13 SAT Tips to Help You Study and Take the Test

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn more about how to prepare for the SAT and strategies you can apply the day of your exam.

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The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a college entrance exam often used as part of your application to a bachelor’s degree program. While it's just one piece of your overall application—and many schools have made it optional—a good SAT score can show admissions officers that you're ready to begin your undergraduate studies and can even help you stand out from other applicants. 

Following a few SAT tips may help improve your score, which in turn may increase your chances of being accepted into the top colleges or universities on your list. We’ve compiled a number of tips to help you prepare to take the SAT with confidence.  

13 Tips to Prepare and Take the SAT 

We've arranged the tips below beginning with pre-study preparation and moving into the day of the test, so you feel comfortable and confident to do your best.

1. Review what’s on the test and how it’s structured.

You'll have three hours to complete 174 questions on the SAT, which are divided into an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) section and a Mathematics section. Understanding the types of questions you'll encounter in each section and how long you have to complete them can provide helpful context as you get ready to study.

SectionNumber of questionsFocus of questionsTime to complete
Reading52Comprehension and analysis65 minutes
Writing & Language44Grammar, vocabulary, and editing35 minutes
Math (with calculator)38Algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry55 minutes
Math (without calculator)20Algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry25 minutes

2. Take several practice tests.

Before you begin the work of studying, take a free practice test online to get a sense about your natural strengths, and to better understand where you should focus your efforts. For example, if you feel confident about your vocab based on your practice test but didn't do as well as in the non-calculator math section, then you may want to spend more time studying math and less time reviewing vocab.  

3. Review your mistakes. 

With your practice test and any subsequent practice tests you take, take time to review your mistakes and note what happened: Did you run out of time? Did you not understand the question or how to find the answer? Or did something else happen? Knowing what went wrong can help you avoid similar errors on the day of the SAT, and can help point out areas where you should spend more time studying. 

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4. Purchase an SAT prep book or other study materials.

If you’re someone who enjoys studying solo, there are many SAT prep books available to purchase or potentially available from your local library. They offer study tips, detailed descriptions of the testing format, pacing techniques, weekly study guides, and several practice exams.

5. Take an SAT prep course online or in-person.

In addition to a prep book, you may want to look into signing up for an SAT prep course, which can offer more structure, feedback, and support. Check with your high school counselor to see if your school offers a prep course. If not, they may have information about SAT prep courses that are available locally or online.  

Learn more: SAT vs. ACT: Which Should I Take?

6. Join an SAT study group.

Whether you start a study group with friends or join one that’s already established, there are many benefits to studying with others. Not only do you tend to be more accountable about preparing than if you studied on your own, but you might receive more support, which can reduce your stress as you get ready to take the SAT. 

7. Hire an SAT tutor.

An SAT tutor can provide more one-on-one help than you might get from a prep course or study group. They can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and set up a study plan. Keep in mind, however, that hiring a tutor can be expensive. If you're considering this course of action, be prepared to pay between $60 and $200 per hour. 

8. Focus on your weaker areas.  

Spend more of your time strengthening the area—math or reading or language—that you feel less confident about.

  • For reading, spend time reading harder passages and time yourself to increase your reading pace.

  • For language, build your vocabulary by purposely seeking out new words or reading more difficult articles and books

  • For math, review the algebra, geometry, and trigonometry concepts the SAT typically covers

8. Review the instructions. 

When the day of the test arrives, don’t rush past the instructions to get to the questions, even if you’ve taken several practice tests and think you know what to expect. Make sure you understand what you’re being asked to do. Oftentimes, instructions may even contain helpful information to frame the way you should approach a question.  

9. Start by answering the questions you know. 

As you tackle each section of the SAT, answer the questions you know first. This can be a really effective time management strategy given that you have limited time for each section. Make a light mark next to the questions you don't know and return to them once you’ve worked your way through everything you do know. Note that questions typically get harder toward the end of each section. 

10. Use the process of elimination. 

When you're struggling with a particular question on the SAT, the process of elimination can help. Each question has only one right answer so narrowing your options can improve your chances for getting a question right. In fact, you may find that on some questions, you can find the right answer by eliminating all but one. 

11. Guess on questions you don't know.

Remember that when you're finished with the SAT, you're scored on the number of questions you answer correctly, not the number of questions you complete. Therefore, if you’re not sure of an answer, then guess. You won't be penalized for guessing, and it's possible you just might guess correctly. 

12. Manage your time well.

It's easy to lose track of time when you're taking the SAT, especially if it's your first time. Note how much time you have to complete a section and keep an eye on the clock so you make sure you leave enough time to get through all the questions or return to the ones you don’t know. 

13. Retake the SAT to improve your score.

You can take the SAT as many times as you want—though you will pay for each time—to improve your score. Many students choose to retake the SAT at least once (for a total of two times).

Next steps

To learn more about college life, take advantage of the University of Washington’s 101: Understanding College and College Life offered for free on Coursera. You'll get information about your search for potential colleges and universities, choosing a major, living on campus, study strategies, and more. 

Or explore bachelor's degrees from renowned universities on Coursera. Many do not require an entrance exam as part of the application process, and you can learn from your own pace without having to relocate.

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