Many college applicants are curious about how much time they will need to prepare for the SAT. This is an important but tricky question to address. Students have a wide range of educational backgrounds, skill levels, and SAT score goals. Students’ school and family obligations and extracurricular activities also impact how quickly they gain the knowledge required for a competitive SAT score.
Based on your unique situation and current abilities, we’ll give you information to help you answer the question, “How long does it take to prepare for the SAT?”
Here are the topics we’ll cover:
- Some Inspiration
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Find Out How Good You Are at the SAT Right Now
- Analyze Your Practice Test Results, But Don’t Over-Infer
- Get a Sense of How Much Time Other Students Have Needed to Study
- Calculate How Much You Can Realistically Study Each Day
- It’s Critical to Study Smart
- In Conclusion
To begin, I want to provide some motivational advice regarding your SAT studying.
You’re taking the SAT for a reason, right? A high SAT score might be the difference-maker when it comes to getting into your dream school or receiving a crucial scholarship. Thus, you should invest the time and effort required to prepare for your SAT thoroughly.
Additionally, consider studying for the SAT as early as possible to avoid stress during the college application process. Why not take your SAT at the beginning of your junior year? Doing so will allow you to get multiple cracks at the exam if needed.
Furthermore, getting your SAT out of the way will leave you with lots of time to concentrate on your applications. It’s never enjoyable to write essays while studying for the SAT and dealing with your regular classwork and activities. So, complete the SAT as soon as possible, and you’ll have plenty of time to present yourself in the best light to admissions.
TTP PRO TIP:
Get a head start on your SAT prep, so you don’t feel pressured as application deadlines approach.
Let’s now discuss keeping the end in mind when planning your studies.
Begin with the End in Mind
It would help if you had a target score in mind before starting your SAT studies. After all, going for a 1500 (95th percentile) will require a significantly different course of study than going for an 1100 (60th percentile). So, do a deep dive on some colleges to which you will apply and see what score range you’d need to hit to be a competitive applicant.
For example, accepted students at Cornell University have an average SAT score of 1480. However, the average SAT score of accepted students at Arizona State University is 1120. Therefore, you would have to study longer and harder to earn a competitive score for Cornell than you would for Arizona State. Thus, determining your score goal early on will help you plan out your prep.
TTP PRO TIP:
Determine your target score early on in the process, so you can better plan your SAT prep.
Find Out How Good You Are at the SAT Right Now
You’ll need to establish your baseline score after determining your desired SAT score. Take an official, full-length SAT practice exam to determine your current SAT score. Eight full-length practice tests are available from the College Board, the creators of the SAT.
When taking your practice exam, go to a library or other quiet location, finish all of the SAT sections in the allotted time, and do not take any unauthorized breaks. The point of this practice exam is to assess your current capabilities. How well you do on it is not important.
TTP PRO TIP:
Take a practice test to determine your baseline score.
Analyze Your Practice Test Results, But Don’t Over-Infer
You must analyze the results of your practice test. How did you do overall? What were your Math and Reading and Writing scores? At this point, it’s important that you don’t worry too much about the details. If you got some topics wrong and others right, that’s totally fine. Keep in mind that you haven’t even begun studying!
Also, don’t let the results shift your study plan. For example, getting a question wrong on systems of inequalities does not indicate that you know nothing about inequalities. Alternatively, getting a question right about the cosine of an angle does not indicate that you know everything about trigonometry. You’ll need more than data from one or two questions to draw broad conclusions about where to concentrate your studies in order to boost your SAT score.
TTP PRO TIP:
Analyze your practice test results, but don’t make specific inferences about your strong and weak areas.
Get a Sense of How Much Time Other Students Have Needed to Study
Let’s start with the minimum that you should score for entry into most state schools: 1000 (50th percentile). Using data from the Target Test Prep SAT course, we’ve seen that students shooting for an SAT score of 1000 generally study for around 75 hours.
