Home Study The Best SAT Study Plan for Success (Part 1)

The Best SAT Study Plan for Success (Part 1)

by Angela Xu

The SAT is one of the most well-known tests for high schoolers ever. There are millions of prep courses promising that they are the “best SAT prep course ever” and guaranteeing you a high score… and charging hundreds of dollars while doing it. But is it really worth it? Here’s how to make the best SAT study plan for you without spending all your money on a prep course. (no shade for prep courses though)

This Study Plan will be divided into 2 articles, this article will be about your preparation before the Study Plan. Visit The Best SAT Study Plan for Success (Part 2) for a detailed schedule of the studying process!

Understanding the Test

First, we need to understand how the test is structured. The SAT is out of 1600 points and is broken down into 4 sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calc), and Math (with calc) in that order.


  • The reading section is 52 multiple choice questions spread across 65 minutes.
  • You will be asked to read 5 passages
  • there will always be one prose/narrative, one historical, one social science, and two natural science passages
  • 3 passages have 10 questions, 2 passages have 11
  • the max score you can get in reading is 400 points

Writing & Language

  • 44 multiple choice in 35 minutes
  • covers grammar and expression of ideas (logic and organization)
  • 4 passages with 11 questions each
  • maximum score is 400 points

Math (no calculator)

  • 20 questions in 25 minutes
  • 15 multiple-choice, 5 free response

Math (with calculator)

  • check to see if your calculator is approved by clicking here
  • 38 questions in 55 minutes
  • 30 multiple-choice, 8 free response
  • the math sub-score is calculated with the no calc and with calc section together, and the max score you can get is 800
Set a Target Score

A target score is the score that you want to reach or surpass when you take the SAT. To find your target score, you should look at the score distribution for colleges that you plan on applying to. More specifically, find the 25th to 75th percentile of scores for the university (this represents the average range of scores). For example, here’s the breakdown of scores for the University of Michigan:

25th Percentile75th PercentileAverage

If I want to apply and be a strong applicant for the University of Michigan, I could set a target score of 1530. (Disclaimer: Just because you are in the top 75% or above, this doesn’t guarantee your acceptance into your dream college, there are many other factors that are considered apart from SAT score!) Once you find these scores, write them down on a spreadsheet, or use this pre-made chart by PrepScholar.

Take a Practice Test

Before studying anything, you should take a full-length practice test to find your starting/baseline score. You can find a test either on College Board’s official website or Khan Academy! When taking the practice test, you should try to mimic a real testing environment as closely as possible, this includes:

  • finding a quiet place away from distractions
  • time yourself accurately, give yourself the correct amount of time for each section that’s specified on the test
  • during breaks between sections, don’t check your phone
  • take the test at 8 AM, or close to that time (I know it’s early, but trust me it will be much easier taking the actual test if you are used to taking it at the same time)

Once you finished taking the test, score it. this is your baseline score! (One final note: taking it without the essay portion is fine!)

Calculate How Many Hours You Need to Study

Compare your target score and your baseline score (find the difference) to see how many hours you need to study to reach your goal. Here is a chart made by Prep Scholar:

  • 0-30 point improvement: 10 hours
  • 30-70 point improvement: 20 hours
  • 70-130 point improvement: 40 hours
  • 130-200 point improvement: 80 hours
  • 200-330 point improvement: 150 hours+
Choose a Test Date

Generally, you should choose a testing date that is at least 3 months ahead (Study plan is created to take 3 months). Other things to keep in mind include:

  • pick a date that works well with other commitments you have, such as maybe a fall sport or AP tests in May
  • if you’re taking the SAT as a senior, choose a date that’s guaranteed to get your scores to your schools before your college application deadlines

Whatever test date you choose, make sure to sign up ASAP! (spots go out fast!)

* another question you might have is “should I sign up for SAT with Essay?”

Most colleges care a lot less about your score on the essay than your math and English score. There are a few schools that require the essay when applying, which can be found here. But apart from that, taking the essay portion or not is up to you. There isn’t that much preparation required for writing the essay, usually, I would recommend writing 1 or 2 practice essays, and your English class in school should be enough studying!

Get Your (Free) Study Materials!
  • your best study materials are actual, real SAT tests! College board has 10 released SAT tests with answers that you can use to study (click here)
  • Khan Academy is an amazing resource for full-length tests, practice questions separated by subject, and answer explanations! If you’ve taken a SAT or PSAT in the past, it even lets you input your score so that it can tell you which categories to focus your studying on! All you need to do is make an account (all free).
  • Test prep books like Barron’s or Princeton Review, BUT you do not need to buy them! Most SAT test prep books can be found at your local public library, which you can check out for free!
  • for a list of the best prep books, check out this list by Prep Scholar
  • PrepScholar Blog – this is one of the BEST resources for a variety of topics, while it doesn’t offer specific tests, it shares some of the best advice for SAT and college! They publish articles almost weekly, and they are definitely worth the read.
  • SuperTutorTV on YouTube
  • Magoosh SAT and ACT on YouTube

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