How to prepare for the SAT: 10 Steps to the Perfect SAT Score (2023)

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Millions of students take the SAT each year as a step on their way to college. If you’re about to graduate from high school, you’re probably very excited about getting a perfect SAT score and enrolling at the college of your dreams.

But how to get a perfect score on the SAT? Start your preparation for the test beforehand! In our guide, you’ll find the best tips, study methods, and helpful resources to prepare for the test day. But first, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to know about the SAT. Let’s get started!

What does the SAT stand for?

The SAT, as well as ACT, is a standard entrance test for high school students who want to enroll at college after graduation. The test is focused on what you’re learning in high schools and what you need to know to be ready for college. The SAT is administered by the College Board, a nonprofit organization.

When students first started taking the SAT in 1926, the abbreviation meant Scholastic Aptitude Test. Since that time, the test had several official names, which were changed because of sharp social criticism. Today, the SAT abbreviation stands for nothing at all.

Applying to an academic opportunity in an English-speaking country? You’ll be interested to read How to Write a CV in English: A Guide for Non-Native Speakers

Who can take the SAT?

The SAT can be taken by everyone who applies to a college or university undergraduate program as well as scholarship or other programs that require SAT scores as part of their application process.

Note that the test is paid. Here are the main registration fees:

  • SAT costs $49.50
  • SAT with essay costs $64.50

There are also some additional payments for extra services such as late registration, waitlist, change of test center or test date, etc. All non-US test-takers also make additional international registration payments which depend on their region. For instance, if you’re from Europe, you need to pay $49.50 for the SAT and $47 as a regional fee.

How long does the SAT take?

Before we get to our SAT study guide, let’s have a quick overview of timing and see how many questions are on the SAT. Knowing what to expect will give you more confidence on the test day.

The SAT consists of three main sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math — plus an optional essay. Here are the number of questions and minutes given for each section:

TestTimeNumber of questions
Reading65 minutes52
Writing and Languages35 minutes44
Math35 minutes

25 minutes

38 (calculator)

20 (no calculator)

Essay (optional)50Read one passage and write an essay analyzing how the author built their argument.
Total3 hours, 50 minutes154 + 1 essay

Note that the SAT Math test is divided into two sections. The first one comes with the more complex calculations, so, in this case, calculators are permitted. It’ll be up to you to decide whether to use it or not. During the second section, you can’t use a calculator, as you have to show your fluency on specific math topics and concepts.

What subjects are on the SAT?

The SAT literally tests reading, writing and languages, and math. But what topics are covered within each section? Let’s have a look!

Reading Test consists of multiple-choice questions based on passages you need to read and analyze.
  • Literature (classic or contemporary US or world literature);
  • Historical documents (Great Global Conversation or founding documents);
  • Social Sciences (psychology, economics, sociology, etc.);
  • Natural Sciences (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.).

*Some passages may include tables, graphs, or charts.

Writing and Language section consists of multiple-choice questions based on passages you need to read, edit, and proofread.
  • Career;
  • Science;
  • Humanities;
  • History/Social Studies.

*Some passages may include tables, graphs, or charts.

Math Test is designed to align with the math you’re learning in school.
  • Heart of Algebra;
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis;
  • Passport to Advanced Math (complex equations);
  • Additional Topics in Math (area and volume, coordinate geometry, basic trigonometry).
Essay Test looks like a typical writing assignment — you need to read a passage, explain how the author built their persuasive arguments, and support your explanation with evidence from this passage.
  • General topics.

*Required skills: reading, writing, analysis.

What is a good SAT score?

The SAT exam is divided into two big parts — Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. For both parts, you can earn one point for each correct answer. Each of the two sections is scored from 200 to 800, making the total score for both sections range between 400-1600. This means that 1600 is the highest SAT score you can get.

If you decide to write the SAT Essay, you will get three scores ranging from 2-8 (max score 24). Note that the score you earn for this section won’t affect your total score for two previous parts.

How to check SAT scores?

Once the learners take the test, the College Board’s team scans the answers sheets and reports the scores to students. If you register for the SAT online or register by mail but create a personal account on the College Board, you’ll get an email with detailed information on how you can go to your online score report once scores are available.

Students who don’t have online accounts will receive paper score reports. If you want, you can even get your SAT scores by phone, but it’ll cost you an extra fee.

Your score report consists of your total score and a detailed breakdown of your scores for each section. Also, you’ll see how your scores compare to the scores of other test-takers — the higher your score, the better results you achieved compared to others.

