for the SAT writing and SAT math sections, which are more likely to test particular concepts (as opposed to reading, which is more about comprehension). The CollegeBoard website pretty clearly states the topics covered on the exam, so make sure to review that before your test date too.
If you’re cramming, you likely don’t have time to review everything. This means that your study plan should prioritize specific topics and concepts to cover. Make sure to put extra effort into the topics that most frequently show up on the exam, but also make sure to take into account your own specific strengths and weaknesses. If you’re an algebra master, you likely won’t need to review linear equations, even though that’s one of the main topics of the test. In that case, you’re better off spending your time on a more niche topic.
Similarly, your score on the exam is composed of two section scores out of 800: reading and writing, and math. If you’re scoring relatively highly in reading and writing, you should spend more time reviewing math, and vice versa.
Since you’re cramming for the SAT, creating a quick “study guide” with major concepts can act as a refresher to topics you might have learned in the past and forgotten. It’s also a great test taking strategy to help bring important pieces of information back to the front of your mind.
Employ Best Test Strategies When Completing Practice Questions
In order to maximize the remaining practice time you have and ensure you do well on the exam, make sure to use the following strategies both in your studying and on test day:
Overall SAT Test Tips
- Never leave a question blank. There is no penalty for an incorrect answer on the exam (unlike the old SAT before the re-design and the now-defunct subject tests). This means that it is always in your best answer to guess something, even for the student-produced response math questions. If you see a question you don’t know how to do, eliminate as many answers as you can, and guess from there. If you’re out of time in a section, and you need to guess many questions at the end of the section without having had the chance to look at them, guess consistently. Many students think the best strategy is to fill in a line of random answer choices. Really, take one answer choice and be consistent with it (such as bubbling in a straight line of Cs). You have a higher chance of guessing correctly this way.
- Spend your time on what you know. Very few people will get a 1600 on the SAT, meaning nearly everyone will be faced with questions they don’t know how to answer. This means that if you see a question you don’t know how to answer, it’s in your best interest to skip it. It also means you should be choosy in what you answer first. For example, in the reading section, if science passages are your worst topic, you should probably save science passages for last.
- Read the blurbs before the passages. The blurbs often contain important information about the people, setting, and time period featured in a passage. Reading the blurbs allows you to have a better understanding of what you’re about to read.
- Skim the passage. Students can actually do quite well on reading section without having read the passages in detail. The SAT reading section is all about finding the right evidence. This means that instead of spending most of your time trying to read and understand a passage, you really should be spending most of your time on the questions, and looking for evidence to support your answer.
- Answer main idea questions last. This is especially important if your reading comprehension questions are not the best, or if you skimmed the passage. Usually, main idea questions come first after a passage ends. If you didn’t understand the passage, you are likely to answer this question wrong. You’re better off answering the details questions first, that will ask you to find evidence, as answering these questions will give you a better idea of what the main idea is. Then, come back to the main idea question,
SAT Writing and Language
- Review grammar rules. Approximately half of the questions on the writing and language section will test your knowledge of grammar rules, including when to use particular punctuation marks, subject verb agreement, and similar topics. Reviewing grammar rules prior to the test can quickly boost your score.
- Don’t read the whole passage. Usually, questions on the writing and language section will only ask you about a specific line or sentence. Reading the whole passage is a waste of time. The only case in which you would want to read a whole paragraph is if you’re asked to move around or add/delete a sentence within that paragraph.
- Use, but don’t overuse the reference sheet. The reference sheet can be both a blessing and a curse on the SAT. It’s great in that the reference sheet provides you with a lot of valuable formulas that are frequently needed on the exam, including formulas like the pythagorean theorem and area of a triangle. However, not everything is on the reference sheet. One of the most commonly needed formulas on the SAT that is not provided to you on the reference sheet is the quadratic formula. Prior to the exam, make sure you review the reference sheet and you know both what is and isn’t given to you.
