Should your Student Be Preparing for the SAT Now?

When should your high school student take the SAT? Read on to learn more about when your student should take the SAT test, format and content, scoring, and strategies for test day success.

If your student is a high school senior, the answer is definitely yes!   The season for taking the SAT test is fast approaching, and preparations should start now.  I know what you’re thinking: It’s still summer, we have time, or we’ll start on that once the school year begins. However, adequately preparing for arguably the most important test your student has taken thus far takes time….at least two to three months if your student plans to do a little bit of studying every day.  If your student is a junior and wants to prepare at a more laid-back pace, it also might not be a bad idea to start now.

 Most students take the SAT at least two times:  in the spring as a junior (January, March, or May) and in the fall as a senior (October or November).  It is a good idea to take the SAT test as a senior, if you did not take the test twice as a junior, because most students improve their score the second time around, according to the College Board (the folks who administer the SAT test).  Some students may even want to consider taking the SAT test a third time if more score improvement is needed.  However, it is unlikely that a student will see a difference in their score unless they change the way that they prepare by studying daily, seeking out tutoring, or enrolling in an SAT prep program.  This year, the first fall SAT test is being offered on October 6th.  Here are some tips to help prepare for the SAT:

  1. Visit the College Board Website: http://sat.collegeboard.org/home?affiliateId=nav&bannerId=h-satex

This website offers some free online resources including a free practice test, sample test questions, emailed question of the day, and tips for preparing for test day.  In addition, this is where you go to register for the SAT and get your scores.

  2. Familiarize Yourself with the Format of the SAT Test

Here is some general information to get you started:  The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes long and there are three ten minute breaks.  The exam is mostly multiple-choice, and it’s divided into three Math, three Critical Reading, three Writing sections, and an experimental section.  The essay is always first.  Sections 2-7 can be in any order, Sections 8 and 9 are either Critical Reading or Math, and the last section is always writing multiple choice questions.


The Writing Component: This part of the test consists of an essay prompt and multiple choice questions.  The essay directions usually ask you to write a persuasive essay typically responding to a quotation.  The multiple choice questions test the students’ ability to spot errors in grammar, sentence structure, and paragraph structure or organization.


The Critical Reading Component: This section is made up of sentence completion and reading comprehension type questions.  Sentence completion questions test the student’s ability to determine how words or ideas work together to create meaning in a sentence.  There are short and long reading comprehension passages which test the student’s ability to understand what they read.  At least one selection will contain two related reading passages.


The Math Component:  The math portion of the test contains regular math multiple choice questions with five answer choices and grid-in problems that are not multiple choice and require students to supply an answer.  The math questions ask about geometry, algebra, or statistics topics.

  3. Know How the Test is Scored

Knowing how the SAT is scored will help you to develop an effective test-taking strategy.  You gain one point for each correct answer on the SAT and lose ¼ point for each incorrect answer except on grid-in math questions.  You do not lose any points for the questions that you leave blank.  Scores on all three sections range from a low of 200 to a high of 800 for a total possible score between 600 and 2400.

  4. Learn the Ground Rules

There are certain things that are never allowed on SAT test day.  Your student should be familiar with these before the day that they go to take their test.

 You are not allowed to jump back and forth between sections.

You cannot return to earlier sections to change your answers.

You cannot exceed the allotted time on any section.

You can choose the order in which you complete your questions within a section.

You can flip through the section you are on at the beginning to see what types of questions are coming up and formulate a strategy.

  5. Strategize

Learning general SAT test-taking strategies and tactics for each particular section can greatly improve a student’s score.  In addition, many students find it very beneficial to learn some strategies for time management since timed tests are not frequently given in schools and many students are not accustomed to this type of pressure.

  6. Practice, Practice, Practice!

Students should make SAT practice a regular part of their day.  There are at least four years of math concepts to be reviewed (Algebra, Geometry, and Statistics); reading strategies to learn and practice, and frequently occurring vocabulary words to study.  In addition, most students will benefit from taking practice tests including practice writing prompts and reviewing the results with someone who can explain their mistakes to them.

 Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about the SAT.  If you have an idea or helpful strategy for the SAT please comment and leave it below.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Nina Parrish, M.Ed.  |  Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

www.parrishlearningzone.com  |  (540) 999-8759


Some information for this article was obtained from Kaplan SAT Strategies, Practice, and Review 2012.  The information provided on the College Board Website was also used as a resource.



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Elizabeth Talbot July 28, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Investigate whether your student's high school offers a SAT preparation course. They are inexpensive and convenient. One of my daughter's took a private preparation course over several weekends, but she was overextended and I don't think she derived the full benefit from it. My other daughter only took the course offered at her high school and she did just fine. Please register early since they fill up fast.
Nina Parrish, M.Ed. July 30, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Hi Elizabeth. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for your comment. I think it is great that some local high schools have prep courses. These classes offer another option for students who are able to learn complex information in a large classroom setting or on the computer. Parents often seek out private tutoring to get the one-on-one or small group instruction that is not offered in school. I am sorry to hear that your daughter had a negative experience with a different private preparation course. It must have been intense if they covered the entire SAT in several Saturdays. I am glad that you found something that worked for your other daughter. Thanks for sharing your advice.


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