For an even higher score, such as 1200, which is at about the 75th percentile, students may study for anywhere from 150 to 200 hours. And to score at or above the 90th percentile, with a score of 1400 or above, you might have to study for up to 300 hours.
Now, you may be thinking, 300 hours just for SAT prep? Yes! It’s important to keep in mind that the SAT is a very tough exam. It could test pretty much anything you’ve learned in your math and English classes since 7th grade, and even some things you may not be very familiar with (like multiplying two square matrices). Additionally, it asks questions in ways that you may not have encountered in school. So, do not fool yourself into thinking that you can study for just a few weeks and knock the test out of the park.
With all this in mind, let’s discuss the nuts and bolts of determining your personal study schedule.
TTP PRO TIP:
To score in the top tier of the SAT score range, expect to study for 200-300 hours.
Calculate How Much You Can Realistically Study Each Day
Every student learns in his or her own way. As a result, understanding your learning style is critical to creating a realistic study plan for yourself.
Now, you likely have a lot going on as a busy high school student. Nevertheless, if you can, try aiming for around 9 hours of studying each week. You can study for a minimum of one hour each weekday and 2 hours each weekend day. Those study hours can happen after school or even during a free period on certain days. Really try to take advantage of your free time on the weekends to maximize your study time.
Also, don’t rush or go through the motions in a study session. Instead, make each study session impactful. Rushing through a study session will likely waste time because you won’t retain what you learn. So, take your time learning and practicing new topics, so you can concentrate on mastering them thoroughly.
TTP PRO TIP:
Make your study sessions count!
It’s Critical to Study Smart
A final but important aspect of planning your study timeline is that, while hard work is essential for success on the SAT, you must study smart. If you default to a haphazard and disorganized study plan, regardless of the number of hours a week you study, you likely won’t improve your SAT skills, and you may have to delay taking your exam. So, let’s discuss the optimal way to study for the SAT.
Take a Topic-by-Topic Study Approach
We know that there is a lot to study to succeed on the SAT. Thus, a good study routine is to learn one topic at a time, and then practice just that topic until you have mastered it.
Using this method, begin with the foundations and work your way up to more advanced concepts.
TTP PRO TIP:
Master the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced topics.
Let’s take a look at TTP’s topical study plan as an example.
The TTP Topical Study Plan
The study plan in the TTP SAT Course begins with a chapter on Essential SAT Quant Skills, including fraction and decimal rules, basics of exponents and roots, PEMDAS, etc. After reading this chapter, you’ll have a good foundation, which allows you to progress to the more advanced topic of Linear Equations. Throughout that chapter, you will answer example questions after each section. Then, at the end of the chapter, you’ll take a chapter test containing 100+ questions on Linear Equations.
Each subsequent chapter in the TTP course follows a similar structure. You’ll study subtopics within the chapter and answer example questions, and then you’ll take a chapter test of 100+ questions after completing the chapter. That test will again serve as a checkpoint to ensure mastery of the chapter topic.
Following each chapter test, you’ll see detailed metrics that allow you to easily view your strengths and weaknesses based on the data from each test. Once you have practiced and reviewed all questions from a particular chapter, you’ll move on to the next topic in the study plan.
TTP PRO TIP:
To make your SAT prep more structured, efficient, and effective, take a topic-by-topic approach.
Using the best available study materials is a great way to help you work smart. However, remember that the tools you use to prepare can be valuable assets or significant liabilities. So, do your homework. Nothing is more expensive than wasting time and energy acquiring poor content, tactics, skills, and procedures. You need to start studying for the SAT on the proper foot.
We have found that the SAT is a tough exam, and so extensive preparation is needed to earn a good score. Whether you want a good score to gain entry into your college of choice or to compete for a scholarship, it’s important to use a sound study strategy and spend adequate time learning all the topics tested on the exam. Thus, to answer the common question, “How long do you need to prepare for the SAT?,” we find that about 75-300 study hours is recommended, depending on the score/percentile range you’ve set as your target.
With this information in hand, planning for the SAT will be much easier.
Best of luck!