But how well you passed the test compared with other students isn’t the most significant thing for you. You have to identify what the SAT highest score is for you personally based on your top-pick college. If you want to find out whether your score will help you enroll at your preferred school, use BigFuture’s College Search to see how their freshmen scored.

How many times can you take the SAT?

Can you retake the SAT? Yes, you can take it as many times as you like. The College Board provides no restrictions on how often you can take the SAT — they’re happy to let you do so.

Preparing for the college admission process in advance is crucial for reducing the level of stress. If you’re wondering how to improve SAT scores, the early prep process is your key to success. Besides, if you start preparing beforehand, you’ll have more time to retake the test. According to the College Board, students who take the SAT more than once usually improve their results.

So, make every effort to prepare, but if your first SAT score isn’t what you expected to get, you can try to improve it.

SAT Tips and tricks: How to prepare for the test

Now that you know what the SAT is and you’re familiar with the overall structure of the test. Let’s get to a step-by-step guide that helps you prepare for the test day.

  • Register for the SAT early on

To take the test, students should register for the SAT through the College Board website. Three types of registration are available:

  • online registration;
  • registration by mail, also known as paper registration (has some restrictions);
  • registration by phone (costs additional fees and can be done only if you’ve registered before).

Before registration, pick the test center that will oversee you on testing day. Try to choose the nearest location, since you’ll have to drive there early in the morning.

When picking a date, make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare. If possible, try to select a test date at least three months in advance.

  • Figure out your strengths and weaknesses

Take the SAT practice test online to recognize which areas you need to work on. On Khan Academy, you’ll find eight full-length tests to take created in partnership with College Board. Your answers will be automatically scored at the end of the test. Additionally, you’ll get personalized practice recommendations based on your results.

Taking the practice test doesn’t just help you practice SAT questions and find out what skills you need to enhance. It also shows you how to get comfortable with sitting still and focusing on tests for over three hours as well as finding the right answers as quickly as possible. When you get through the SAT prep questions, you’ll get familiar with the order of the test sections and learn more about specific instructions for each one.

Want to take a paper practice test? All you need for it is a printer, pencil, calculator and a timer so that you can simulate time limits just like the actual SAT. You can download the paper SAT practice tests on College Board for free.

Before taking a practice test, read more about how to take a practice SAT to make your environment as test-like as possible. Be sure to find a quiet spot, such as a library, and bring a lot of scratch paper. If you’re going to write the SAT essay, you should make it a part of your practice test as well.

  • Set your score goal

Once you take your first practice test and find out your total score, set your goal score! Keep it feasible based on the time frame you have for SAT prep.

A 100-point improvement from your total score in a month is absolutely achievable, while 300-point growth during the same time frame is less likely. Note that the more you want to increase your score, the more time you’ll need to devote to practicing.

  • Make a study plan and stick to your schedule

Develop a realistic study schedule based on your strengths and weaknesses, goal score, and time frames you have. Try to spend a consistent amount of time every day studying until the test day. Having short study sessions each day for a month or two is more effective than cramming the same information a week before the test.

Make sure to take at least two full-length practice tests — at the beginning and the end of your SAT study process. Taking at least one paper practice test will also help you get comfortable with the format and give you a real sense of how long the test is.

Effective SAT preparation is all about forming a habit — setting aside a scheduled study routine. For instance, you can take your online calendar, such as Google Calendar, or daily planner, to outline the type of section you’re going to study each day. Maybe, you’re going to learn for an hour after school. Or it’ll be more convenient for you to have a 30-minute SAT test practice in the morning and at night.

Get inspired by time management suggestions from several high school students who successfully passed the SAT.

And remember that habits which help you succeed in high school will help you get ready for the test day. So take charge of your education — do your homework, ask and answer a lot of questions, prepare for tests, and don’t be afraid to take challenging courses.

  • Expand your SAT vocabulary

As you probably know, the SAT was redesigned in 2016. From that time, the test became more relevant for high school students. Even so, it requires a strong knowledge of specific SAT vocabulary words.

SAT vocabulary consists of medium-difficulty, multi-meaning words. To learn needed vocabulary, you can use Quizlet’s College Board Top 100 SAT/ACT Vocabulary Words or 100+ SAT Words to Study on the Go from Magoosh.

But don’t get scared of a long list of words — memorizing vocabulary should be just a small part of your SAT writing and reading preparation. The more significant skill to improve will be your ability to define the meaning of the words in context.

