What to Know Before Taking Your SAT

Before you take your SAT (whether it’s your first attempt or not), there are a few things you need to know. Let’s talk about how to study effectively for taking the SAT, how to be prepared for the test, and what to do on the big day.

How to Study Effectively for the SAT

To start your SAT preparation efforts, the first thing to do is to take a timed practice test. Follow this link to download and print a practice SAT, or take an online SAT.

Before you begin your practice SAT, find a quiet place to do your work. Remember that you will need a few hours of uninterrupted time. If it is noisy at home, a library may have some private study rooms you can use.

Make sure to sit down and take the whole test all at once. Don’t go over time on any of the sections – otherwise, you are only cheating yourself! The point of the practice test is to see how you would really do on the test if you took it today.

Take the test early on a Saturday morning, to mimic test conditions as closely as possible. After you finish the practice test, check your answers and figure out your raw score, and then convert it to your scaled score to see how you did.

Just as important is to look over any missed questions to find your areas of weakness. If there were any sections you did not finish, you will need to work on pacing there as well.

When doing practice for the SAT, focus your effort on the types of questions that you missed on your practice test. On each question, take the time to understand your mistakes, and write notes to read over as the test approaches.

For the Reading section, make sure that you have a strategy for effective reading, such as our paragraph summary strategy. Pay special attention to common traps in the answer choices (for example, answers that are partly true and partly false). Pay close attention to the wording in both the questions and answers – a single word can make all the difference!

For the Writing and Language section, make sure that you have two checklists for yourself:

  • Grammar – things like subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, pronouns, and punctuation.
  • Style & Rhetoric – things like consistent tone, choosing concise answers, avoiding repetitive wording, and using parallel structure within a sentence.

For the Math section, learn any material you don’t know and refresh your memory on any topics that are rusty. Also, spend some time thinking about shortcuts you can use for problems you already know how to do. This will save you time that you can spend on the tricky questions that take longer to do.

Time to refresh your memory and get organized!

A Good Night’s Sleep is Your Secret Weapon

Many students show up to the SAT on Saturday morning after going to bed too late on Friday night and getting a poor sleep. Unfortunately, this will have a huge negative impact on their test results. Don’t fall in with this group!

Ideally, you should get plenty of sleep during the week leading up to the test. I know that life sometimes gets in the way, especially if you are involved in lots of sports, clubs, and advanced classes.

At the very least, get a good sleep the night before the test – 8 to 9 hours is ideal, and that means going to bed early!

Don’t cram the night before the SAT. You are better off getting plenty of sleep and being sharp on test day. Remember that most of the work and learning is done in the weeks and months leading up to the test (not to mention the work you have done during your high school career).

If you really feel like you need to do something test-related the night before the SAT, then take some time to look over the notes you wrote down while studying. Relax and think of the test as an opportunity to show what you know after spending so much effort to prepare!

Eat a Good Breakfast

On test day, make sure to eat a good breakfast. Wake up early enough so that you are not rushed when eating – it is better for digestion to eat slowly.

If you are not normally a breakfast person, keep in mind that the test is very long, and it is very taxing. You will need lots of energy to get through it and maintain your focus to the end.

Your best bet is to eat breakfast foods that will give you some energy and also keep you full until the test is over. Protein & fat will keep you full much longer than carbohydrates.

Start your morning with protein!

Slow-release carbohydrates (oatmeal or whole grains) will give you more consistent energy (as opposed to high-sugar foods that will give you a quick boost followed by an energy crash).

What to Bring to the SAT on Test Day

Prepare the following items well before the test, and keep them all in the same place. Make sure not to leave the house without them. The things you should bring to the SAT include:

  • Water and snacks
  • An approved calculator that you are comfortable using (bring fresh batteries & backups)
  • Plenty of sharpened #2 pencils, erasers, sharpener
  • Photo ID
  • Test admission ticket
  • Watch (for pacing)
  • Sweater (the test room may be cold)
  • Tissues
  • Medications (such as Advil, antacids, inhalers, or antihistamines)
Get to the SAT Test Center Early

Ideally, you should do a practice run before the day of the test, especially if you have never been there before. That way, you won’t get lost on the morning of the test!

Getting to the test center early eliminates any anxiety about being late, and makes for a calmer start to your test experience.

Arrive early with a calm state of mind…

Have a Pacing Strategy to Manage Your Time

Before test day comes along, make sure that you know what you are up against. You should know what is on each test section and how much time you have:

  • Section 1: Reading – 65 minutes for 52 questions (average of 75 seconds per question)
  • Section 2: Writing and Language – 35 minutes for 44 questions (average of 47.7 seconds per question).
  • Section 3: Math no Calculator – 25 minutes for 20 questions (average of 75 seconds per question).
  • Section 4: Math with Calculator – 55 minutes for 38 questions (average of 86.8 seconds per question).

You should also have a pacing strategy to make sure you are on track for each section. I would recommend doing a quick check 2 or 3 times during the test to see if you are keeping pace.

For example, the Writing and Language section gives you 35 minutes for 44 questions. If you break it up into three parts, then you would have around 12 minutes to do about 15 questions.

After the first 12 minutes, check to see where you are. If you have done 15 or more questions, you are doing fine. If you have done less than 15 questions, you need to pick up the pace.

Know How to Calm Your Mind

Take time before the test to practice breathing exercises or quick meditation exercises that work to calm you down.

You can use these exercises before the test if you arrive early. You can also use these exercises during scheduled breaks.

Not only will these exercises keep you calm, but they will help you to “recharge” between sections of the test.

Skip Questions if Necessary

There may be times when you are not sure how to do a question at first glance. Don’t get nervous or frustrated if you need to skip one or more questions!

Remember that when you skip a question, other questions may remind you of something you need to solve the one you just skipped. Make sure to mark the questions you skipped in your test book so that you remember to go back to them.

On the Reading section, you can still skip around on questions within a given passage. However, it is probably best to answer all of the questions on a given passage before moving on to the next passage. Otherwise, you might forget some of the material you were reading.

Finally, remember that each question is worth 1 point on your raw score. So, it makes sense to make an attempt on as many questions as you can.

It is better to get 2 points from 2 easy questions than 1 point from 1 hard question that takes twice as long to finish.

Fill in an Answer Choice for Every Question

Hopefully, you will have time to answer all of the questions on all four sections of the test, with time to spare to check your answers.

If you do start to run out of time, remember to fill in an answer choice for every question. Don’t leave any question blank, since there is no penalty for guessing!

Have a plan in place to make sure you do not leave any questions blank. For example, when there are 2 minutes left on a section, bubble every remaining question with the same answer choice.

If there is still time left, use it to review a problem you did not get a chance to work on – you might be able to complete one last question.


Preparing for the SAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Studying should be done over the months leading up to the test, not the day before.

If you plan ahead and make sure you are prepared, then you will walk into the test center calm and ready to do your best.

If you need some guidance with the test prep process, the best thing to do is schedule a free consultation call with one of Testive’s Student Success Advisors!

By |2020-04-09T16:33:39+00:00April 9th, 2020|SAT, Uncategorized|

About the Author:

Jonathon Madore has been tutoring and coaching students for nearly a decade. He has taught at College of the Holy Cross, Boston College, and Quincy College. He enjoys passing on as much of his knowledge as possible, and guiding and mentoring students to the best of his ability.