5 Things To Know Before Choosing an SAT Course

Studying for SATs

With so many SAT prep courses available out there, it is no wonder that students are overwhelmed about which course to select. However, it takes more than the best SAT prep book and long studying hours to get the desired results.

The main problem people face when dealing with prep courses is that what works for one might not necessarily work for another. For example, if studying at night for 6 hours straight works for your friend, you might get the same results studying 2 hours during the day or vice versa.

With no cookie-cutter policies or ‘hacks’ to help you prepare for the big exam, there is bound to be uncertainty about how you can cover your SAT prep course in time and get better results.

While every student’s process is different, here we have put together 6 steps to help you get a better idea about what your studying process is, and how you can shape it towards getting the most out of your SAT prep course.

SAT Prep Course –  What Should It Look Like?

There are two main factors that will affect how you perform on the final test:

  • The SAT Prep course you choose, and
  • Time

SAT tutors can get very expensive, very fast, but you don’t have to invest so heavily in a tutor if you can commit yourself to spending a few hours in front of your books. There is a wealth of free resources available online, while keys, sample papers and other studying material is available inexpensively at many online stores.

You can choose any of these and know that you’re in good hands, so long as you stick to a schedule. Here is a quick overview on what a good SAT prep course should look like.

  1. Size matters. Too small, and the books in your SAT prep course won’t be sufficient to cover everything properly. Too bulky and you’ll get overwhelmed pretty quickly.
    1. When looking for the best SAT prep course books, remember to check their table of contents and see if it covers every topic sufficiently.
    1. When looking for the best SAT prep classes, look for smaller ones, i.e. those with lower attendance. This will give you more one-on-one time with your teacher. This might also mean skipping out on the ‘best teachers in town’, but most often, it’s worth it.
  2. Look for courses with a reputable compiler, writer or teacher. If you can, check their SAT scores. Only select courses from people with super high or perfect SAT scores. Check the SAT prep course for the assignments and/or exercises it offers and the pace. Just look at the first chapter if you have the book in hand, or read reviews. Doing so will also help you understand whether the course helps other students or not.

SAT Prep Course – How to Choose If I Have Less Time Left?

The second determining factor with regards to your SAT prep course is time. Knowing when your test is due will help you narrow down options when it comes to choosing which SAT prep course to buy. It will also help you get a good idea about how much time you need to spend in front of your books.

For example, if you have just a month to cover your whole course, you might have to spend a lot of time studying, making sure you cover all your bases. However, if you have more time, you can make an SAT study plan according to your target score. In our experience, a 100-point improvement usually takes around 40-ish hours and is therefore doable in a month. 250- to 400-point improvements may take much longer. Here is a table showing our estimates for improvement and time required.

Improvement (points)Timeframe (Hours)Timeframe (Months)
0-3010 hoursLess than 1 month
30-6020 hoursLess than 1 month
60-12030-40 hours1 month
120-18045-80 hours1 month (rigorous studying)
180-240120 hours2 months
240-300150-180 hours2 months (rigorous studying)
300+200+ hours3 months (rigorous studying)

We’ll explain the points structure in a later section to make it easier to understand.

Making the Best Out of Your SAT Course

All’s well that ends well. That is especially true when it comes to your SATs. The earlier you get registered, the more time you’ll have to go over your SAT prep course and the more in-depth your preparation will be. Make sure you are giving yourself enough time to prepare.

If this is your first time, we recommend giving yourself at least three months to prepare.

See our table above for reference.

When setting a target score, remember to target based on which school you’re looking to get admitted into. For example, if you’re targeting average schools, 800 points should be enough to get you into around 70% of all schools. If, however, Harvard, Stanford, Yale or other similar schools are your target, you need to go above 1200 points.

1.     Familiarize Yourself With the SAT Prep Course

Now that you know how much time you have to prepare and how much course you need to cover, it’s time to start familiarizing yourself with the course. See the overall format of the books, go through the general topics and mark areas where you think you need to focus the most.

SAT tests are divided in two major sections, each amounting up to 800 points. The first section is for Mathematics, the other for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This includes a reading test and a writing test. Passing marks are 400 points (200 per section).

You will find this information in your prep course as well, along with samples. Before starting your preparation (even if you’re short on time), we recommend attempting one of these sample papers and marking your answers accordingly. This will give you an idea about how much effort you need to put in and where. 

Most of the test (except writing an essay) is MCQs, each with four answers, but it’s not uncommon for Mathematics questions to be in “Grid-In” or “Student-produced response” form.

Along with the essay, the whole test lasts 3 hours 50 minutes. But remember, the essay is optional.

2.     Work on Your Weaknesses

Once you’ve graded your sample test, set a baseline by figuring out where you performed the worst. You can find free practice tests online or included within most SAT prep courses easily. Take the test like you are taking your final SAT exam and use an approved calculator.

Write an essay as well, if you signed up for it.

Don’t just focus on the answers but also try to recognize patterns, if any. Try to figure out which parts took you the longest and parts that you skipped out on.

3.     Set a Goal

It’s commendable to aim for the sky but when it comes to your SATs, you need to take into consideration the timeframe you give yourself as well. Try aiming for something accomplishable and realistic, else you risk overworking yourself and ultimately flushing all your efforts down the drain.

After you know your practice score, focus on how much improvement you are looking for and move forward from there. Grade your improvement on points and based on the number of points you need, make a timetable for that many hours.

4.     Make a Study Schedule

Now that you have all the basics covered, make a time table and stick to it. Don’t push yourself too hard if you can afford not to. Include breaks and don’t plan to study for more than an hour without breaks, unless you’re in the flow, of course.

2.5 hours a day per subject is more than enough if you have the time. If not, then you need to push yourself. Take short breaks instead of long ones and study as much as you can without overburdening yourself.  

5.       Practice & Review

Now that you have everything in order, it’s time to start working. One mistake that students often make is that they study a chapter (in this case section), and take a test on that section immediately. That is a bad idea, considering that everything is fresh in your mind unlike when you’re in the examination hall.

Instead, we recommend going over the whole section, taking a break, and then taking a test. The break may also include starting another section.

For example, let’s say you just memorized and reviewed all mathematical formulae and have practiced every possible variant of a problem you could find. Take a break after and then start reviewing another section, say essay writing.

Either in the middle or after you’re done reviewing the essay, take a mathematics test. This will show you how much you retained and how much of it was just temporary.

You could also take a test the next day, because your “temporary” memory resets after sleep.

When practicing for your SATs, break your sessions into two phases.

  1. Targeted practice. In this phase, focus on areas where you think you are lacking. Let’s say you are having trouble with integration problems but differentiation (derivatives) are something you excel at. While the two go hand in hand on several occasions, focus on integration first.
  2. Overall Practice. Once you have covered all the problem areas, now it’s time to go for the home run. Start attempting practice tests in your SAT prep course from start to finish to get a better idea of how you’re doing.

When test day finally arrives, you should be ready for anything. Be sure to review your SAT prep course as a whole. Get a good night’s sleep before, drink plenty of water before sleeping but not after you wake up, have proper breakfast and maintain a positive attitude, even if you think things might not go your way!

If you are looking for reliable SAT courses at cost-effective rates, we recommend you visit our page for a list of prep courses and prep books today! The right SAT prep course can help you unlock your true potential easily and set you on the right path to achieving better results and getting accepted to better schools!

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