To practice this skill, you can do three things — reading challenging articles, picking out the unknown words, and defining them. By reading nonfiction, you’ll learn words that are more likely to appear on the upgraded SAT, rather than ultra-specific vocabulary the SAT no longer tests.

One of the main SAT reading tips is to read from different fields. As mentioned above, the SAT includes passages from the US and world literature, science, history, and social studies. You don’t need to read articles about history every day, as you’ll quickly overload yourself with similar vocabulary. Instead, keep your reading routine as balanced as possible.

  • Make the most of the practice resources

Today, there are tons of resources, both online and printed, and tools for you to practice for the SAT. Of course, the best way to get used to SAT questions is by actually doing them.

Luckily, it’s easy to find free practice tests online. Here are some of them:

The best SAT books can also help you a lot if you prefer practicing with printed resources. A lot of helpful options are available on Amazon — the Official SAT Study Guide is the most popular one.

Want to study right from your device? Opt for useful apps and tools, such as:

As you can see, there are tons of resources for SAT prep that you can use to stay on track every day.

  • Practice regularly, even during “dead time”

Want to prepare for the SAT as effective as possible? We all have that time when we’re just waiting for a friend or commuting to school. So why not make the most of every free minute of your day!

Apart from scheduled study sessions of mastering your skills, use the following ideas:

The SAT preparation doesn’t have to be boring — it could be an enjoyable process if you study without haste and make some helpful study tools a part of your daily routine.

  • Be ready for the test day

So, the test day is rapidly approaching. Are you prepared for it? First of all, you should know what to expect — what kind of questions you’ll see and how to deal with them. Besides, be sure you have everything you need, including:

Find out more about what to bring and what not to bring to the SAT on the College Board website.

On the test day, try to have a balanced breakfast (e.g., oats, yogurt, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, and vegetables) and stay hydrated. All test centers open at 7:45 AM (doors close at 8 AM), so don’t be late. You’ll be assigned a seat and get strict SAT requirements on when to start and stop working on each section of the test. There will be only two short breaks during the test.

Note that the sections order in your test book might differ from the one in the test book of the students sitting next to you. This may happen, so don’t be surprised.

  • Take a break the night before the SAT

Why would you waste any study time right before the test? Of course, you can review SAT grammar rules or solve math problems all night before the test. But would it help you improve your chances of success? Likely not. Instead, being rested and relaxed when you wake up for the SAT is what’s really needed. Here is how you can achieve this:

  • Relax. To do its best, your brain needs to rest. Instead of stressful late-night studying before the test, meditate, read a book or spend time with your friends.
  • Organize your bag. The night before the SAT is the right time to make sure you take everything you really need to bring on test day (see step 8).
  • Have a good sleep. Reducing screen time before going to bed will help you fall asleep fast and have a good night’s sleep.
  • Know your way to the testing center. Make sure you have a plan on how to get to the desired location and how much time it will take.

Studying at the last minute can increase your stress level and, as a result, reduce your confidence. So take your mind off the SAT and surround yourself with a calm atmosphere.

  • Try not to get too stressed out!

Always remember that with regular practice, you can achieve your goal on the test day! But even if your score won’t be as good as you’d want, it’s not the end of the world. The SAT doesn’t show how smart you’re — it only tells how good you are at some school skills.

This test is not the only thing that colleges take into account when considering your application. Besides, if you start preparing in advance, you’ll have time to retake the test and improve your results.

How to study for the SAT

There are a few popular methods that students use to prepare for the SAT:

  • Self-preparation. Because of a great variety of prep books, mobile apps, and online resources, more and more students opt for preparing for the test on their own. It’s a convenient way, as you can control what and when to study. This is also the cheapest option, as there are a lot of free prep resources.

However, for some learners, it may be hard to stay motivated and stick to their study plan. Also, they can face challenges when self-diagnosing their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, guidance is helpful sometimes.

  • Online program. A reliable online program can be an excellent investment, especially if it’s customized to your needs. But it’s a relatively new way of preparing for the SAT, so finding a good one can be a challenge. Make sure you know what you’ll get for your money!
  • Preparation course. It’s an effective method to stay on track if you have problems with motivation. On the other hand, a prep course isn’t personalized enough and is too expensive.
  • Private tutor. A professional SAT tutor is invaluable. They can help you create a personalized study schedule based on your current skills and score goals. Also, your tutor will help you stay motivated.

Private tutoring could be expensive. But on platforms like Preply, you can find an expert up to your budget and hire them for 1-on-1 lessons which last as many hours as you want. You will be able to study online from any location and take lessons through video chat.

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