- Plug in answer choices. This strategy works particularly great for equations. If you don’t know how to solve an equation, use the answer choices to your advantage. For example, take a look at this question from CollegeBoard Practice Test 1:
Even if I don’t know how to solve this equation algebraically, I can plug in the answer choices as different values for x to see which value will satisfy the equation. Here, if I plug in answer choice D, where x=10, I will see that it gives me the correct answer because 10-1 is 9, and 9 divided by 3 is 3.
- Pick numbers. Picking numbers is a little bit like plugging in answer choices, but this strategy works really great for expressions. Take a look at another question from CollegeBoard Practice Test 1:
To solve this equation algebraically would be a tedious and long process, particularly for
students that don’t like algebra. Instead, consider plugging in x=2 to both the expression
given in the equation and each answer choice. Generally, x=2 is the best value to go
with because both x=1 and x=0 can cause problems in multiplication. When you plug
x=2 into the expression given in the question, you should get, 20/9. If you plug in x=2
into the answer choices, you will get that answer choice B equals 20/9 as well, meaning
choice B is the correct answer.
One of the biggest struggles students face on the SAT is timing. There are strict time limits on each section of the exam that are likely to make you feel rushed. The best way to understand these time limits is to do timed practice. Taking a timed, full length practice exam lets you know what to expect on test day. Even if you don’t have time for a full exam, doing individual timed sections can be extremely helpful.
During the exam, you want to be mindful of how much time you’re spending on any particular question. While it varies per section, you typically have anywhere between 45 seconds and 90 seconds to answer a question. If you’re spending more than two minutes on any given question, you’re likely working too slow.
While it may frustrate you to skip a question, it’s in your best interest. Spending too much time on one question will lessen the time you have left for other questions, meaning you may be sacrificing questions you do know how to do simply because there wasn’t enough time.
Additionally, students may be comfortable going a little bit over time during high school exams, but be careful during the SAT — proctors are instructed to stop you from going over the set amount of time for the exam, and still working after time is called can lead to your score getting invalidated.
How to Cram For the SAT The Night Before?
Unlike a test you may take in high school, the SAT is not about content recall. Students will be asked to analyze complex passages and apply their existing knowledge to tricky problems.
In order to perform at your highest ability, you must be well-rested. Getting a good night’s sleep will help boost your performance.
Reinforce Your Weaknesses
The night before the exam, you want to be focused in your studying. Don’t try to review everything that is covered on the test. Focus on the areas that cause you the most trouble, and work through some practice problems.
It’s critical that you eat healthily the day before and morning of the SAT in order to keep your energy up for the entire three hours of the exam. This means that you shouldn’t load up on junk food the night before. Instead, opt for a nutritious dinner. The morning of, eat a big breakfast that will keep you full. However, be sure that this also isn’t the morning you decide to try something new, in case it upsets your stomach.
Go for a healthy breakfast that you’ve had before and that you know will keep you satisfied and content. You are allowed small snacks during breaks of the test, so you should also prepare a snack like fruit or nuts that can be eaten quickly and will help boost your energy.
Pack Your Bag
The night before the SAT, you want to make sure your bag is packed so there’s no need to rush in the morning. Here are some things that should go in your test bag:
- Pencils. While some testing sites might be generous in providing pencils, it’s in your best interest to bring a few freshly sharpened #2 pencils with you. Make sure to bring an eraser as well.
- Snacks. You are allowed snacks and water during the break. No refreshments will be provided, so this is something you have to bring for yourself. Bring nutritious snacks that will keep your energy up during the exam.
- Sweater. You never know what it’s going to be like in your testing room. It’s possible that the air conditioner could be on full blast, or maybe the radiator in the room is set on the highest setting. You want to be prepared for both situations. Dress lightly in case the room is hot, and bring a sweater in case the room is cold.
- Calculator. While you technically can take the entire exam without a calculator, having one will be sure to help you in the math section with calculator. Ideally, you want to bring a graphing calculator if you have one. If not, a scientific or four-function calculator is also fine. If you are scared your calculator will die during the exam, you are allowed to bring additional batteries.
