What is SAT® Prep?

August 3, 2021

SAT® prep, or SAT® preparation, is the studying and pre-test work done in advance of taking the SAT®. The score that a student receives on the SAT® is taken into account by most US colleges and universities when considering a student for admission, and colleges often have minimum score requirements. Doing some SAT® preparation — whether through books, websites, dedicated classes, or private tutors — can help a student do better on the test and improve his or her chances of getting into college.

The SAT®

The SAT® is a standardized test, formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Scholastic Assessment Test. Many students will take the SAT® at least twice, first during their junior year in high school and again at the beginning of senior year. The SAT® is strictly administered by the College Board and offered several times each year; it is also available to international students who wish to study in the US.

The test is made up of multiple choice and grid-in questions, where test takers must fill in the circles that correspond to the numbers in their answers. The test has ten sections, with questions covering reading, writing, and math, and the entire exam lasts just under four hours. In 2005, an essay writing section was added to the test; this is the first part of the exam. SAT Subject Tests™ are also available, which test a student's knowledge of a specific subject: English, language, history, mathematics, or science.

The Benefits of SAT® Prep

SAT practice questions

Doing some type of prep work is helpful — and often necessary — for anyone who intends to take the SAT®. Many high school students have found that a prep course helps them perform better on the exam, whether or not they are taking it for the first time. For first timers, SAT® prep will familiarize the student with the format of the test and the types of questions that will be asked; for those who have taken it before, doing additional prep work can often help the test taker earn a higher score on a second test.

While most students dread taking the SAT®, it is often required as part of a college application in the US. Taking an SAT® prep course may help encourage students to relax, as the test becomes more familiar and not some unknown event. It will show students exactly what to expect on the exam, providing sample questions and reveal some of the secrets behind how questions are worded. Students typically are given the opportunity to take one or more sample SAT® exams.

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Types of SAT® Prep

When preparing to take the SAT®, students have several different options. A good student who feels well prepared for the test may choose to read a test prep book and study on his or her own; prep books explain the different types of questions and usually include one or more practice tests, which can give the student a feel for what taking the test will be like. Starting early with this preparation method may be good for some students, who may quickly learn whether independent study is enough or if it needs to be supplemented with a different type of SAT® prep.

A number of companies offer SAT® prep materials online — some for free but most for a fee. These can include live or recorded video lectures, discussion forums, electronic practice tests, and other materials. Web classes may be less expensive than some other options, while still providing the opportunity for some level of interaction with teachers. Taking a web course requires a reliable Internet connection, however, and the discipline to sit at home and do the required work.

One of the most traditional ways for students to prepare for the SAT® is to take an in-person class. The classroom environment may be more comfortable for some students, since it's more like a typical school course, and meets regularly at a set time and location. An in-person class may also give the student more opportunity to interact with the teacher as well as other students. This type of class may be more expensive than web courses, however, but that may depend on who is offering the course.

Students who are struggling in school or who have taken the SAT® previously and received a low score may benefit more from working one-on-one with a private SAT® test prep tutor. This is typically the most expensive option when it comes to SAT® prep, but it may also give the student the most focused attention. A private tutor can address any specific concerns the student may have and pinpoint problem areas that need extra attention.

When to Start Preparing for the Test

SAT exam

Whichever method is used, an SAT® prep course should ideally be taken at least 12 weeks before the actual exam. Crash courses are available and can help, but they may do more harm than good by simply showing the student how much he or she does not know. Starting early can also allow the student time to change tactics if one method isn't working.

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