SAT GOAL SETTING: WHAT YOU SHOULD DO (AND WHAT NOT TO DO)
The goal of taking the SAT is pretty straightforward; receive the highest score possible. The strategy to achieve that, however, is not nearly as clear. One way to reduce both the anxiety and the stress of knowing what to study and how long to study for comes in the form of goal setting. Mapping out a timeline of what and when to study can not only increase your chance at success but ensures you don’t waste any time in the process.
Goal #1: Set Yourself Up for Success
What NOT to do: Wing it
What TO do: Familiarize yourself with the test
It’s one thing to set a goal, it’s another thing to make sure it’s achievable. Before you go ahead and start diving into the topics, it’s important to understand how the content in the SAT, as well as its format, is broken down.
For starters, the SAT is divided into four sections:
- 65 minutes
- 52 multiple–choice questions
- You will find questions on: words in context and command of evidence based on historical and scientific documents as well as pieces of world literature
Writing & Language
- 35 minutes
- 44 multiple–choice questions
- You will see questions on: grammar structure, vocabulary in context, and editing skills based on passages of nonfiction work
- 80 minutes
- No calculator is allowed for 20 questions in 25 minutes; Calculator is allowed for 38 questions in 55 minutes
- You will see content from: Algebra I and II, Geometry, and some basic Trigonometry
- 50 minutes
- 1 hand-written essay
- Write an analysis based on a passage provided
Just as important as the content is the format.
Familiarizing yourself with the instructions for each test section will not only remove any uncertainty on the day of the exam but will also make you feel more comfortable as you begin to study. The most straightforward way to become familiar with the SAT’s format is to take the P-SAT, but the free SAT practice exams will also be laid out in the same format. Read through the instructions carefully, making sure you fully understand what is required in each section.
Goal #2: Study Smart
What NOT to do: Try and learn everything at once
What TO do: Create a timeline and stick with it
It’s easy to say: study hard. But that kind of ‘advice’ is useless when figuring out how to study. Now, there is no perfect way to learn, no one size fits all, therefore the system outlined below should be adjusted to your preferred learning style. It’s outlined for a three-month study period, though it can be adapted to fit your own timeline. The main goal is to create a consistent study schedule that allows you to use your time well and cover all material needed without ever needing to cram (which is an ineffective and unhealthy habit).
3 Months Ahead
- Evaluate your skills. You can start by taking a diagnostic test to have a complete overview of the sections you struggle with the most. The test can be found in an SAT study guide or you can take it for free on Khan Academy and on Princeton Review.
- Looking at the score on your diagnostic test, identify the areas you are unfamiliar with or confused about. Focus on studying these general sections instead of the specific questions you missed. By taking the time to master the basic skills needed to ace a variety of problems, you will be able to discover the specific questions you have more issues with. For example, by spending time on basic algebra and common grammar rules, you will be able to understand, and in turn answer, far more questions correctly from those categories overall, than if you simply studied the questions you missed.
- Don’t overdo it in the first month. You don’t want to pour so much time and effort in the first few weeks that you burn out and refuse to touch a book the next month. Pace yourself and don’t worry about the specific problems you have trouble with. You’ll address those soon enough.
2 Months Ahead
- Take a fully timed test at the beginning of the month to show the progress you’ve made since taking the diagnostic test. This will not only show your progress but will also help you familiarize yourself with the amount of time you will have to complete each section.
- Start taking untimed tests of each section individually. These are your compass, guiding you to the areas that need your focus. Keep notes on the specific problems you have, and have a friend or family member run through them with you orally (which is a scientifically proven method that helps memorization).
- Spend a couple of hours every other day studying your notes as well as the specific skills you’re focused on.
1 Month Ahead
- Take another fully-timed practice test to both mark your progress and continue to familiarize yourself with how long it takes and how much time you have for each section.
- Focus on a different subject every day. This way you rotate through all the areas evenly while giving yourself time to work on the specific problems you need to spend more energy on.
- Don’t overdo the studying, remember, you want to avoid burnout!
Goal #3: Be Mentally Prepared
What NOT to do: Cram study time in the end.
What TO do: Rely on the effort you’ve put in and make sure to rest
Get plenty of rest the week before the test. Science has proven, including these UCLA researchers in this article here, that cramming the night before is counterproductive. Therefore, during the week of, ease up on the studying just a bit. Instead, focus on making sure you’re ready in other ways. Go to bed a bit earlier every night that week so that waking up early on the Saturday of the test won’t be as brutal. Make sure to organize all of your supplies the night before, even going so far as checking off a list of can help you feel better prepared and relaxed.
Make sure to pack:
- ID Card
- Snacks (if they are in packaging, take them out and put into clear ziplocs – quieter and see-through for your proctors’ peace of mind)
- Test Ticket
- Extra sweater
When you wake up the morning of, make sure to have enough time to get ready in a calm manner, including eating a fulfilling breakfast. That way, when you arrive, you’ll be mentally prepared and totally ready.