Published February 3, 2024

5 Signs You’re Studying Wrong For the SAT

Hey there! If you’re putting hours in SAT prep and not getting the score you want…. don’t worry I’ve been there. I took the SAT three times and got my score from a 1250 to a 1590 - and learned a lot about the right & wrong ways to study for the SAT in the process.  Getting ready for the SAT can feel like a huge task because there’s so much riding on it, and to be honest it's really easy to get lost in the sea of generic tips and tricks on what to study to get that 1600. But, take it from someone who’s tried everything - it’s all about the way you study, not just just what you study. In this blog post, I’ll get into the 5 signs that you’re probably not studying the right way for the SAT & how to remedy it. Whether you've been hitting the books hard and not seeing the results, or you're just starting to plan your study schedule, you’re in the right place.

Not sure whether to take the digital SAT or the regular one? I did a deep dive into both, check out my blog post on what the digital SAT even is, pros, cons and how to prep for it.

Sign One: You’re always running out of time on the Reading Section 

Taking too long on the reading section can definitely take a toll on your score. It’s something I used to suffer with so much as a math kid, myself. But don’t worry, if I can get a 790 so can you. You just haven’t yet nailed the format of the SAT reading situation, which is very much built like a puzzle. The SAT isn't just about academic knowledge; it's also a test of how well you can navigate its specific format and challenges. You have just 65 minutes to read 5 passages and answer 52 questions, so you need to manage your time wisely. 

  1. Don’t spend too much time digesting every word of the passage, instead read over the questions first and then give the passage a read so you know what you’re looking for. Anytime a question mentions a specific line number, make sure to underline it so you can pay specific attention to understanding those lines when reading. This way, you’re also not wasting time trying to make sense of the parts of the passage they don’t even ask you about. The SAT does a really good job of overwhlemind you with too much information which eats up your time and also distracts you from the content actually being tested on.

  2. Also, you have to understand how each of the 5 readings follow specific patterns dn vary from eachother. Typical readings to look out for are literature, history, social studies, science - of which there is typically one asking you to compare two. Each of these passages come with their own challenges and you will be better at understanding one type than the other. With practice, you’ll recognize exactly which type of passage you struggle with the most and do more practice questions on that specific type. Pro Tip : when you’re taking the exam make sure to save the ones you struggle with the most in the end so you don’t trip yourself up.

  3. Finally, time block the reading section. Ideally, you should be aiming to spend 11 minutes on each of the passages with 10 minutes at the end to check all your work when you’re done. To make sure you’re within this range make sure to actually time yourself when you are taking practice tests and if you run out of your 11 minutes for any passage just move onto the next one and come back later. I just got one of these timers off amazon and it would keep at the 11 minute mark to let me know. Getting myself in the habit of time blocking helped me so much with raising my score from a 550 initially to a 790. It makes sure you don’t get caught up and sabotage the whole section.

You also might just not be getting enough practice to get a feel of how the exam will be like. A good rule of thumb is to take one practice test per day for the month leading up to the exam, if you’re short on time. The earlier you start studying, the better you will be at the format of the test and knowing what to expect in terms of question type. They could ask you anything from word meaning in a specific sentence to the reason the author used a specific detail, and much much more. The more tests you take, the better you will be at identifying these details in the passages and figuring out what the College Board wants you to know. 

Sign Two: Your GPA is WAY better than your SAT score

If you have an awesome GPA but your SAT score isn’t quite near that level, that’s a big sign that you need to change your approach to studying for the SAT. Having a high GPA is a clear indicator that you’re intellectually able to handle challenging coursework over a longer period of time. It shows you're capable of learning, understanding complex material, and maintaining consistency in your academic performance. However, the SAT is a completely different ballgame.  If your GPA success isn't translating into your SAT scores, it could mean that you're not a natural test-taker, which isn't uncommon. It’s also not great to submit one much higher than the other cause it may raise some eyebrows, so understanding your GPA vs SAT score and learning to take the SAT in a way that reflects similar level to the admissions couselors is key. So that does mean you need to approach studying for the SAT very differently from the way you approach tests at school. 

