DIY Test Prep: Developing a Self-Study Plan for the SAT Written by Meghan Moll

Students dread studying for standardized tests, and oftentimes it is because they just don’t know where to begin. Half the battle is creating an effective plan, but with the numbers of students applying to college ever increasing, and SAT and ACT average test scores rising too, it can seem tougher than ever before to stand out from the crowd – plan in place or not. The competition is stiff, so developing a self-study plan is a great way to kick into gear and get ahead of the pack.

This all sounds fine and dandy – create a plan, get ahead, score well, get accepted into college – but it is easier said than done. The looming question, like with any new and uncharted territory, is: “What do I do first?”

Start reading. Now. (We’ll wait while you go get a book…)

For starters, make reading a part of your daily routine, like, yesterday. There is a lot of high-level vocabulary on the SAT, so the more words you have seen and understand in context (not just the definition, but their meanings in the passages as well), the better off you will be. You need to make the effort to see new words every day, so find something substantial to peruse (not entertainment magazines). A good suggestion is to grab the newspaper every morning and brush up on what’s happening in the world while you expand your knowledge base. If your local paper isn’t challenging enough, look elsewhere. When you come across a word you can’t figure out in context, take the time to look it up! The goal is to be intentional about learning new words, so pay attention and take your time. You will thank yourself come test day.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Once you have established what you are going to read and when, look at the list of upcoming SAT test dates. If the next test is only a week away, you should probably sign up for the one after so you actually have sufficient time to prepare. Signing up early gives you a goal to work toward and a deadline to meet, and from there you can develop a robust self-study plan. No SAT self-study plan would be complete without some sort of guide that includes both study tips and practice tests. Purchase a book, check one out from the library, or find a friend who is a year older and see if you can snag theirs. After you have acquired a test booklet, take a practice SAT test from it to assess where your score currently lies.

Practice like you mean it!

Do this all under normal testing conditions; take the test all in one sitting, use a timer, and make sure you are in a quiet space. When grading, note areas in which you are weaker within the bigger testing categories. Based off your assessment, create a study plan! Map out every day from today until the test date, and add in any obligations beforehand so you don’t get behind. If it’s summer, this may include a seasonal job or a family vacation. If it’s during the school year, this may include sports practices and games, play rehearsal, and time for homework.

Plan some more

Now that all extras are in your schedule, start blocking out time to study for the SAT. Since it is based on personal obligations, this plan will look different for everyone. The key is to create a plan that hits your weakest areas the hardest and most often. Make this plan reasonable, meaning not too easy or too difficult to maintain. You should feel challenged every time you sit down for a session, but you should not feel totally overwhelmed or that you aren’t able to accomplish everything you set out to in your study block. Ask a friend, a parent, or a teacher if they feel your plan is sensible or if you should tweak it up or down a notch. When devising your plan, try to schedule at least one hour of SAT time every day, and definitely more on weekends. Weekly, block out a time to take a full practice SAT so that you can compare your scores from the previous weeks and re-assess the effectiveness of your study plan. Adjust it if you need to!

Stay accountable and positive!

Consistently chipping away will get you a lot further than cramming the night before the test, and paying attention to your improvements and areas that still need work will help you much more than just going through the motions. Finally, to make sure you stay on track, tell someone else about your plan and ask them to check in on you periodically about it. It is harder to slack when you know you have to answer to someone about it! Also, develop some sort of reward system for yourself for when you are maintaining your schedule and making progress. Positivity goes a long way!

Meghan Moll is a professional tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Saint Louis University and specializes in ACT prep and math tutoring.