- Watch. Most testing rooms are classrooms and will have a clock in the room. Sometimes a generous proctor will write the time on the board. However, you won’t always get so lucky. There have been cases where clocks in testing rooms are non-functional, and you don’t want to be the only person who doesn’t have a watch. Watches that connect to the internet (like Apple watches) are not allowed, so make sure to bring a regular watch.
- SAT test ticket. You should have received a copy of the test ticket after registering for the exam. The test site will not let you into the exam without this ticket, so it is essential to bring.
- Photo ID. The administrators will want to see a photo ID to ensure that you are who you say you are, and your details match those on your test ticket. A driver’s license or even a school ID with your picture on it should be fine.
For a more comprehensive list of everything you need for test day, check out this blog post. It can save you so much time and stress if you make sure you have all of your supplies the night before!
Get Everything Ready in Advance
The worst thing you can do for your SAT performance is to stress yourself out the morning of the test. Everything within your control should be handled the night before — little things like packing your calculator the night before are part of SAT prep too!
Here is a list of steps to take the night before your exam:
- Pack your bag. We went over what needs to be in your bag in the previous step. Besides packing your bag, place it in an easily seen location, such as next to your door, so you don’t misplace it. This should be done the day before.
- Set an alarm. Set an alarm for the time you need to wake up. It doesn’t hurt to let someone else in your family know what time you’re supposed to wake up, either, in case you accidentally sleep through your alarm or it fails to go off.
- Confirm your test site. This may sound trivial, but make sure you know where your test site is, how to get there, and what time you are required to arrive. Students may have registered for the wrong site or remembered the exam time incorrectly. All this information is located on your test ticket. It’s best to leave a little bit earlier than you would on a normal day in order to ensure you arrive on time.
- Relax! Don’t let the testing nerves get to you. There will always be another shot at the test, and there’s no point in panicking and potentially harming your score in the process.
How can I study for the SAT in one day?
For procrastinators who only have one day to study for the SAT, begin by taking a full length practice test. This is so you can get familiar with the format and time constraints of the exam.
Spend the rest of the day reviewing your mistakes and trying to understand the questions. Analyze whether you are particularly weak in any of the areas (for example, a weakness for many students is systems of equations, a topic that shows up quite frequently on the exam). Focus on areas where you got a lot of questions wrong, and don’t waste time on some of the more niche topics.
The CollegeBoard has prepared a handy guide for the aspects of the test that will always be the same (for example, what’s on the math reference sheet). Familiarize yourself with this guide to understand the basics of what you need to know.
How do I cram for the SAT in two days?
If you have two days before, you still should begin by taking a practice test so you know what your weaknesses are.
Divide up your two days into one day for reading/writing, and one day for math. After taking the practice test, spend the rest of the day reviewing your stronger topic (this is considering you probably have less time on this day since you used part of it to take a 3-hour practice test). On the second day, dedicate the day to reviewing your weaker topic.
Can you cram for the SAT in a week?
A week is more than enough time to cram before your SAT test date. As usual, begin by taking a practice test. Take 2-3 days to review your practice test and learn where you made mistakes. Make sure you understand completely how to properly answer the question. Halfway through the week, take another practice test, and see if you’re still struggling in any particular area. Dedicate the rest of your time to focusing on that area.
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More SAT Strategies and Resources
- How to Master the SAT Reading Section | SAT Reading Tips and Tricks: https://soflotutors.com/blog/sat-reading-prep/
- How to Prepare for the SAT Writing Section: https://soflotutors.com/blog/sat-writing-strategies/
- SAT Crash Courses | How to Cram for the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/sat-crash-course/
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT 2021 | Your Comprehensive Guide: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-to-get-a-perfect-1600-score-on-the-sat-2021-your-comprehensive-guide/
- Essential SAT Tips and Tricks 2021 | Best Hacks and Tips for SATs: https://soflotutors.com/blog/essential-sat-tips-and-tricks-2021/
About the Author
Ava Levine is a junior from New York majoring in International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not in class studying various international issues, she enjoys learning about government policy and working with local nonprofits. She scored a 1570 on her SATs, is an avid Crocs-wearer, and loves to craft in her free time!