SAT Advice (General) Post

SAT Action Plan: How to Study and Prepare for the SAT College Entrance Exam

First, check out my free SAT e-book, Master the SAT, and my simplified list of recommended SAT prep books on Amazon.

Step 1:  Take a practice test to determine your baseline score.  You can find 8 free, official practice SATs, along with answer explanations, on the College BoardKhan Academy websites (make sure to print them out before you take them).  Or, simply buy the paper book instead.  The entire test -- Reading, Writing and Language, Math No Calculator, Math With Calculator, and Essay (optional, but required by many colleges)--takes around 4 hours and should be taken all at once, if possible, or split into a maximum of two parts.

Already ran out of the first 8 tests?  You can find PDFs of 44 official SATs and PSATs here

Step 2:  Set a score goal.  My students' score improvements on the new SAT (400-1600 scale) are about 150-200 points.

Step 3:  Start working on the content of the test.

My Top 11 SAT Prep Resources, Ranked.

Vocabulary - SAT Vocab Capacity free e-book / Word Root List / Mnemonic Videos  (Please note that vocab is still important, but less essential, on the new SAT.)

Math - College PandaA Guide to the Math SATKhan Academy / SAT Quantum / Cliff’s Notes Math Review for Standardized TestsPWN the SAT Math Guide / SAT Math Tips / This formula sheet and this formula sheet and this blog post by me

Critical Reading / Writing -  The Ultimate Guide to SAT Reading (a.k.a. The Critical Reader) / The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar / SAT Writing Tips / Prepositional Idiom List / Complete SAT Grammar Rules

Essay - The College Panda's SAT Essay / New SAT Essay Questions and Practice Materials

General SAT Strategy and Additional (Non-Official) SAT Practice Tests - Ivy Global Ultimate SAT Guide

If you are looking for an online SAT self-study program that tracks your strengths and weaknesses in each area of learning, then I can recommend Khan Academy, which is a free service that has partnered with the College Board to provide online SAT drills and practice.  Fair warning: the individual practice questions on Khan Academy are not official College Board SAT questions, but they are similar. 

For additional help, consider a private tutor like me who can point you in the right direction.

In addition, keep reading challenging material, such as the Top 100 Fiction and Top 100 Non-Fiction titles on Amazon.   Also check out literary websites such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Economist, and even Grantland for the sports fans.

Step 4
: (only recommended for lower-scoring students): take an SAT classroom course. 
These types of classes can be helpful for low scorers who need all the time, practice and repetition they can get. However, don't overpay for an "elite" class or a score "guarantee": these types of classes are all very similar, focusing mostly on test content and basic strategies for the average student. Instead, save your money for a qualified private tutor later on in the process.  In addition, the so-called guarantees are usually full of fine print, so it's quite difficult to actually get your money back, even if you feel that you should qualify. 

Step 5:  If you haven't done so already, buy 2 copies of the
Official SAT Study Guide (I recommend keeping a second, blank copy for the purpose of reviewing questions without bias), and buy a good graphing calculator if you don't have one already.

Or, even easier (and possibly cheaper): just go to the College Board website, download those same 10 PDFs for free, and simply print them out at home.  The drawbacks to this method are that the pages will be harder to organize, and that you will incur printing and paper costs.  

Step 6: Once you begin studying, consider scheduling some time with me or another private tutor.   You may meet with me for anywhere from 30 minutes to 100 hours, but most students need at least 15-25 hours for a full preparation.   I recommend scheduling a 15-minute phone consultation with before the first lesson, to discuss timelines, scheduling, and the unique needs of the student(s).

Working with a private tutor is the very best way to maximize your score, for a variety of reasons:

1) You are given personalized attention, lessons tailored to fit your schedule, and the opportunity to discuss each question in-depth until you are fully satisfied. 
2) Private tutors are usually the best instructors. 
3) A skilled private tutor will serve as a friend and confidant, hold you accountable, give you specific assignments and work on any problem areas so that all you have to do is put in the effort. Simply talking about the questions with your tutor helps aid your understanding of each question and your test-taking strategies.


As a general rule, students should spend at least one hour on homework for every hour they spend with their tutor.  The usual homework assignment is 3-4 sections from the book (approximately 1.5 hours), working from the front to the back.   Students should time themselves, and mark the question where they run out of time, but continue working past the time limit if necessary. 

Full practice tests should also be taken periodically, at the discretion of the tutor. 

The goal is to eventually complete all 8 tests in the book, and possibly more.


Either don't grade your homework and just let your tutor grade it for you, or grade it yourself (the answers are in the back), but please do not indicate the correct answers anywhere on the test.

Remember, when you take the SAT, you do not know the answer to the questions in advance.  As tutors, we must preserve this unsure feeling on behalf of our students, or much of the value of the question is lost.

In the same vein, when a question is tried again, it is best not to know the correct answer, or one's previous answer.  This is where the second, blank copy of the book comes in. 

Step 7: If you haven't done so already, then
register for the SAT

The SAT is administered 7 times a year, on varying days:  October, November, December, January, March, May, and June.

Three times a year, the SAT offers what's called the
Question and Answer service (QAS), which allows you to view the actual test questions as well your answers (you will be mailed a physical copy of the test booklet about 5-6 weeks after the test).   Sign up for the QAS service in advance if you can--it costs extra but it's worth it.   Currently it's offered in October, January and May.  These are the best three months to take the test, because otherwise there will no way to review incorrectly answered questions with your tutor afterward.

Step 8:  Take at least 2-3 full practice tests in the weeks leading up to the real thing to make sure your score is where you need it to be. 

Step 9:  On the morning of the test, read my
SAT test-day tips for a final time. 

Step 10:  Repeat if necessary.  Most students score highest the second or third time they take the SAT.

You may also find helpful information in my Grades 9-12 document.

Good luck!


copyright 2002-2021 Brian R. McElroy
Founder and President, McElroy Tutoring Inc.
Toll-Free: 1-866-584-TUTOR (8886), x 4
Direct (Call or Text): 619-889-2935


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