13 SAT Tips to Help Improve Your Score

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 an entrance exam often used as part of your application to a bachelor’s degree program at a college or university. It's just one piece of your overall application, but high SAT scores 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 and 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 determine how to study for the SAT, ways to prepare in advance, and strategies you can apply the day of your test. 

Learn more: What Is a Good SAT Score in 2022? Finding Your Goal Score

How to study for the SAT 

Follow the tips below to identify the best way to begin preparing for the SAT.  

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

An SAT prep course can be a helpful alternative to studying on your own because it tends to provide 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.  

2. 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. 

3. Purchase an SAT prep book or other study materials

If you’re someone who enjoys studying solo, there are numerous 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, which you can time for realistic effect.

4. 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. 

4 strategies for preparing for the SAT

Whether you’re preparing for the SAT independently, as part of a class or study group, or with a tutor, there are four key actions you can take to bolster your study time. 

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

Understanding the different sections of the SAT, the types of questions to expect, and how long you have to complete each section will help you feel confident about what to expect on the day of your test.

SectionNumber of questionsFocus of questionsTime to complete
Reading52Passages65 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

Take a number of practice tests before you plan on officially taking the SAT. Doing so will help you get comfortable with the form and pacing of the test, as well as identify areas where you may need to spend additional time studying. 

3. Review your mistakes 

Take time to review your mistakes, noting 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 the day of the SAT, and can help point out areas where you should spend more time studying. 

4. Expand your vocabulary 

In addition to studying specifically for the Writing & Language and Reading sections of the SAT, spend time building on your vocabulary by purposely seeking out new words or reading more difficult articles and books. In fact, the College Board, the organization behind the SAT, recommends reading several classic novels to grow more comfortable with the type of language you’ll encounter on the test. 

5 strategies for taking the SAT

The day has finally arrived and it’s time to take the SAT. To improve your odds of success, it helps to take advantage of the test-taking tips below. 

1. Review the instructions 

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.  

2. Start by answering the questions you know 

As you tackle each section of the SAT, answer the questions you know the answers to 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. 

3. Use the process of elimination 

When you're struggling with a particular question on the SAT, the process of elimination can help. Eliminating even one answer helps improve your chances for getting a question right. You may find that on some questions, you can find the right answer by eliminating all but one. 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

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. 

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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