When it comes to prepping for the SAT, sometimes following along with what your friends are doing is not the best solution. Putting together an effective SAT study plan requires customization as well as a schedule that accommodates the score increase that you desire.
We’re going to walk you through, step-by-step, a solid SAT prep plan that will help you decide how long you need to study to get into the school of your choice!
New to the SAT? Start here
Preparing Your SAT Study Plan: 5 Steps to Success
Step 1: Identify Your Goal Score
You’d be shooting in the dark preparing for the SAT with no idea of what score you are aiming for or what you need in order to be admitted into your dream school. That said, if you have no idea what the middle 50-percent of the scores of admitted applicants into your chosen schools are, then this should be your first step in creating your SAT plan.
Finding the Middle 50-Percent of Scores for Admitted Applicants
To find the middle 50-percent of the admitted scores for the schools you are applying to (minus any safety schools), you’ll need to find the 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores for each of these schools’ admitted student body for the past year. The logic behind this is that the 25th percentile score means 25% are scoring below you, while the 75th percentile means 25% are scoring above you. This means that the 25th and 75th percentile scores show the middle 50% of scores for admitted students for that year.
To get started, head over to this page that shows you the 25th and 75th percentile range for 360 universities and colleges in the US, updated yearly. You can filter by school in alphabetical order.
Download this spreadsheet and input the school name and 25th and 75th percentile scores for each. Once you have finished, the goal score for your SAT prep is the highest 75th percentile score on your list! It’s best to shoot for the highest score, as this means you run a great chance in getting into every one of the schools listed (Don’t worry about the columns labeled My Baseline Score and My Score Increase for Admit, those will be filled in later).
Step 2: Take a Practice Test to Determine Baseline Score
In order to determine your baseline score, you will need to sit down and simulate taking the SAT as if you are being timed by a real proctor. It’s important that you determine your baseline score using an official SAT practice test and not one that has been created by an outside party, as the questions and scores do not exactly reflect a real SAT test. Start here with our list of free official SAT practice tests. The rules to taking an SAT practice test are to simulate test-day conditions: sitting in a noiseless room, using an SAT-approved calculator, and setting time limits that match that of each section.
After you have completed the practice test, you can use the scoring guide that goes with the practice test and calculator your score for each section as well as the overall SAT score.
Step 3: Decide on a Schedule that Allows Time for Desired Score Increase
Input your score in the “My Baseline Score” of your SAT Goal Score sheet to auto populate how many hours you need to study to reach the 75th percentile of each school. We input the first cells to reflect a sample of where to input the numbers based on a baseline score of 1250 and the number of hours needed to study to get into Indiana University.
If you do not want to use the spreadsheet to calculate the hours you need to study, you can always just use this set of guidelines for the point score increase:
- 0-30 points: 10 hours
- 30-70 points: 20 hours
- 70-130 points: 40 hours
- 130-200 points: 80 hours
- 200+ points: 150 hours
Consider your upcoming schedule and how much time you will have to devote to focused preparation. Sure, there are 24 hours in a day, but you can’t knock all 24 out consecutively. Your brain gets fatigued just like your body does on a long-distance run, so you need to consider that most students can only study effectively. You should be dividing out your studying into 45 to 90-minute intervals spread out throughout the week.
Step 4: Choose a Test Date That Fits Your Timeline
Depending on the score increase that you need to reach, you should have your one to six-month study schedule determined depending on how much time you need to spend studying. Check here for a quick guide:
1-month: 30-70 points
2-month: 70-130 points
3-month: 130-200 points
6-month: 200+ points
Using this as your guide, you can find an SAT test date that fits into this timeline by checking the upcoming SAT test dates. Be sure to double-check that the scores for these test dates will be sent to the schools you are applying to before the application deadline.
Step 5: Get Your SAT Prep Resources
Start off by finding an SAT prep course or prep book set that fits your learning style. You can find out recommendations here:
A 600-page behemoth, this SAT prep book gets you through all the strategy you'll need to ace the SAT.
You can see our full list of recommendations: 9 Best SAT prep books
For those who are considering a paid-course that already determines a structured learning style and weekly schedule, we have two recommendations as the best SAT prep courses – Kaplan’s In-Person and Princeton Review’s Live Online courses. Both of these options will give you the classroom feel as well as some of the pressures that go along with keeping up with the rest of your peers! If you’re having trouble deciding between the two, read our Kaplan vs Princeton Review SAT Course comparison.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area that hosts these Kaplan in-person courses, then you should consider taking one of these SAT prep courses that meet 1-2 times weekly. Learn more about Kaplan’s SAT prep in our Kaplan SAT Prep Review.
If you are not within driving distance to a Kaplan in-person course or find that you would prefer studying and working purely from the comfort of your own home, then we also recommend the Princeton Review Live Online course that has live classes online 1-2 times each week.
You can see our full list of recommendations: 6 Most Effective SAT Prep Courses
Free Official SAT Practice Tests
In addition to going through a comprehensive book or course, it’s important to be practicing on real SATs, which is why we put together a list of all the free official SAT practice tests available.
SAT Study Schedules
Now that you know the length of time you need to prepare for your SAT, it’s time to dive into your SAT study schedule. Each of these SAT study schedules will show you, week-by-week, what content you need to cover in order to finish on time. Click below to jump to the SAT study schedule that fits your needs:
1-Month SAT Study Schedule
Ideal for: 30-70 point score increase
What You Need:
This 4-week SAT study schedule by Kaplan will take you through your first diagnostic practice test in week 1, followed by strategies and methods for each section as you progress through the month. In total, you will take 4 timed practice SAT tests.
2-Month SAT Study Schedule
Ideal for: 70-130 point score increase
What You Need:
Utilizing Barron’s Strategies & Practice, Magoosh has put together a thoroughly comprehensive 2-month SAT study schedule. Keep in mind, however, that this study plan does not have you taking your first practice test until Week 3. You should still be taking your diagnostic test to determine your baseline score before embarking on this study program to ensure that 2 months is enough time for you to reach your goal score.
3-Month SAT Study Schedule
Ideal for: 130-200 point score increase
What You Need:
Similar to the 2-month SAT study schedule, Magoosh offers plenty of supplemental reading, free lessons, and section-specific practice. This plan has you taking 5 timed SAT practice tests, but again, this does not include your diagnostic test, which is critical for gauging progress.
6-Month SAT Study Schedule
Ideal for: 200+ point score increase
What You Need:
This 6-month SAT study schedule from Magoosh will have you thoroughly prepped for the SAT within 24 weeks. With only 5 practice tests scheduled during this period, we think you could definitely stand to add a couple more in throughout this period, even if you end up working on a few older SAT versions.
We know that preparing for the SAT and thinking about college admissions can be stressful, but this can also be viewed as an extremely exciting point of your life! Remember that you are preparing to get into the school of your dreams and will be learning how to live independently in no time! If that’s not enough to get you through your studying, we don’t know what else is! Good luck.