Getting your SAT dream score will likely take a considerable time investment. The vast majority of high school students have to spend many hours of studying before they’re able to get their desired score. However, your time is limited. You have school, homework, studying, and extracurricular activities. How will you be able to put in the necessary test prep time on top of your other responsibilities?
Before you go through any steps to balance school with your test prep, you should have a goal score for your SAT. Having a goal will motivate you to stick to your study plan, make you more likely to prioritize your test prep, and help you figure out how much time you need to study. You can determine your target score by averaging the 75th percentile scores for the colleges you’re interested in applying to. If you reach the 75th percentile score for a given school, your score will make you an extremely competitive applicant.
Once you have a target score, you can determine how much time you need to study before you take the SAT. Taking this step will allow you to come up with a plan that will help you balance your test prep with school.
In order to figure out how much you need to study, you need to know exactly how much you need to improve. Calculate the difference between your target score and your last SAT. If you’ve never taken the SAT, I recommend taking an official practice SAT simulating real testing conditions to determine where you’re at and how much you need to improve.
Once you know how much you need to improve, here’s an estimated breakdown of point improvement per number of study hours for the SAT:
- 0-30 SAT Total Point Improvement: 10 hours
- 30-70 Point Improvement: 20 hours
- 70-130 Point Improvement: 40 hours
- 130-200 Point Improvement: 80 hours
- 200-330 Point Improvement: 150 hours+
Then, you should figure out when you’re planning on taking the test. Divide the total number of hours you need to study by the number of weeks you have until your test to determine how many hours per week you should be studying. For example, let’s say you’re planning on taking the SAT in 8 weeks and you want to raise your SAT score by 100 points. Because a 100-point improvement will take roughly 40 hours of studying and you have 8 weeks until the test, you’ll have to average about 5 hours of studying per week to reach your target score.
Before you determine exactly when you’ll be studying, write out your weekly schedule with all of your responsibilities. Include all of your weekly tasks: school, homework, extracurricular activities, job, etc. Write out your schedule for each day of the week. Perhaps your Tuesday may look something like this:
- 7:00 AM- wake up
- 8:00 AM-3:00 PM- school
- 4:00-6:00- cross country practice
- 7:30-9:30- homework and studying
Now that you know how many hours per week you need to study, you can decide when you’re going to study based on the time that you currently have available. Write your intended study hours into your typed out weekly schedule. Print out your plan. You can even print out multiple copies and place them where you’ll regularly see them. Looking at your intended schedule will remind you of when you need to study, help you commit your schedule to memory, and motivate you to stay on task.
Let’s add some study time into the hypothetical Tuesday schedule I made:
- 7:00 AM- wake up
- 8:00 AM-3:00 PM- school
- 4:00 PM-6:00 PM- cross country practice
- 7:30-9:30 PM- homework
- 10:00-11:30 PM- SAT studying
This is a pretty challenging schedule. You’ll be busy with only limited breaks from 7:00 AM-11:30 PM. However, if you’re disciplined and motivated, it’s feasible to stick to this itinerary. If you’re more of a morning person, you can wake up at 5:30 AM to do your SAT studying. Also, if you have to do 5 hours of studying per week, you may only have to schedule SAT studying for a couple of days. Furthermore, if you have more free time on the weekends, you can save the majority or all your studying for Saturdays and Sundays.
When you create your study plan, be realistic and honest with yourself about what you’re capable of doing. If your schedule includes studying for 12 hours on both Saturday and Sunday, you should make some adjustments. Even though you may have enough free time to study for 12 hours on Saturday and Sunday, you’re probably not going to have the energy or concentration to study for 24 hours every weekend. Similarly, if you have trouble waking up in the morning, you shouldn’t schedule your SAT prep for 4:00 AM.
You really want to create a schedule that you’re likely to stick to and will allow you to put in enough prep time to reach your target score. Unfortunately, it’s possible that if you don’t have much free time, you’ll have to create a schedule that’s less than ideal. However, you still want to create the most realistic possible schedule.
For accountability, I recommend sharing your plan with those who are willing to help you stick to it. If your parents, siblings, or close friends know your intended schedule, they can encourage and push you when they know it’s time for you to do your SAT prep. If you try to deviate from your schedule, you’ll have other people to remind you of your goals and what you should be doing. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be most likely to achieve your goals if you’re primarily self-motivated.
During the first week or two of your study plan, keep track of how well you’re doing and how well your plan is working for you. If the plan you created seems too difficult for you to maintain, then you may need to adjust it so that it’s easier for you. If you have to make adjustments, do your best not to sacrifice study time you need to reach your target score. Ideally, you’ll be able to move your studying to times that work better for you. If your extracurricular activity or work schedule changes after you start your study plan, you may have to alter your prep time accordingly.
Also, make sure that your SAT prep isn’t getting in the way of your schoolwork. If your current prep plan is preventing you from finishing your homework or studying for school, then you’ll have to make changes. You don’t want to sacrifice your grades to reach your target score. In fact, generally, your grades are more important to colleges than your test scores.
Remember that the number of hours you’re studying is only one part of the equation to reaching your target score. You need to make sure that you’re focused when you’re studying and studying efficiently. Set goals for yourself for each study session and on a weekly basis. For example, if during one of your study sessions, you’re trying to improve your performance on transition questions on SAT Writing, you can set a goal of getting at least 9/10 transition questions right from SAT practice tests.
In trying to balance school with your test prep, realize that outside of school, test prep, and your extracurricular activities, you should be having some fun and leisure time. All work and no play is sad, and you’re going to have a difficult time maintaining motivation if you’re not emotionally healthy. Furthermore, you should be enjoying your youth, spending time with your friends and family, and creating memories that you’ll probably look back on more fondly than your SAT prep. When you create your prep schedule, try not to have every minute of your day devoted to your studies or other obligations. It’s not terrible to spend a few hours per week engaged in fun activities that may not directly help you get into the college of your dreams.
Following all of the tips in this article (other than having fun) isn’t easy. Just reading this article is indicative of your determination and willingness to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement. If you meet one of your daily or weekly goals, feel free to reward yourself for your hard work. You deserve it, and you can use your rewards as further motivation to reach your goals. If you reach your goal of improving your SAT Math section score by 50 points from the previous week, maybe you can reward yourself by going to see a movie you’ve been wanting to check out or spending an hour posting stories on Snapchat (isn’t that what the kids do these days?).