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What to expect from test prep

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How much time to do I need to spend studying for the SAT?  How much will it help my score?


Just about every college bound high school student needs answers to those two questions.  The SAT is a completely different type of test than high school exams, and that makes it difficult for students to know how much studying, how many classes, or how much tutoring they need to achieve their goals. In fact, it can be hard to set a goal at all when you don’t really know what’s reasonable.  I’ve been helping students prep for these exams for almost two decades, and one thing that all this experience has given me is a sense of what results you can expect based on the time you are able to invest in studying.

Of course it’s true that every student is different, and that’s why nothing in this post should be taken as a guarantee.  However, there are some patterns I’ve noticed over the years, and they can be helpful in planning.  Most of my students find they get a 100-250 point increase after prepping for the SAT or 3-6 points on the ACT.  Where you fall in that range depends on many factors, but the number of practice tests, tutoring sessions, classes, and homework assignments all contribute.   Here are some general rules of thumb to help you plan:

  • Start with a practice test.
  • Plan on 1 hour of tutoring or 1 class for each 10-15 SAT points you want to increase.
  • Set aside 1-2 hours for homework after each tutoring session or class.
  • Take another practice test every 3-5 sessions, or about every month.
  • Take the official SAT or ACT at least twice, and plan to take it a third time if you need to.

If you want to increase your SAT score by 200 points or more, you should start to prep at least 6 months before your final score needs to be in.  You should plan on one hour of tutoring or one class per week during that time and a total of 4 practice tests.  The practice tests are crucial because they not only help you study but also provide you and your teacher with information about how your score is changing and what you need to work on next.    Here is what your plan might look like if you are current junior planning on the March and May SATs.  (If you plan on taking the ACT, consider the February and April tests.)

  • November or December – First practice test
  • January – 4 classes, second practice test
  • February – 4 classes, third practice test
  • March – 4 classes, Official SAT
  • April – 4 classes, fourth practice test
  • May – Official SAT
  • Summer – additional classes or tutoring, only if necessary

If you don’t have the time to invest in this kind of a study program, you’re not alone!  You can still make a big difference in your score with the time you have.  For instance, if you can do about half of what is listed above, you will probably improve around 100 points on the SAT or 3 points on the ACT.  That’s enough to be a game changer in the college application process.