SAT Prep For High School And College Students

Many college-bound students are expecting to take the SAT. Learn what to expect on the test, where to get help with studying and get expert advice.

Updated April 10, 2023

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 Countdown to College SAT Prep

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is an exam taken by millions of college hopefuls to ascertain their readiness for postsecondary education. Developed in the 1920s as a standardized way of assessing the core study skills needed to succeed in college, more than 1.7 million high school students now take the SAT each year. Used as a benchmark by college admissions offices and scholarship panels, the SAT is often a significant determining factor if a student is accepted to their top choice for higher education.

The following guide offers a host of community, professional and online resources while also providing glimpses of what to expect on the exam. Students who read this guide can also expect to gain expert guidance on acing the SAT from an admissions professional at the University of North Georgia.

SAT Scoring

Scores received on the SAT are one of the most important factors for many admissions department and scholarship panels as they demonstrate a student's likelihood for success under the demands of college. Many of the top schools in America have score standards for admittance, making it important for students with aspirations to attend competitive schools to research the scores they'll need to be considered.

  1. 1

    Understanding Scores

    College Board unveiled a wholly overhauled version of the SAT in the early months of 2016, so there may be confusion about what makes for a top mark under the new scoring system. Students who took the test prior to the new exam being implemented are able to use a score converter when applying to schools. Examinees wondering about the types of scores they'll need can review Compass Educational Group's score ranges for 360 different colleges and universities in the United States.
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    Sending Scores

    AT scores are sent to prospective schools by College Board, so examinees don't need to worry about this extra step. When signing up for the test, students simply enter the names of their prospective schools and each will receive access to the scores once they become available. College Board provides this service as part of the examination fee for the first four schools, but students must pay $12 for every additional school that receives the scores.
  3. 3

    Receiving Scores

    AT scores are typically sent to students one day after they are received by colleges, which typically takes between three and four weeks. Scores are released via College Board's online portal free of charge, although students can receive paper score reports or be told their score via phone if they're willing to pay an additional fee. College Board maintains a calendar of testing days and when scores are released so test takers know when they should log in.
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    Old vs. New Scores

    Prior to the changes in 2016, the SAT comprised four sections (including a mandatory essay) and was scored out of a possible 2400 points. The new SAT features two sections (alongside an optional essay) and is scored out of a possible 1600 points. A separate scoring system is used for the essay portion. Scores for each section now range between 200 and 800 points, with scores of two to eight given to each of the three dimensions used in grading the essay.

Changes to the SAT

The new SAT, revamped in 2016, looks similar to the older version but with a few significant changes.

Changes in the SAT
Old SAT Things to Keep in Mind New SAT
225 minutesLength 180 minutes, or 230 with the essay
Critical ReadingWritingMathEssaySectionsEvidence-Based Reading and WritingEssayMath
General reasoning skills; vocabulary (in limited context) Focus Knowledge, skills, and competencies important to success in college and professional life; extended context of vocabulary
Required; lasting 25 minutes and given at the start of the exam. Focus on writing skills and a student's ability to present a position on a given issue Essay Optional; lasting 50 minutes and given at the end of the exam. Focus on reading comprehension, analysis, and written communication allowing students to analyze a piece of text
Ranging from 600 to 2400 Scoring Ranging from 400 to 1600, with separate scores for the essay
¼ point penalty for guessing incorrectly Penalties No penalty for guessing
Print Availability Print or computer-based

SAT Prep Timeline

Prepping for the SAT involves the right timing. Students who start too early are likely to experience burnout, while those who leave it until the last moment aren't likely to retain much of what they studied.

  1. 1

    Become Familiar With The Test

    According to admissions expert Molly Potts of the University of North Georgia, a good place to start in terms of preparing is to take the PSAT, a precursor to the SAT. “Taking a PSAT during sophomore year and comparing your results with the requirements of the institutions in which you're interested is a good way to determine how much time you should spend studying for the SAT,” she says.
  2. 2

    Start Taking Practice Tests

    Khan Academy suggests students take two practice exams: one when they first begin studying as a barometer of baseline strengths and weaknesses, and one toward the end of the study period to see improvements. Khan Academy also encourages students to complete at least one of the practice tests using paper and pencil to simulate testing day.
  3. 3

    Enroll in a Test Course

    Testing companies typically offer year-round prep services, but some students may find that certain times of the year work better for them based on existing schedules. For instance, if a student plans to take the SAT in January but will be busy with fall sports leading up to that time, they may elect to sign up for the course during the summer and spend fewer hours but more weeks studying rather than trying to fit larger study blocks into their already busy schedules once school starts back.
  4. 4

    Use Apps and Other Study Aids

    Different apps serve different purposes, so it may well be that students begin using them rather early in their preparation time, but the apps they use vary as it gets closer to exam day. For instance, College Board's app simply provides a Question of the Day which can be used for the duration of preparation. Meanwhile, other apps, such as iPredict, operates as more of a one-time diagnostic test to be used at the beginning of the process.
  5. 5

    Take the Test

    Test prep services like The Princeton review encourage students to take their first SAT during the fall of junior year. The first test of the academic year usually takes place at the start of autumn, with registration closing one month prior. Students who want to take the October test should register at the beginning of September. Professionals at the test prep company Magoosh suggest students should only take the exam three – or at maximum, four – times, so it's best for students to measure how much time they have before college applications are due, then select a few testing dates throughout the year that provide time for them to improve on weak areas before re-sitting the exam.

Choosing an SAT Prep Course

Selecting the best SAT prep course can mean the difference between whether a student gets to attend their first or second choice of college, so taking time to find the perfect fit is worth the effort. Whether opting for free services or a paid course, high school students should first assess their needs before ascertaining what the top programs offer. A few things to keep in mind when looking at prep courses include:

  • Budget

    SAT prep courses run the gamut between free practice tests and study guides to top tutors charging more than $1,000 per hour of one-to-one coaching. Before diving into the world of paid services, take time to create a budget of available funds and the services needed and stick to it. While a full SAT prep package with hours of tutoring may be too expensive, consider using free services for practice exams, vocabulary expansion, and math revision and rely on paid services for areas needing the greatest improvement.
  • Timeline

    Lots of prep courses follow a prescribed calendar of study that may not be aligned to a student's needs. The needs of juniors will be far different than those who are sitting the exam in two weeks, so think about what's possible with the time available and choose a course that will maximize that time.

  • Learning Style

    Some students benefit greatly from the personalized nature of one-to-one tutoring, while others may find this approach too pressurized to truly focus. Bite-size doses of information provided by apps may suit some students best, but others may want to block off a few hours to truly dig into the materials. Assessing learning styles is a critical step in picking the best prep course, so take time to think about the pros and cons of each.

SAT Subjects

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