How to study for the SAT in 30 days

Marc Feder
September 24, 2020

If you’ve got less than a month before your test day when you start to study for the SAT, you don’t have time to waste. What you need instead is a targeted, thoughtful approach to make sure that you’ll do your best on test day without burning out. To successfully study for the SAT in only 30 days, you’ll need realistic expectations, a study plan focused on your weaknesses, and thoughtfulness in your approach to practice exams. 

Set realistic expectations

The first question you should ask yourself is, based on your 30-day timeframe, what is a realistic score improvement to expect. If you’re starting at a 1200 and want a 1250, that score increase might be within reach with careful preparation. But if you’re starting at 1200 and gunning for a perfect 1600, chances are good that you won’t reach that goal within a month.

The key is to set a goal that is both ambitious and achievable - and to create an SAT study schedule that will help you get there.

In terms of setting your study schedule, you should create a plan that will push you. However, it should also be one that you’ll be able to maintain. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be well rested going into your exam, so you may want to “frontload” your preparation and study more in the first few weeks of your 30-day window before tapering off the amount you study in the final week before your exam. 

The length of your study sessions is up to you. We’d normally advocate for small but consistent study sessions over a longer period of time, but if you must study for the SAT in 30 days, then let’s adapt to the situation. 

While some students thrive on marathon SAT sessions, others will flounder once the clock goes beyond two hours. It's important to set and achieve small goals within each of your sessions (and taking brief breaks every 20-30 minutes) rather than just churning through a few hundred practice problems for hours on end.

Focus on your weaknesses

If you only have 30 days to prepare for the SAT, you may not have time to complete a full course of study. Even if you do, realize that you may not have time to go into the depth required to make every part of that course really “stick.”

So if you might not be able to go into a lot of depth on every topic, what should you do? Whenever possible, focus on your weaknesses.

In your practice tests, you probably saw missed questions that were well below the level of the questions you usually get correct. Focus on those skills first, since missing these easier SAT questions can drag down your score. Once you’ve mastered those concepts, go on to your next most troublesome SAT skill. 

This systematic approach helps you “strengthen your floor” and it gives you a way to structure your SAT study plan. After all, if you can’t go into depth on everything, you should make sure that you are going into depth on the skills that are giving you the most trouble.

And finally: be moderate in your use of practice tests

Practice tests are the best way to measure progress -- they force you to put everything you’ve done together and to perform effectively over a fairly long stretch of time. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially within a short, intense time period. If you only have a month to study for the SAT, limit yourself to 3 - 4 practice tests at the most.

Additionally, avoid taking any practice tests within five days of your official exam.

Taking an SAT practice test is hard work and taking a full-length test too close to your actual exam day can leave you depleted and mean that you won’t score as high as you might otherwise. Your time will be better spent reviewing your weakest skills and learning new SAT strategies than it will be taking one more practice test.

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