The SAT is designed to test your test-taking skills and strategies, not just the material itself. Even the brightest student would not do very well on the SAT if they didn’t understand the format and structure of the SAT. To do well, you HAVE to work on your time management and really understand the main question types to look for in each section. For example, in the reading section, you should be aiming to spend no more than one minute per question.  Timeruns out quickly and by wasting a lot of time on one question, you lose the opportunity to get other ones right. Easier said than done… I know. I really relied on the time blocking strategy I mentioned in the above section to help me get good at managing my time on the SAT. That being said, here are some other tips that help for actual exam day: 

Sign Three : You do well on the practice exams but not on the actual test

If you're consistently performing well on practice SAT exams but not seeing the same results on the actual test, it’s usually an issue with your confidece and test taking anxiety rather than a reflection of your academic abilities. Don’t worry; I’ve been there too. I’m someone who worries about every little detail on a test, even if I have been studying for it for weeks. This usually happens when the pressure and stakes of the exam get to your head, even though you are well prepared. To fix this, simulate the test taking conditions of the SAT when taking your practice exams. Set aside an entire day to take it and spend the same amount of time on each section that you will be given on SAT day. Take the same amount of breaks in between (they are usually about 15 minutes) instead of hours apart; that will affect the simulation. You can even have someone else watch you take it so you can practice taking it under pressure. Something that also helped me was learning deep breathing techniques to manage my anxiety. Some coffee in the morning also helps!

Another reason might be that you are perfecting your strengths on the practice exams but not spending enough time on your weaknesses. On a practice exam, 2 to 3 of your mistakes could turn out to be the same question type that you get wrong on the exam. The solution is simple; PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. You need to hone into the types of questions you keep getting wrong and figure out the pattern behind the question so you can nail it every time. Think of the SAT as figuring out a giant puzzle. There are certain patterns that the college board loves to use every year for each section, and if you identify those in the practice tests, you will be more than ready come test day. 

Sign Four: You got below a 1350

Again, it is likely that you are not getting enough practice. Anyone can get over a 1350 if they commit enough time to studying and preparing. The biggest resource you can use, is of course, practice tests. The College Board and Khan Academy have excellent SAT practice tests and questions, all for free! We also have great SAT resources that I used when studying for the SAT! Start preparing for the test early; more than one more is ideal. After you take the exam, review the questions you got wrong as well as the ones you got right. Every time you get a question wrong, write down what that question was actually testing, why you chose the wrong answer and what makes the right answer the correct one. That will reinforce that mistake in your head so next time you know to avoid the wrong answer if you find yourself going back down that path. Keep doing this again and again for every practice test until you have it down pat. 

Sign Five: You don’t have a clear strategy for each of the four sections of the test

If you're heading into the SAT without a clear strategy for each of the four sections (Reading, Writing and Language, Math, and the optional Essay), you're not maximizing your potential score. The SAT tests not just your knowledge of content but also your ability to apply strategic thinking under time constraints. Each section requires a different set of skills and approaches. 

For the Reading section, you need to be able to understand passages and answer questions quickly; 65 minutes for 52 questions is not a lot of time, and if you don’t maximize your time, you will find yourself with 5 minutes left panicking and circling random bubbles before your teacher snatches away your booklet (true story!). 

In the Writing and Language section, context is key— you need understand the surrounding text to make informed corrections or improvements, focusing on clarity and conciseness, while also brushing up on grammar and punctuation rules.

When approaching the Math section, you just have to have a solid understanding of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry formulas to do well. Practice translating word problems into mathematical equations and leverage your calculator for complex calculations without becoming overly dependent on it. 

Final Thoughts

Alright, let's wrap this up! Diving into SAT prep can sometimes feel like you're wandering through a maze without a map, especially when your hard work doesn't seem to light up the scoreboards the way you hoped. But hey, recognizing these signs that your study strategies might need a little tweaking is the first step towards turning things around. Whether it's running out of time on reading passages, realizing your SAT scores don't match your GPA's glow, or wrestling with test day jitters despite acing practice tests, there's always a way to pivot and improve. Remember, you're not just studying to pass a test; you're sharpening skills that will serve you well beyond the SAT. With a bit of strategy tweaking, focusing on your weak spots, and changing how you handle test anxiety, you're not just preparing for a better score; you're setting yourself up for success in college and beyond. So, keep your chin up, adjust your approach where you need to, and remember: you've got this. After all, the fact that you're seeking out how to improve already shows you're on the right path. Now, let's hit those books (or practice tests) with a renewed strategy and ace that SAT!

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