When you’re prepping for the SAT, the last thing you want to do is waste time. And there are a lot of time wasters out there: from bad materials to tutors only familiar with the old test (it changed in 2016, people!), it seems like there are more potential landmines cropping up every day.
But don’t lose hope! Doing some research before you start actually studying will pay big dividends in terms of your score down the line. In particular, you’ll want to establish three things before you start: what and who you’re working with—and how you’re working with them.
1. What You’re Working With
There are a lot of great, official materials out there; by all means, you should start with them. These include eight practice tests at the College Board website and a variety of practice problems (and many more resources) at Khan Academy, which partnered with the College Board to create solid, accessible materials.
And this is all fantastic. However, it’s also overwhelming. Can you learn the exact content that you’ll see on test day by taking SAT practice tests? Sure—but you’ll have to take a lot of them, and you’ll have to spend a huge amount of time breaking them down.
Make it easy on yourself and get a solid SAT study guide that you can work with, right from the start. No matter what Amazon tells you, you do not need to spend $100 on the fanciest guide money can buy; Magoosh has a free eBook guide that tells you everything you need to know.
2. Who You’re Working With
Getting a tutor (online or in-person) or taking a class (again, online or in-person) can help a lot of students compress a lot of SAT study time into, well, less SAT study time. Having a good coach can help you see what you’re missing when problems give you trouble or you score lower than you’d like on a practice test.
Before hiring someone, make sure to get recommendations from other students and find out as much about the tutor or school’s track record as you can. Remember, too, that just because someone scored high on the SAT themselves, they may not necessarily be a good tutor (although it should be a prerequisite!)
Finally, be sure you actually need a tutor—it may turn out that all you need to succeed is an SAT one month study plan. It all depends on your internal motivation.
3. How You’re Working
This takes us back to all those great materials we were talking about earlier. If your plan is just to take practice test after practice test, you’ll find yourself hitting a wall pretty quickly. Imagine if your plan for your driving test was just to keep going back and taking the exam until you passed, without practicing in-between. Is it possible to pass that way? Sure. Is it efficient? Uh-uh.
The best way to approach SAT study is to take a diagnostic exam to get a sense of where you are right now. And yes, you should take an SAT practice test each week to make sure your prep is working for you. In the meantime, though, what should you do? Read a study guide. Take lessons—video lessons, classes, in a book—up to you. And always, always spend at least as much time analyzing your practice tests as you do taking them—you’ll be amazed at the patterns you start to spot.
By setting yourself up for success from the beginning of your SAT prep, you’ll give yourself the best shot to get your dream score on test day. Good luck!
Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London.